Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chrono Trigger: Crimson Echoes

Crimson Echoes is a Chrono Trigger fan game. Its background is important to understanding what it is. There's a lot of middle-school drama surrounding the game, so I'll try to be unbiased in my explanation. Basically, ZeaLity of the Chrono Compendium organized a project to create a fan based sequel to Chrono Trigger. The goal was to make a fun game that was true to both Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. They would also further develop romhacking tools targeting Chrono Trigger.

They worked very hard for years, despite many problems during development. Some alpha copies and demos were released into the wild. Occasionally, groups used those releases to work on their own versions completely independent of the Chrono Compendium, such as the team behind Frozen Echoes. Right before Crimson Echoes was ready to be released (they say at 98% done), Square allegedly served them a Cease and Desist, so the Chrono Compendium removed as much Crimson Echoes related materials as they could from the internet and the game was never released. The only relics of the project were a youtube playthrough of the 98% completed game and some development notes. Until a year later, when a rom that built upon the 98% Crimson Echoes build was released. The 98% build can be played all the way through, my guess is that balancing issues and small touch-ups are the only 2% remaining. This blog entry is a review/discussion of that build.

Crimson Echoes is a very big game that can easily last 20 Hours. Its odd history begs the question... is this leak of Crimson Echoes worth playing? My opinion? Only if you really, really enjoy the Chrono Trigger game style and are willing to put up with a lot of pain for a chance at some new adventures. If you haven't played Chrono Trigger, don't even think about playing this. The rest of this review are my thoughts of the game and should help you decide if you want to try it. This review is story spoiler free.

The gameplay of Crimson Echoes is the same as Chrono Trigger, which is great. The battle engine is the same, feel of exploration is the same, the effects and music are the same. The "new content" it offers are some new enemies (and a new, well-made, big boss), lots of new (generally very well made) maps, some new techs/weapons/armor, and of course a brand new story. Crimson Echoes is best described as high grade fanfiction + good ol' Chrono Trigger engine.

Good ol' Chrono Trigger engine is almost enough to make it unquestionably worth sinking the time into this game. I nostalgia'd all over the place and enjoyed re-finding characters and seeing the updated world the Crimson Echoes team created. But the things Crimson Echoes does wrong made it almost unplayable.

Things that I've generally seen complained about: Crono speaks. Frog doesn't use an accent. The game balancing is horrible and only gets worse as the game goes on.

Character dialogue didn't bother me a bit and the Crimson Echoes teams rational behind their decisions makes a lot of sense. This story is fanfiction, but it's well thought out fanfiction. It does of good job of serving as a heavy handed bridge between Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, providing answers for any lingering questions after playing Chrono Cross. You may or may not like the writing (I think people get overly critical over fan works) and story or devices (there are nuclear missiles in the game at some point), but I thought it was fine. From what I could tell, the creators of the game cared very much about and showed a lot of respect towards the Chrono games.

My problem with the story is that I didn't feel it meshed well with the gameplay. In my opinion, Chrono Trigger is a fast paced adventure-y game and Crimson Echoes is generally not that. There are occasionally huge walls of text. There are very analytical sections. The time travel mechanics are more thoroughly dissected / complicated. I feel the wordiness interrupts the "fun" feel of Chrono Trigger. I think that lots of things are best left up to the imagination (especially with "magic"), but the Crimson Echoes team tried to explain everything in pretty great detail. It makes the game seem like less of a Chrono Trigger adventure to me.

While some story arcs were awesome, there were many story arcs that did not work well in a game. There would be chapters that were very short and consisted of very little actual game play. Towards the middle of the game, I often got very bored. I did want to see how the main story resolved and fight the main villains of the game, but I felt I was doing a lot of pointless and boring quests. There are also sections that split up the characters. I hated those sections, especially when they were solo character sections.

Which leads to the huge problem with Crimson Echoes: The difficulty. I'd call this game impossible without the use of emulators (save states) and hacks. The missing 2% probably mostly referred to fixing balancing. Enemies have WAY too much life and your attacks do WAY too little damage. Getting techs requires WAY too much SP. The game starts out pretty bad and gets worse and worse. The only saving grace was that running away from battle is very easy.

I was playing for the gameplay, not the story (otherwise I could just watch the youtube videos or read the plot points at I wanted a small challenge in the game (so no level 99 or invincibility hacks for me), but I did not want to spend hours grinding. Here's what I did:

The Chrono Compendium originally had a large section about how to romhack Chrono Trigger, complete with some very good tools. However, that section was removed after cease and desist letter. But the section is still available via the Internet Wayback Machine. Any links to tools that don't work on that site can easily be google'd.

If you want to know exactly how I modified the game:

1. Gave myself an absurd amount of money and kept myself fully stocked with items. You can see this youtube video for an easy to understand explanation on how to modify memory. Find the value representing your money and max that out~ (Alternatively, you can use Chrono Shop Editor to make all items costs 1G.)

2. Used Chrono Tweaker to modify stats. I basically went through and halved the life of every enemy. I also edited enemies to give at least double the SP.

3. I'd reference the youtube playthrough occasionally to get through puzzles that I don't think were very well designed, such as the drum mini game.

With these changes, the game was pretty fun and, for the most part, I enjoyed playing through the game.

Well, these were my thoughts on this well made fan sequel. I hope I helped you decide how you want to treat the game.

BTW, here's a link to the 98% build ROM:

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