Chapter 2: Quests Five through Eight
The end of time is important--although how itís important will be explained later in detail. Basically for now we can recognize it as the close of the first ďchapterĒ of the Tragedy, and the break before the beginning of the second chapter. Again, though, weíll cover more about this establishment of rhythm later.
Stat of the Quest:About 1 in every 10 non-boss enemies in Chrono Trigger are strictly resistant to physical attacks. Strangely, though, about 75% of those resistant enemies come in the Tragedy of the Entity. For bosses, the reverse of that is true. Of the strictly physically-resistant bosses, 75% of them come in the Comedy of the Sages.
Medina village begins a key deception in the game: the red herring on the origin of Lavos. If youíve been reading the first four quest synopses, youíll note itís not the gameís first deception--not by a long shot. Nevertheless itís important that the game continually deceives the player in order to keep him or her off balance--and it certainly happens often.
The NPC sociology reflects this clearly. (If you want to know what NPC sociology is, and why itís important, see here.) The second-most common category for NPC speech in the game is direction, for reasons weíll get into later. In Medina Village, however, there is only one bit of direction-chatter in all 17 residents; itís usually 1 in 4! Additionally, the rate of event-chatter is 15% higher than normal. Thatís a little bit artificial, isnít it? The mystics seem to have spent the past 400 years dwelling on a single unfulfilled event--not even understanding what was supposed to occur. But thereís no way a new player can know that yet. The designers are setting them up to be surprised.
The Heckran Cave dungeon serves as a lesson in how to use the magic the player has just acquired. The entire dungeon is filled with tech-only, and, specifically magic-only, monsters. Fire Whirl will work just fine because itís still technically magical, but most of the enemies are configured so as to make this impractical. The area-attack and double tech lesson is over; now itís time to learn how to use--and more importantly how to ration--single-target attacks. To that end, most enemies will fall quickly to magic. Marle and Luccaís first-level elemental spells have damage floors around 120, which will instantly kill any enemy in the cave. If Crono hasnít reached level 12 or isnít using the Red Katana, his damage floor might start in the 80 damage range, which would mean he canít kill the Cave Bat or Jinn Bottle enemies. Properly leveled and equipped, however, all party members should never have to cast more than once per enemy. Additionally, Roboís Laser Spin has a damage floor around 88, which would end many battles all at once. This is to say that there is a lesson to be learned, but itís an easy lesson.
The Heckran is much like the other monsters in the cavern, weak only against magical attacks. The Hecrkan also brings back the design features of the Guardian: periodic phases and severe counterattacks. The Heckran enters a short, periodic counterattack phase (ďGo ahead and attack, I dare ya!Ē). It would be possible to heal through these attacks with Aura Whirl, if it were not for the fact that this would consume all the MP that the party needs to cast spells to defeat the Heckran. In the end, itís simpler to wait. Interestingly, this is the only point in the game where the player will really wait and do nothing in a battle.
After the battle, the Heckran feeds the player a Lavos-flavored red herring, and the party has their next quest.
Stat of the Quest:NPC Sociology Breakdown!
Note that this counts the first dialogue spoken by NPCs, or the first new dialogue they say during a new quest. There are very few reaction dialogues graphed, because almost all of the reaction dialogue in the game happens after you complete a quest. Most NPCs local to that quest will give you a reaction dialogue right after the quest, but will lose that dialogue when the next quest in their area/era starts.
Quest 6 is the biggest quest so far and marks the beginning of the only time in the first game where there is a specific, larger meta-quest other than ďstop LavosĒ. That quest is to find and defeat Magus so that Lavos is conveniently edited out of history. There is a macguffin involved--the Masamune--and this ďchapterĒ will take three more quests to complete.The whole thing is another attempt to deceive the player with various forms of pacing. In this case, the designers were confronted with a problem: how do we make the game feel like itís ramping up towards a (false) climax without just throwing over-long dungeons at the player? Itís too early for really long dungeons, and Chrono Trigger is too carefully crafted for a sharp spike in difficulty. The first solution to all this was to ramp up exploration activities: non combat quests, talking to NPCs to find treasures and quest locations, searching shops for gear, trying to track people down, etc. The second solution was to create a dungeon that feels longer and more challenging (at first glance) than it really is.
The exploration activities start the player with a mini-quest, to bring supplies and reinforce Zenan Bridge and finish with a two-town manhunt for Frog and Tata. Having probably never been there, the player has to figure out that the action is happening at Zenan Bridge, then has to talk to numerous people at the bridge and in the castle to figure out that itís the Chef who is the object of your current task. Itís hardly spelled out. Thereís a boss in the middle of all of this; heís not terribly interesting from a design point of view, aside from being the first incidence of conspicuous elemental defenses. After the fight the player gets even more exploration. Instead of having one new village to explore per dungeon (as has been the norm) there are two! Dorino village exists for the purpose of making it obvious that Mt Denadoro is the next dungeon. It doesnít do an amazing job of this, however. You can count the major flaws in Chrono Trigger on two hands, but Dorino is one of them. Two NPCs in Dorino will inform the player of the Masamuneís supposed location ďnearbyĒ, and that the ďheroĒ Tata is after it. All of the relevant NPCs in Porre will speak about Tata, but not his location.
The NPCs in Dorino and Porre do a better job implying the false climax that will come of Magusí Castle. Thereís an interesting spike in expansion - event chatter here; weíre finally getting some background on Magus, Frog and Cyrus, and what happened to set this all in motion. (The average rate for event chatter across the whole game is 11%, whereas in Dorino itís just above 33%.) Very few of those bits of chatter have any directions in them, but they do serve to make it seem like Magus will be at the center of the main quest. Little is mentioned about Magus at any time before this (or after). Additionally, having two towns and all these new NPCs makes the game seem big enough that it might be entering its ďpure dungeon phase,Ē where exploration gives way to dungeon after dungeon. Players who had been playing other Squaresoft RPGs in the 90s would have known that four or five towns introduced by the main plot (Guardia Village, Truce Village, Medina Village, Trann Dome, Arris Dome) were too few to be a complete game. Seven villages with dozens more people makes the game seem fuller than the 10 or so hours of length it has actually been.
Denadoro is the biggest dungeon so far (although its size is quite deceptive) and, for Chrono Trigger, it is unusual. Dungeons should get bigger and more challenging as the game goes on; no player will be surprised about that. What is unusual about the dungeon is its structure. So far the big dungeons have been divided into two distinct parts. The Cathedral had a save point in the middle. Guardia Prison did not, but it was small (if confusing). Lab 16 and the Info Center had a world map segment and a save point in the middle, which was a little odd but still divided the dungeon into two neat parts. The Factory Ruins had an obvious division between the left and right elevators, with a save point in the second section. The Heckran Cave was short enough that, like Guardia Prison, it didnít need division.
Mt Denadoro is a long dungeon, but the only save point within is located one fight before the boss. This is no accident; like everything else in the game it is the designersí way of playing with pacing. In truth, Denadoro has fewer monsters and fewer total enemies than the Cathedral. It feels a lot longer though, and almost certainly takes longer. Part of that feeling of length comes from that lack of a dividing save point. Another part of the length is the battles with Ogans, an enemy with a new design feature: triggered vulnerability.