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Thou Must Alter Harder

Being someone who just recently viewed HCBailly's Let's Play of the original Chrono Trigger for the sake of picking up on the story and seeing just what exactly made this game great, I was finally put into a position where I can judge this game, Chrono Alter, on its own merits and how well it holds its own as a competent fan-game. Granted, while I did have fun with the game before I knew about the main story, which I would consider a plus, I feel it's time to lay down a side-by-side comparison and analyze this critically. Unlike a typical review where I might judge the use of graphics or sounds and their quality, seeing as this game uses mostly Final Fantasy/Chrono Trigger resources for both, I'll instead focus entirely on how well I felt they put the point across and helped to sustain the game through my most recent playthrough. So join me in the recently reconstructed Epoch on its voyage back to 2010 to relive the experience of Chrono Alter.

As I go through these categories, I'll bold the game I felt accomplished what it set out to do better. If neither game is bolded, I felt them to be of equal quality.

Storyline: Chrono Trigger - Chrono Alter

The story in a nutshell is this: you (Crono) are meeting up with Marle on a cliff overlooking a grand expanse to presumably go on a date. Things go fair enough as you both reminisce about the past adventures you went on with your colleagues Glenn, Ayla, Robo, and even Magus (but who the hell likes that guy, amiright?), or atleast I'd assume Crono feels likewise as he's holding true to his silent protagonist history. Suddenly, a fierce band of Mystics (...) decide to pick a fight with you. "Why are there monsters here? Crono!" exclaims Marle as you strike a battle pose, trusty Iron Blade in hand. Of course, being the hero that you are, you quickly dispose of them and return to your business. Then the world goes to hell in a handbasket when your good buddy Lavos decides to throw its weight around by nearly killing you, then separating you from Marle by opening gates that lead to another realm, a place much like the world you've come to know with the people you've come to expect, yet is strangely alien with its own set of rules called Chrono Alter.

From here on out, the game follows Chrono Trigger's tradition of running around the world, taking on small tasks such as retrieving a letter and carousing through a labyrinthine dungeon, until some semblance of storyline intervenes. Fighting your way through a cave the Mystics took the letter that was meant for you to, you come across Glenn and experience your first boss battle. After which, you open the letter to find that it was written by Schala in an effort to inform you of this new world you've found yourself in and to tell you that once she finds a way out of this realm, she'll come back for you. Enclosed is the location of which you can find your next party member, Marle, and you start out towards said location.

Granted, Chrono Trigger was much like this in that it had very little holding it together story-wise along your quest to destroy Lavos and save the world, but I felt this game pulled it off slightly better as Lance7 actually made an effort to infuse his own telling of this world with an actual sequential plot with its share of twists. Unfortunately, even with the game's ability to draw so much from the original source, the places you visit and the battles you fight all feel very generic and, let's face it, inconsequential during your journey. A town early on serves the purpose of existing to house a well that you jump into to progress to the next landmass.

Though, speaking honestly, I still feel that what this game did right, it did so to a degree that made for an adequately enjoyable experience that I found myself returning to enough to see all the endings and never felt stressed about remembering every small detail as the simplicity actually aids well to the overall journey.

Graphics/Music: Chrono Trigger - Chrono Alter

As I said before, the graphics and music this game uses are mostly property of Square, and as this is the case I find no need to go on and on about how they look/sounded specifically. Instead, I'll go as far in-depth as I can into how I felt they portrayed the world, for better or for worse.

For me personally, I quite enjoyed how smooth this game felt as the ambiance never strayed into territory that struck me as jarring or worrying, a feeling I'd describe as an uneasiness and unwillingness to progress. Even when the game did start to drop into serious territory, I felt it was just so that it was necessary without coming across as melodramatic. Even so, much like with the storyline, this game doesn't really do anything atmospherically that makes it stand out, and I feel that might discourage others from seeing the game through to the end if they're not initially satisfied.

The low point of this section, however, can be summed up in two parts.

1. Chrono's field battle pose discoloration
2. The Epoch's mysterious ghost line that stalks it during flight

Level Design: Chrono Trigger - Chrono Alter

This is where the game really takes a hit in my books as the mapping and the overall layout of towns and dungeons feel extremely uninspired. Although it is true that the graphics were used correctly, the way in which they were used came across as feeling very, as I put it, 2007-ish. By this, I think back to a time in my own game developmental history where such quality can be found; this time being at the cusp of stepping up my game in terms of level design from something found here to a slightly more acceptable level of quality. Dungeons tend to be long hallways of earth caverns with only a little detail thrown in (such as rocks) to keep it from being simply an empty hallway. This would be a greater problem gameplay-wise if there were also random encounters or a lack of treasure at dead-ends, which Lance has worked hard to make sure isn't the case.

You'll find quickly that the most enjoyable dungeons are those that were man-made such as Fargo's Fortress, Terra Tower, and the Temple of Ages, as these typically have the better music, better ambiance, and become a welcome change to the typical spelunking. Towns, unfortunately, don't fare as well as they are typically little more than buildings thrown about a field, connected by cobblestone roads and enclosed in a fence. The most disappointing of these being the Red Moon Village, whose three of the four buildings that make up the town (two of these specific three you can only enter because they're businesses) are just copy-pastes of the same building.

Gameplay: Chrono Trigger - Chrono Alter

Although I've decided that the gameplay of the original game was the better of the two, I still felt like what Chrono Alter had was what truly kept me going and what inspired me to rate this what I did.

Yes, it's typical RPG fare dungeon delving and world saving, with only thing lacking being puzzles, but this game was a rare case in that I actually feel it came together better because of how it was executed as it all felt very consistent and inviting. At no point in the game did I feel like any one task dragged on longer than it needed and it kept the game going at a fair pace.

All battles in this game aside from bosses are touch encounters, so you're given the option of fighting only when you feel like it (or if your back is against the wall). The game made good use of a simple array of skills with attractive animations and elemental affinities/weaknesses, something I feel really made each character stand out a little more in terms of how they controlled, even when what made them individuals from a story perspective seemed to not matter.

Final Statements:

This is truly a game that you have to feel to appreciate as no one thing is all that outstanding, which I feel cuts Lance's work out for him pretty cleanly in terms of where he can improve in order to make the Final Mix (if he still wishes to pursue it, which I would recommend) a substantial step above the game's earlier versions. What I would recommend most of all is to study how Chrono Trigger made use of its graphical resources and work towards improving that so it feels like there is some manner of quality connection between this fangame and the original.

As I said during the gameplay section of this review, what I wrote might not necessarily seem to correspond with the score I concluded it with, but I honestly feel like what makes this game great is how all of the pieces fit together, even if the pieces themselves are rough around the edges as separate entities.