Lara Croft hasn’t had the best of times in recent years. The Tomb Raider series found itself slowly declining in popularity, following a handful of games that failed to capture the magic possessed by the original titles.
Not only that, but when Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series arrived in 2007 it quickly took the crown as gamers ‘tomb and treasure’ game of choice.
Now, developers Crystal Dynamics have gone back to the drawing board to bring Lara Croft and her escapades back to their former glory.
When Chrono Trigger was released on the SNES way back in 1995 it was a true landmark title, not just in terms of its technical ability or gameplay innovations (more on those later) but also because of its core development team which consisted of some of the most notable figures in RPG gaming all under one roof. This so-called ‘Dream Team’ was aptly named – the father of the Final Fantasy series, Hironobu Sakaguchi sat at the helm, while Square recruited Dragon Quest designers Yuji Hori and Akira Toriyama to lend their years of expertise to the project, which ultimately became one of the greatest games of its time. That Chrono Trigger still sits high on various media outlets’ top 100 lists is a testament to the team’s achievements. Sadly it never got a release in PAL territories; if you thought Europe got a raw deal now, just imagine how bad things were in 1995 – very few RPG epics actually mad it to these shores back then. But now, nearly fifteen years later, Chrono Trigger finally gets a PAL release and the chance to enthral an entirely new generation.
Chrono Trigger’s finely crafted story has been oft copied but rarely matched for pacing, detail and characterisation. One of the reasons for the Dragon Quest games’ continued popularity, despite little innovation in gameplay, has been due to the wonderful stories and the depth of the characters and Yuji Hori’s influence in this department is plain to see. Despite the grandiose themes of time-travel and saving the world, the story never loses sight of the human element. The relationships between heroes Crono, Marle and Lucca and the main antagonist Magus are as complex as you are likely to see in gaming, and their development through the game is handled with great care.
In terms of gameplay, Chrono Trigger was responsible for creating or at least popularising many key innovations in the RPG genre. It was one of the first RPGs to do away with random battles, with enemies being completely visible, and instead of cutting away to a separate battle screen each fight took place in the game world itself. While the battle system was still effectively turn-based (utilising the same active time battle system as the Final Fantasy games from IV onwards) character and enemy placement was important; multiple enemies could be hit from one attack if they were close together for example. Your characters could also combine special attacks (known as techs) to unleash more complex attacks or healing moves. In this DS remake, battle options and stats are now kept on the touch screen so the action remains uncluttered, and can be controlled with the stylus or with traditional buttons.
One of Chrono Trigger’s other unique features which can be seen in a lot of games today are the multiple endings and the subtle way your choices in the game affect little parts of the plot. At the beginning of the game you get to explore a town fair, which has a few mini-games and a couple of side-quests. What you choose to do during this early section plays a small part in one of the later plot twists; recent titles like Fable 2 and Fallout 3 have made a big deal about player decisions changing their plots but Chrono Trigger handles this a little more subtly as it never lets on there are implications for your actions.
It must have been tempting for Square-Enix to have given Chrono Trigger the same 3D update awarded to some of its other back catalogue from the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series, but thankfully every pixel of the original remains intact. Even now, it looks and sounds like a masterpiece and has lost nothing in its translation to the DS. Each world contains an eerie sense of familiarity as you travel between the same locations set in different eras and Toriyama’s character designs are simple yet expressive, even on the smaller screen. The score is still one of the most popular amongst gaming music fans and the many tunes composed by Yasunori Mitsuda later Nobou Uematsu (Mitsuda fell ill during the development) have been recreated by Uematsu-San himself to guarantee they sound as good on the DS’ tiny speakers as they did back in 1995.
Altogether this remake should come highly recommended to both fans of the original and those gamers who either weren’t born or weren’t interested at the time of the original release. Chrono Trigger’s impact will undoubtedly be weathered for first-timers raised on polygons and bloom lighting, but it still stands as one of the finest experiences in gaming history and a real treasure.
Musashi: Samurai Legends is one of Square-Enix’s lesser-known franchises. It started off on the PlayStation back in 1998 and now Square-Enix has decided to resurrect the little Musashi fellow and bring him to a whole new setting on the PS2.
The first thing you noticed about Musashi: Samurai Legend is the manga inspired art style. The game has incorporated a cel-shaded anime style and it looks great, even the intro is beautifully animated showing Musashi flashing off his almighty blade skills, lightning speed and girl rescuing powers. Unfortunately for poor Musashi, he seems to lose his speed ability a great deal in gameplay, and this results in a slothful action RPG hero.
The story starts off with a young maiden called Mycella who is performing a ritual to summon a certain hero warrior to come and save her and her people from the evil corporation Gandrake Enterprise. She is captured by the enterprise while performing the ritual and is taken away to their head quarters. Unknowingly for her the legendary hero Musashi has just landed in a forest and is being trained up by Japanese master Mew the cat, and so the game starts.
Musashi is a very combat heavy game, you’ll be slashing down foes that look the same through the game, they do come in varieties but there isn’t much of that so basically the enemies are pretty repetitive. As you would expect in a game of this type, they are bosses and although pretty easy they do change the way you fight and gives the users something to think about rather than just thrashing a button to kill off a crook.
The actually combat system is pretty simple; most of the time is spent hammering the square button to use your katana to attack the enemies. Musashi also has a secondary weapon, which is classed as the heavy weapon, these are usually one of the five legendary swords you pick up throughout the game, these swords let you use the element magic ability that the sword is assigned to. The users also have the ability to jump, defend and use special attacks in battle, but they are all pretty simple. The only thing that is the tiniest bit complex is the replicate move to learn enemies’ abilities. To pull this off you have to lock onto the enemy and let your focus bar charge up, once it’s charged you then have to wait till the opponent attacks and then press square at the right time, do this precise and you duplicate the move. It’s an interesting feature but it just wasn’t worked on enough, you’ll only use some of the moves, as most of them are just not needed at all.
Fighting just isn’t that fun, mainly due to the slow paced Musashi. He plods along as if he was secretly a 60-year-old warrior who was in need of retirement. Ok so it might not be that bad, but he does seem to move as if he was in quicksand and can be frustrating when you are backtracking. Another problem arises if you tap the square button too much to attack with the katana, he will keep attacking until he finishes his combo movement, the only way to stop this is to press guard, there is no cancel command of the sort so you often find yourself slashing air for the ‘fun’ of it.
To try and make the game less repetitive Square-Enix decided to add some vehicle sections to the game, they kind of act like mini games (Something like the bike section in Final Fantasy VII). Musashi will get to ride a motorbike or a hover car in these sections and while it has potential to be fun it just isn’t. Just like the rest of the game, the sections are really easy. The enemies basically just sit there and wait for you to slap them with your weapon; it just doesn’t add any challenge or excitement.
As you would expect in many Action RPG games, there is a main city. In Musashi your hub to the levels is a city called Antheum. When you first arrive the city is fairly bare, it’s only when you rescue the towns folk throughout the game that shops and other useful things become accessible to the player. There are blacksmiths to sharpen your weapons, arenas to fight beasts and win items and shops to buy health potions and so on.
As it was mentioned earlier the game uses cel shading for its graphics, although Square-Enix have decided to name this effect for Musashi “Manga Shading.” It’s still basically the same, it’s just the lines around the characters are really thick and black. The game looks beautiful and rich and the animations are done fine. The game does suffer from a fair amount of slowdown though; it’s easily noticeable while playing through large areas in the game. I came to the conclusion that the actual speed and action of the game was reduced so that the frame rate wouldn’t suffer as much in high intensity battles, if you can ever find any of them…
Square-Enix is usually darn good at selecting voice-overs for characters, but if this was the first game you ever played by them, then you would be laughing at how appalling it is. It’s mainly due to the fact that the people just can’t seem to deliver the context in the right way, mostly sounding monotonous at the same time. The music is on the better side and does include some pleasant tunes that you can hum along to, but will most likely forget once you’ve finished playing.
Players will probably finish the game in around 11-14 hours. Once beaten you unlock the hard mode to play through, but everything the game has to offer has already been seen and there really isn’t much to bring you back unless you really want to finish the game on hard, but for most people that will be a challenge in itself, not because it’s hard, but mainly because it will cast a sleep spell on you.
Musashi: Samurai Legend is a game that I felt was rushed out. It looks the look but just doesn’t play the play. The graphics approach is great but once you are over the style you just find that there isn’t much to the game. It’s a shallow experience that is simple to play through and really only for die-hard Square-Enix fans or people who need to have a play of a light hearted Action- RPG. If you must play it then the game is rental at the most.