Revisiting Chrono Cross (Part 8)

Alright, we’re finally going to tackle Mt. Pyre.  It’s… brief.  The high points here are that the party gets a tutorial on how to use summon elements (which are unnecessarily complicated most of the time; they can only be equipped by characters with a matching innate color, and can only be cast when the entire field matches the element color; naturally this means that in future boss battles where summons will be most useful, the conditions for using them will be extremely difficult to set up since most bosses like to screw with the field color in addition to beating up your party) and we get into a fight with a small dragon who carries around a spear like he owns the place.  There’s also a boss fight with the Acacia Dragoon Devas, who are friends of Glenn, and who chew him out for helping the fugitive Serge if he’s in your party (it’s kind of a nice character moment for Glenn, particularly given how rare development for anyone besides Serge and Kid is in the game’s central story).

And that’s it for Mt. Pyre.

It’s kind of anticlimactic after being forced into so many digressions when trying to follow Lynx and the Dragoons, but the next part makes up for that.

In the basin that’s nestled in the middle of the mountain range that Mt. Pyre belongs to, there’s an ancient fortress that looks pretty familiar.  This is the place that Serge dreamt about infiltrating with Kid back at the game’s start.  It’s called Fort Dragonia, and it’s a relic of the long dead civilization of Dragonians.  We don’t know much about them at this point other than they were in El Nido long before humans showed up, and they originated El Nido’s elder religion that’s centered around the six Dragon Gods (and because video game religions always involve a physical manifestation of their respective deities, we’ve already met one of the six Dragon Gods).  The purpose of Fort Dragonia is pretty mysterious, but it theoretically holds the secret to using the power of the Dragon’s Tear, so it’s up to Serge and friends to climb to the top so they can stop Lynx from whatever it is he’s trying to do, prophetic murder dreams be damned.

FortDragonia

Fort Dragonia’s much bigger than it looks on the outside. (Image credit: Chronopedia)

You can guess that this does not go well.

Before we continue with the story, a quick note about the design of Fort Dragonia.  Compared to previous sections of the game, this is a really long dungeon.  Reaching the top involves unlocking six switches (one for each color element) in order to active the elevator that takes the party to their confrontation with Lynx.  Each switch is preceded by a small puzzle of some sort (nothing too difficult by console RPG standards, but a couple do require you to pay attention to some fun navigational mechanics), but just having a simple puzzle isn’t enough.  Remember that Chrono Cross‘s battle system is designed such that you can’t power level your characters, and boss fights are the only way to get stronger.  So what did the designers do with Fort Dragonia?  They put a boss in front of four of the switches you have to flip without giving you any warning that you’re walking into boss fights (the first time it happens is a little surprising, but after you get the pattern it’s easier to anticipate when you’re about to run into a fight).  This is the first dungeon where we run into this design element (there was a small taste on the Invincible with the back to back boss fights out of nowhere, but nothing like what’s coming in the future), and it’s not going away any time soon.  It’s probably Chrono Cross‘s biggest design flaw; the party needs to get stronger, but because only boss fights count for leveling up, every extended dungeon has to have at least a few bosses that serve no narrative purpose.  In a game that suffers from having some exceptionally long dungeons in its latter half, this is a major problem for maintaining narrative momentum.

Alright, so that wasn’t a quick note, but I think it helps illustrate my point about the boss fights.  They interrupt the flow of the story.

So Serge and friends arrive at the top of the tower where they face off first with General Viper (like the Devas, he has some choice words for Glenn) and then with Lynx (who finally betrays Viper by literally stabbing him in the back).  Now we’ve finally arrived at the moment that Serge saw in his dream.  I’ve done everything I can to try to avoid Kid’s involvement here; I avoided recruiting her for as long as I could, and I never put her in my party, but the game just doesn’t care about any of your precautions.  Fate says she’s going to be there for the confrontation with Lynx and Serge is going to stab her, so that’s what happens.

This is an interesting moment narratively because part of the early portion of the game’s appeal is the variety of choices that it offers you that have minor impacts on the story.  This scene is significant for setting up the game’s second act, and the player’s made to realize in no uncertain terms that their choices are just an illusion meant to ease them into the narrative that the game wants to tell.  Kid is there for Serge’s betrayal, and there’s nothing you can do about it, even though you’re playing Serge.

Of course, Serge’s vision of events was incomplete, and there’s more to the story than him simply stabbing Kid in the back and smiling over a blood-slicked knife.  At the top of Fort Dragonia, Lynx activates the Dragon’s Tear and swaps bodies with Serge.  We don’t yet know why he’s done this, but there’s a bit of palpable relief as we see that it’s not Serge at all who was destined to hurt Kid; it was Lynx.  Unfortunately, this realization is small comfort since Lynx makes use of the body swap to trick the party into attacking Serge-in-Lynx’s-body and then kicking him into a dimensional rift when he’s too weak to fight back.

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