Wednesday, May 23, 2012

First Battle with Magus

This is part of an ongoing series about my favorite memories from video games. You can find the original list and table of contents in an earlier post or by clicking here. Please be aware that these posts are going to be full of spoilers which may ruin the impact of these events on anyone who wishes to experience them on their own in the future. I’m truly sorry this is a day late this week.

#8 – First Battle with Magus (Chrono Trigger)

When I was 14-years-old, I somehow knew Chrono Trigger was going to be one of the most amazing games I would ever play. I remember my first glimpse of the game was in Nintendo Power and from that moment on I was sold on the project. I craved it with every ounce of my being. It was the better part of a year that I awaited the arrival of this game, all the while talking it up to whoever would listen. I was sure it was going to be outstanding. In retrospect, I don’t know what about the game got me so riled up. I was not aware that it was being produced by a “dream team” of video game makers that would never re-assemble for a project again. Though I may have known Nobuo Uematsu and Akira Toriyama, I had no recollection of Yoshinori Kitase, Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yasunori Mitsuda, Hiroyuki Ito or Masato Kato. Those names weren’t included in my database of excellence until much later. I loved the idea that makers of my favorite games (“Final Fantasy” series and Secret of Mana) were making a game that dealt with jumping through time and resulted in multiple endings. Writing that sentence just gave me a shiver of excitement, so I think I just nailed down what was the source of my obsession with this project as a teen.

It’s not often that I get this worked up anticipating a game, due to countless instances of disappointment after hyping a game up in my head so much. Back then I was always excited for any new Squaresoft game to hit American shelves, but there was something magical about Chrono Trigger. It was even more magical that I was not disappointed after such a mental build up. Not once did I think the game could have been better, or that I shouldn’t have expected so much. Chrono Trigger is everything I dreamed it would be and more. It kept me entertained for over a year to come, and still manages to creep onto my playlist from time to time fifteen years later. In short, I believe Chrono Trigger is a perfect game, a masterpiece. It is truly the product of industry giants coming together for one unbelievable project, an event that I don’t believe has been duplicated since.

The game begins with the opening of the Millennial Fair in the year 1000AD, and here too begins the first of the game’s story arcs. Although the fair is celebrating the kingdom's 1000 year anniversary, most people at the fair seem fixated on the events 400 years ago that threatened the very existence of the human race. They go on  and on about a crazed leader named Magus leading an army of Mystics (non-humans) in an attempt to conquer the world. Since this is a game about time traveling, this might strike you as important foreshadowing as you work your way through the light-hearted events of the fair. Although the game does a good job of making the first few trips through time seem like unrelated episodes, the game is fully steering you toward a showdown with Magus. Each jump through time subtly presents new clues and information on Magus until the party from 1000AD finally see the destruction a being called Lavos wrought on the world and decide to stop it – by stopping its creator, Magus.

Magus in a Steve Zissou pose.
The party’s preparation to defeat Magus is perhaps the largest build-up to a climax the game offers, excluding the final showdown and resolution, of course. Before the player’s party can storm Magus’s gates and challenge him to a fight to the death, they first must learn how to use magic – an art lost thousands of years ago and only practiced by the Mystics in 600AD.  They must also reconstruct the Masamune, a legendary sword that cuts through Magus’s magical defenses. It is often described as Magus’s only weakness and it’s not in good shape when the party discovers it. All of this involves hopping around time using the previous clues and foreshadowing to direct the player on his quest to defeat Magus. The game spends so much time preparing to fight Magus that when you’re finally standing on his doorstep, his tower feels quite intimidating.

Magus's Tower depicted in one of many endings.
In the continuing efforts to make Magus appear to be the final boss of the game, Magus’s tower is one of the longest and most challenging dungeons faced at this point in the game. It is full of fights you cannot avoid and there are three mini-bosses awaiting you as well, Flea, Slash and Ozzie. The game is pulling all the stops to make this encounter feel like an ultimate showdown. Here you will stop Magus and save the future by destroying Lavos at its source.

The atmosphere feels quite foreboding when the music of Magus’s tower fades away and you enter a dark room filled with haunting chants. I will never forget my feelings of dread as I cautiously made my way down the aisle of this dark chamber with flames springing to life around me. At the end of the aisle, these flames form a circle around the scene slowly fading into view. There’s an innate summoning circle on the ground before a large demonic statue. Magus stands at the center with his arms spread wide, his purple cape and otherworldly blue hair fluttering in the wind. With his back to the party, he taunts them and seems otherwise unimpressed with their arrival. As Frog pulls the Masamune out, the black wind begins to howl along with the intro to Magus’s battle theme. When he finally turns, he’s wrapped in his cape like a vampire, but soon tosses it back and begins his magical assault on the party.

Throwing down with Magus at his dark chapel.
I have to hand it to the developers here. They did such an amazing job building to this moment, but more importantly they set an unbelievable mood for the player's arrival. The combination of effects used - the difficulty of the fight, the eerie atmosphere of some defiled chapel, the vampire/angel of death design for Magus, and the outstanding use of music – creates this unforgettable moment which is only further solidified when the player is slapped with the first major plot twist. Victory over the formidable foe only leads to the revelation that the characters were wrong. Magus was not the creator of Lavos. In fact, Lavos existed long before this moment in 600AD and the quest to save the planet goes on. Once again, the party is thrown into a time gate and Magus lives to fight another day, but everyone is left with doubts about his true motivation? The deeper mystery only serves to pull the player into the story more.

It is 17 years later and I’ve got 17 years worth of experience playing games and consuming stories, yet I’m here writing this article about Chrono Trigger. I am realizing that the events leading up to Magus are what demonstrate the amazing job this game does telling a story. The direction and pacing of the plot is so skillfully woven together with the imagery and the music players are quickly drawn into this world, and the controller gets harder and harder to put down. As a result Chrono Trigger is full of memorable characters and scenes. “The First Battle with Magus” stands out of the crowd because it marks the end of the first story arc, pulling all the stops to set up a climax for the first time in the game, and introduces one of the most unforgettable characters in video games – Magus, the tragic, otherworldly antihero.


Related Links
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Magus Battle on YouTube -

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