Best Bits

Best Bits: The Trial - CHRONO TRIGGER

OBJECTION! Oh wait - no, that’s a different game.
By Duncan Heaney
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In Best Bits, the Square Enix Blog team looks at some of our favourite moments from Square Enix games, and why we think they stand out. To be clear, we’re not declaring them to be the pinnacle of the game, merely one of many moments that we love. So don’t get upset with us if you disagree, okay?


It’s funny - while most RPGs cast you in the role of the noble hero, we seem to spend a lot of our time being… less than virtuous.

For example, how many times have you wandered into some poor NPC’s home and just helped yourself to the items in their chests and cabinets? Heck - in OCTOPATH TRAVELER, I don’t think there’s a single character I didn’t try to pickpocket at least once.

We do these things because… well, it’s fun - but also because there usually aren’t any repercussions to our actions.

So it’s a wonderful surprise when CHRONO TRIGGER upends those expectations… this section suddenly reveals that actually your actions really do have consequences.

What is the Trial?

At this point in the story, Crono has experienced quite the adventure. A chance meeting with Princess Marle at a local carnival somehow escalated into a dizzying journey into the past. He’s prevented a kidnapping, resolved a time paradox and met gaming’s coolest frog.

So when Crono, Lucca and Marle finally return to the present, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re due a little R&R.

Sadly, that’s not to be. Crono is almost immediately arrested, on charges of kidnapping the princess, and put on trial for his alleged crimes. Thanks to the corrupt actions of the Chancellor, Crono’s off to prison regardless of the verdict, but whether he’s found innocent or guilty depends on his actions, and his strength of character.

Or more accurately… yours.

A time for some self-examination

The carnival at the beginning of CHRONO TRIGGER is filled with opportunities to make decisions.

These choices are so small and seemingly inconsequential that most players don’t even think about them on their first playthrough - they mess around with the options available and move onto the main adventure.

But the trial reveals that these interactions do actually have meaning. The prosecuting Chancellor brings out witnesses to comment on your character - and if you were a jerk, you’re about to be called out.


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For example, a large sack sits unguarded on a table. If you pick up this parcel, the owner will accuse you of stealing his lunch. Which is fair enough because… you did.

Or, if you were impatient with Marle’s indecisiveness when buying candy, one of the townsfolk will have seen you dragging her away from the stall - further evidence to support the trumped-up kidnapping charge.

Brilliantly, the game also flashes back to those scenes, driving home that it was you who made these decisions. You have nobody else to blame.

And it’s not just your past actions that play into the verdict - your current ones do too.

The prosecutor will ask you questions over the course of the criminally short trial. You can lie, but if you’re caught out, that’s not going to play well with the jury.

It plays the long(ish) game

Another way the game compensates for gamer’s worst instincts is with pacing. If the trial took place immediately after the carnival, there could be a temptation to revert to an earlier save and redo it to get the ‘best’ result.

But there’s actually a large chunk of gameplay between the opening and this section - the first trip into the past, meeting Marle’s ancestor and Frog… a lot happens.

It’s only around an hour or so (maybe a bit more depending on how much you like to take your time), but that’s enough to ensure that trying for a do-over would be inconvenient. Yet it’s also recent enough that your actions in your hometown will still be fresh in your mind.


It plays on expected videogame behaviour

There are some behaviours that are ingrained in gamers. For example, we want to pick up all the items we can, in case we need it for something later.

Similarly, we tend to explore an area for items before taking actions that might advance the plot - we’ve learned that we can sometimes miss out on goodies because the game wants to move the story on.

So when we see that man’s lunch, our instinct is to pick it up. And when Crono and Marle bump into each other, many of us would naturally wander over to the glowing object on the ground before talking to the fallen princess.

The developers know this - both of these incidents come up during the trial. Your greed will be pointed out if you steal the sack of food, and checking on the valuable object on the ground before tending to Marle is used to demonstrate that you care more about her fortune than her wellbeing.

…well played CHRONO TRIGGER. Well played.


What do you think?

It’s only a small segment in a massive, sprawling adventure, but CHRONO TRIGGER’s trial emphasises why the game is still as beloved today as it was when it originally came out. Wit and creativity oozes out of every pixel, and the game goes out of its way to subvert expectations wherever it can.

But what did you think of it? Do you agree that this is a standout section? What are your Best Bits of CHRONO TRIGGER?

Let us know in the comments, or on social media - and check back on the Square Enix Blog each day for more articles!

Best Bits: Halloween Town - KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 ReMIX

Warning: contains spoilers for KINGDOM HEARTS FINAL MIX HD
By Duncan Heaney
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In Best Bits, the Square Enix Blog team looks at some of our favorite moments from Square Enix games, and why we think they stand out. To be clear, we’re not declaring them to be the pinnacle of the game, merely one of many moments that we love. So don’t get upset with us if you disagree, okay?


It’s Halloween, so naturally our thoughts turn to the spookiest, kookiest part of the KINGDOM HEARTS games - Halloween Town.

This hauntingly beautiful world - based on the seminal movie, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas - is a recurring location in the series and, to be honest, any of its appearances could qualify for a ‘Best Bits’ article.

But for this particular piece, we’ve chosen Sora’s visit in the original KINGDOM HEARTS (and by extension the HD remaster of KINGDOM HEARTS FINAL MIX) - a segment that’s particularly rich in Halloween-y goodness.

What happens in Halloween Town?

For the uninitiated, the KINGDOM HEARTS series sees big-hearted heroes Sora, Donald and Goofy travelling to various Disney worlds, meeting iconic characters and helping them seal their homes from the Heartless - shadowy creatures created from the darkness in people’s hearts.

But when the intrepid trio arrives in Halloween Town, something’s a bit different. There are Heartless in the streets, but they don’t attack - something is clearly amiss.

Enter the ‘master of terror’ and ‘king of nightmares’ himself - Jack Skellington. It turns out that Jack’s trying to use the Heartless in an upcoming Halloween festival… but he’s not satisfied with their dancing.

The group consults Doctor Finkelstein who tells them that he needs ingredients to create a heart so that the Heartless will obey instructions. Sora, Donald, Goofy and Jack set off on a jaunt around Halloween town to collect all the required elements - a task complicated by the fact that the Heartless are suddenly far less benign.

It’s times like this that it’s useful to have Keyblade wielder around - with Sora’s help, Jack is able to fight past the hordes and collect all the required parts. Unfortunately, a more twisted trio - Lock, Shock and Barrel - learn of the plan to control the Heartless and steal the heart for the malicious Oogie Boogie.

It’s up to Sora, Donald, Goofy and Jack to confront the villain, retrieve the heart and save Halloween Town.

So why’s it so good?

By my reckoning, Halloween Town succeeds on multiple levels - how it plays, how it looks, how it sounds and how well it captures the spirit of the movie it takes inspiration from.

The combat in KINGDOM HEARTS starts relatively simply, but the game quickly adds new abilities, which offer a ton of flexibility in how you approach each encounter.


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By the time you reach Halloween Town, Sora, Donald and Goofy have a host of magic, items and combat abilities at their disposal, and experimenting with different character setups can be a lot of fun.

Fortunately, Halloween Town gives you plenty of opportunities to do just that. The initial search for the heart ingredients keeps things straightforward - wide areas to explore, full of secrets to find and Heartless to battle. What’s more, it’s a chance to spend some time with Jack and his abilities, before things get too crazy.

It mixes things up

And get crazy they do. Once Lock, Shock and Barrel steal the heart, the chase is on!

What follows is a series of exciting battles as our heroes race towards Oogie Boogie’s mansion, but it’s when they get there that things really take off, with some of the most memorable boss battles in the whole game.

Firstly there’s Lock, Shock and Barrel themselves. What initially seems like a fairly simple fight quickly becomes something a little more involved. The kids are fast and evasive - you’ll need to pay attention to land your hits, especially if you’re playing on the higher difficulty levels.

Then comes the first battle with Oogie Boogie - one of the most unique bosses in the entire game. The whole fight takes place on a giant roulette wheel - Oogie Boogie dances around the edges, throwing explosive dice at you. He’s difficult to get to, and working out how to get within Keyblade distance is a fun combat puzzle in itself.

Eventually, of course, you will beat him, at which point the embittered baddie takes things to the next level by merging with the entire mansion. Suddenly, the scenario shifts yet again. Now it’s a race across up and around mansion itself to take down his weak points - a thrilling set piece that elegantly combines combat, navigation and light platforming.

It’s an impressive amount of variety, paced perfectly to keep the player interested.


A very spooky Sora

It’s also worth discussing just how perfect this all looks. One of my favorite things about KINGDOM HEARTS is how Sora, Donald and Goofy will change appearance to blend in with the world they’re visiting. They’ve got to preserve the World Order after all.

Their Halloween Town transformation may be my personal favorite (although their Monstropolis forms from KINGDOM HEARTS III are a close contender). Sora becomes a vampire, Donald gets mummified and Goofy becomes an appropriately jolly take on Frankenstein’s monster.

What’s cool is that these designs seamlessly blend each character’s signature look with the distinctive designs of The Nightmare Before Christmas, allowing them to stand next to the likes of Jack Skellington and Sally without seeming out of place.


The soundtrack is a dream

Oh, and the music! Yoko Shimomura’s soundtrack to KINGDOM HEARTS are legendary - combining her own compositions with classic Disney tunes for dramatic effect.

For Halloween Town, she takes notes and themes from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and reinterprets them in a way that evokes memories of the movie, while still feeling uniquely KINGDOM HEARTS. It’s utterly wonderful.


It celebrates the source material

But more than anything though, it’s the tone that most impresses.

Halloween Town perfectly captures the wonderfully off-kilter spirit of the movie that inspired it - the story, the characters, the visuals and the music combine to create a love letter to The Nightmare Before Christmas.

If you’re a fan of the flick (and I really am), it’s one of those parts of a game that you’ll want to revisit time and time again.

And what better time than Halloween itself, right?


So it’s pretty obvious that we love Halloween Town - but what do you think? What are your favorite worlds in the series? Share your thoughts in the comments, or social media:

Best Bits: Shadow of the Tomb Raider - Trial of the Eagle

This article contains mild spoilers for Shadow of the Tomb Raider
By Duncan Heaney
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In Best Bits, the Square Enix Blog team looks at some of our favourite moments from Square Enix games, and why we think they stand out. To be clear, we’re not declaring them to be the pinnacle of the game, merely one of many moments that we love. So don’t get upset with us if you disagree, okay?


Shadow of the Tomb Raider has some truly memorable moments. From the opening breakneck opening Day of the Dead sequence, to more relaxed hang-outs with the locals of a lost city, there’s plenty to admire.

But one bit that I’m particularly impressed by is the Trial of the Eagle.

What is the Trial of the Eagle?

The path to the Lost City of Paititi is fraught with danger. To reach her goal, Lara Croft must prove she’s worthy by completing three trials.

First comes the water-logged Trial of the Jaguar, and despite a close call with an unruly eel, Lara gets through with only minor damage.

Next up is the Trial of the Spider. It’s a tricky climb through tunnels and up sheer walls, but fortunately Lara’s equipped with a climbing axe and a total disregard for self-preservation so it barely slows her down.

At this point, we’re feeling pretty good about the chances of making it through. After all, after Yamatai and Kitezh, Lara’s a pro at finding lost cities. She’s got this, right?

That’s when we hit the Trial of the Eagle - and it’s a challenge that hits back.

An ascent to remember

The Trial of the Eagle is an ancient mechanism - a swirling nightmare of platforms, poles, sails and spikes. It’s big, complex and intimidatingly solid. As Lara points out, “Still standing after centuries of earthquakes and storms.”

The path to Paititi sits at the top of the structure - thus begins an epic climb and, at least in this writer’s opinion, one of the best platforming challenges in the entire Tomb Raider series.


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It subverts expectations right from the start - there’s no way up, so Lara’s forced to head down. But after shimmying all the way to the other side of the room… another problem emerges. There’s still no way up!

The only solution is for Lara to keep descending and, after a tense and dangerous climb that requires most of her traversal skills, get on the outer wall of the mechanism.

A convenient windmill, and proper application of some trusty rope arrows are enough to get things moving again, and create new paths upwards.

Of course, now things are spinning, there’s the added risk of being knocked over by whirling beams…

And all that’s just the beginning of the exhilarating journey through the Trial of the Eagle.

As Lara climbs further, more puzzles block her path, and the ascent gets ever-more treacherous. The structure may have survived for hundreds of years, but there are still limits. The path gets increasingly unstable, and as Lara reaches the peak… well, to reveal any more would be unfair to anyone who’s yet to play. Trust us when we say it’s pretty memorable.

So why’s it so good?

The Tomb Raider games have evolved over time, but two major gameplay pillars persist across all the games - platforming and puzzle-solving.

The Trial of the Eagle represents both elements in their most potent form. You’ll need to use almost every traversal skill you’ve learned to get around, in order to solve the puzzles that bar your way. When you do work out the solution, it changes the environment, and introduces new gameplay challenges to the platforming.

The two elements feed into each other - they work together in this section in perfect harmony.

Another important element of the trial - it builds as it progresses. The platforming becomes tougher and more intricate, as the puzzles increase in complexity.

The whole section feels perfectly paced - an exhilarating climb that keeps you on your toes, and just long enough that when you reach the top, you feel a surge of catharsis.

We also shouldn’t forget to mention the third element that makes the section work - that little extra something that’s sprinkled throughout Shadow of the Tomb Raider: spectacle.

Everything in the scene is visually interesting, from the lighting, to the animation, to the impressive vistas when you stray outside. But what really impresses in the scale - Lara feels tiny compared to the sails and statues of this massive mechanism - and when you get her near the top, you’re acutely aware that it’s a long, long way down.


In case you can’t tell, I’m rather fond of this little slice of classic Tomb Raider. It’s a lot of what I love about the series, executed to an exceptionally high standard.

But what do you think? Do you agree that the Trial of the Eagle is a standout? What are your best bits of the game - let us know in the comments and on social media:

Best Bits: Operation Mi’ihen, FINAL FANTASY X

Beware - this article contains major spoilers for FINAL FANTASY X
By Duncan Heaney
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1

In Best Bits, the Square Enix Blog team looks at some of our favourite moments from Square Enix games, and why we think they stand out. To be clear, we’re not declaring them to be the pinnacle of the game, merely one of many moments that we love. So don’t get upset with us if you disagree, okay?


One thing that makes FINAL FANTASY X such a distinct game is its tone. While there’s plenty of humor and high adventure to be had, there’s also a thick undercurrent of melancholy.

The spectre of Sin hangs over the world of Spira at almost all times - the aquatic monstrosity devastates life, and people rely on summoners like Yuna to earn the power to stop it. And as Yuna and her Guardians are all too aware - that ain’t easy.

All other attempts to stop Sin typically end the same way - death and carnage. Operation Mi’ihen is one such disaster.

What is Operation Mi’ihen?

Yuna’s pilgrimage takes her to the Mi’ihen Highroad. The highroad’s a flurry of activity, with soldiers and chocobos scurrying around to prepare for a large-scale assault against Sin.

The party discovers that this is an unprecedented collaboration between the Crusaders (an anti-Sin military force), and the technologically-minded Al Bhed. What’s more, it will be witnessed by a major bigwig - Maester Seymour Guado himself. Seymour takes a shine to Yuna, so he invites the gang to come watch events play out.

The Crusaders plan to gather multiple Sinspawn - the monsters that emerge from Sin’s body - and use them to lure the moist menace to the area. The Al Bhed will then use powerful cannons to blast it away once and for all.

As plans go, it’s simple and to the point - what could go possibly go wrong? Other than, y’know, everything.


The aftermath

Firstly, the Sinspawn escape confinement, which forces the team to wade into the fray. After defeating a monstrosity, the heroes watch in horror as Sin withstands the powerful attack, and retaliates with one of its own.

When the dust is cleared, hundreds of Crusaders are dead, the party is scattered, and another Sinspawn boss is on the prowl. Fortunately, Seymour is there and, assisted by Yuna takes the beast down without too much trouble.

So what exactly is it that makes this section so memorable?

It’s thematically rich

Let’s go back to the subject of tone. FINAL FANTASY X is not a bleak game, but it is a sad one. Beneath the people’s enthusiasm, the friendships, the family, and the laughs is a gnawing sense of inevitability.

Sin is an unbeatable force of destruction. Even when a summoner’s pilgrimage is successful, it only marks a temporary reprieve. Sin always comes back. So too are the Crusaders’ operations doomed to failure. As one character explains, they exist to drive Sin away from settlements - but they’ve never succeeded at actually hurting the beast.

Operation Mi’ihen drives this home in most vivid way possible. The assault on Sin is doomed to failure - Auron knows it, the Maesters know it and we, the audience, know it, too. It’s never overtly stated, but you have to imagine that a number of the Crusaders know this also. But they go ahead anyway, because it’s better to do something than nothing at all.

Sure enough, the operation is a bust, and hundreds are left dead or injured. Nothing is left but for the survivors to pick themselves up and move on. After all, that’s what you do in Spira. It’s inevitable.

It helps us start investing in the questing

The early stages of FINAL FANTASY X take place largely from Tidus’ perspective. We follow his struggles, learn about his childhood, and get introduced to the world through his eyes.

Even when he becomes a Guardian, Tidus does so without any deeper understanding of the pilgrimage’s implications. So, there’s a risk that the complex religious and political aspects to Yuna’s pilgrimage could become little more than a backdrop to his struggles.


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Fortunately, the developers are smarter than that. By giving us a close-up look at Sin through Operation Mi’ihen, Yuna’s story moves to the forefront of the game. We’re reminded us that stopping Sin really matters, and that helps us invest in the quest.

It makes the world richer and more cohesive

Stop me if you’ve heard this before - the ‘world is a character in its own right’.

It’s not the most original statement, but I maintain it holds true for FINAL FANTASY X. One of the greatest things about it - at least from my perspective - is how fleshed out Spira is. It’s a fully-realised place, not just in terms of the lands and races, but society itself.

For example, there’s a persistent tension between the devout followers of Yevon, who see the use of machina, or machinery, as taboo, and the Al Bhed, who tinker and use machina as a matter of course.

This is alluded to throughout the early parts of the game, but Operation Mi’ihen swings the spotlight directly onto it.

The Crusaders’ collaboration with the Al Bhed and their technology is a source of major controversy - many of Yevon’s followers are horrified by it, particularly Wakka.

When it all falls apart, many of the survivors face something of an existential crisis, and believe that their failure to follow the tenets of their religion is to blame. Many head to the temples after the battle to work with the priests and atone for their sins.

Getting such a detailed look into the relationship between Yevon and technology enriches our understanding of the world.

We see the power religion has over all aspects of society. We see the role old technology plays in this land. We see how the followers of Yevon resent and mistrust the Al Bhed.

Thanks to Operation Mi’ihen, Spira feels like a fully-formed place for the characters to inhabit.

It builds character through gameplay

We already know that Seymour is powerful - we’ve seen it earlier in the story. But by putting him under our control, we get a sense of just how capable he is.

Every member of your party has a specific role to play in battle - Yuna’s a white mage, Lulu’s a black mage, Wakka specializes in ranged attacks and so on.

So it’s eye-opening when Seymour joins your party. He’s got powerful offensive magic, he can heal, and he hits like a tank. He’s a jack of all trades, and a Maester of most of them.

Combined with his elevated position in Spiran society, it hammers home a key point - this is a dude you should take seriously.

Despite his reluctance to button his shirt up.


So those are some ruminations on one of our favourite parts of FINAL FANTASY X - but we’re sure you have your own. Share them in the comments, or on social media: