Chrono Cross Audio Drama
Faraway Promise and A Promise Kept
In 2001, Ben Harmer and his friends began an audio drama project to faithfully recreate Chrono Cross with certain changes. The scope later grew, and by 2007, two complete works had emerged featuring characters of both Chrono Cross and Chrono Trigger working together. The dramas are done with the help of several voice actors, ambient sounds, and remixes and arrangements from the VGM community. Ben notes that the first project -- "Faraway Promise" -- suffers from some over-narration and certain spots of poor mixing and acting. However, he states that A Promise Kept is a grand improvement and should take precedence to audiences. A sequel is planned for the future. Check out the links below to listen, and don't forget the miniview farther down the page.
Miniview with Ben Harmer
1. Where'd the initial inspiration come, and when were you first exposed to the Chrono series?
I first got the idea to do an audio drama of Chrono Cross shortly after the game was released. It was at a time before voice over was standard for RPGs and Cross’s story was so interesting to me that I felt a dramatization of it could be a great thing if done correctly. I also was just getting into voice acting on the internet and wanted a role in an audio drama. The best way for me to get a role was self-casting at that time. So I cast myself as Guile and went on from there.
My introduction to the Chrono Series began with Chrono Trigger shortly after its release. I instantly loved the game and its characters. The idea of being able to travel through time itself has always fascinated me. The story was a unique one for its time and it was the first non-Final Fantasy RPG I had played. The game became the first thing I did when I got home from school most of the time.
2. How did the story evolve? Did you have any specific new scenarios in mind from the beginning?
My idea for the story was to basically do the entire Chrono Cross game’s story in audio format, and that’s what I did at first in “Far Away Promise, Part One”. I soon realized though that to fully adapt the entirety of Chrono Cross would require many more hours of runtime than I felt the listeners could stand. Afterall, there are differences between a game and a movie/audio drama, and to attempt to make my audio drama completely like the game was not only foolish, but rather difficult. The one key difference I had mind from the beginning (and it was something lacking from CC the game) was the presence of “Magus” from Chrono Trigger. I had to find a way to have him in the audio drama since his sister is featured in the game and Magus’ search for her was hinted at the end of CT.
And so with the start of “Far Away Promise, Part Two” the Guile character finally transitioned into Magus/Janus and I began to slowly back off on the exact plot of the game and weave something similar but condensed in comparison. Again, it really doesn’t show in a major way in “FAP, 2”, but you should be able to tell the direction of the story is differing. It becomes completely apparent in “APK” where I removed the entirety of the Dragon Subplot. With that removed and Harle very much a character in the RP still, I had to then craft another purpose for her character and motivation as well.
3. How did you round up voice actors and other assistance?
I was fortune to have stumbled upon the online voice acting community and two sites in particular: FLAVA and the Voice Acting Alliance. It was at these two sites where I held auditions for the characters. Lucien Dodge, Tony Wang, Tamtu Bui were with me from the beginning to the final part and vital to its success. Of course those who have recently joined the cast (Azure as “Kid”, Laura post as “Lucca”) and those who couldn’t keep playing their roles were equally as vital.
4. What's involved in the mixing process?
The mix starts with gathering everyone’s lines into the same folder and making sure they are numbered correctly. It really helps the mixing along if everything is in numerical order. I then check to see if all lines are actually present and of those that are if everything is pronounced the way I thought it should be (all lines are spoken in the correct context, etc.). If all lines are present, I open my main production tool: Sony Vegas (that program really saved me a lot of headaches with its multi-track capabilities) and the actual mixing begins. I like to start with laying ambience first (get the environment the characters are in to sound like it should) and then lay the voices over it. Then I add any necessary sound effects (there was quite a bit less of these in FAP due to the over-narration). I then finish each scene with the music, usually going with what sounds best with the scene or what makes sense.
Sometimes I needed additional lines from a different character when I was missing ones for another to make the scene still make sense. Or I had to de-noise the lines so everything mixed well, and I also often (in APK anyway) added proper reverb effects to lines. There was also the case of “special effect” voices like Robo, Lynx, and FATE where pitch shifting and other filters were applied.
5. Is there a segment you're particularly proud of in the work?
The scene where Janus and Lucca are fighting the robots would have to be the one I am most proud of mixing. It involved the most sound effects I have ever layered and the right balancing of the dialogue with the music. It was a scene where I think I got everything almost perfect. The top notch acting from Laura Post (and Lucien’s robot noises) helped as well.
6. On the flip side, were there any really challenging aspects of acting or preparing the final product?
Since I had decided to condense the plot and make a new ending (not to mention have it all make sense), I’d have to say that was the biggest challenge. I wanted this to be much more than an exact word for word version of the story, but I also didn’t want to bog it down with unnecessary back-story and explanations. While some things are then left to the imagination of the listeners and others seem a little “out there”, I hope I reached a proper balance. For those who need more back story, I recommend playing the entirety of CT and CC, and then reading the fanfic “Chrono Trigger: Until the End of Time” by Jeff Moore. With permission I based the production’s back-story loosely on that fanfic. There are of course differences in continuity. I won’t spoil the fanfic to point out what is different, but let’s just say some characters that appear in APK couldn’t possibly if I followed it exactly. There is also a difference in how the FATE computer is created. The fanfic follows the game’s version mostly and I do something a little different (again, I won’t spoil it).
7. What have you learned along the way?
Among the things I learned was a little narration goes a long way. One thing the listeners will notice is the over-use of it in “FAP”, and while Lucien is a good narrator it certainly wasn’t necessary for all that narration to be there. Another thing learned of course was how to mix better as I went along. I’m hoping there is improvement noticed from part to part as the audience listens.
8. Have any ideas for a sequel?
There is something in mind and I have it started in an outline. At the end of “A Promise Kept” I introduced a character who is the offspring of Janus and Lucca. The sequel would revolve around him and his quest to correct the “mistakes of time” (not unlike Chrono Trigger). Harle would make a re-appearance as well as Serge, Kid, and most of the previous cast in a supporting role. The idea is very early though.
9. Any messages to the Chrono community? This is a very unique piece of fan work, and we're glad to have it.
For all those who want to create a fan work: please do not be afraid to do so. But don’t go at it alone or at least be willing to have help and accept the input of others. I myself couldn’t have finished without my cast: not only for their voice work but also for their input on the line wording in some cases. The alternate takes helped too.
Most of all have fun. It may have taken years to be finished, but this was certainly a fun project to work on. I am happy to share it with the Chrono community and the Compendium.
Thanks go to you for listening to this exciting new project, and thanks to Ben Harmer for submitting!