Tuesday, July 7

Chrono Trigger: An Element of Time

          I started gaming in the PS1 era.  My first two platforms were a PS1 and a Gameboy I covered with Pokemon stickers.  I had an aunt and uncle that owned an NES, and I would play the heck out of Super Mario Bros 3 whenever I was there.  But I never got to experience the glory days of the NES or SNES.
          The more I go through this list, the more I realize what important machines they were.  There must have been a bunch of crap for them, but so many of the games are held up as classics.  Even the graphical styles have made significant comebacks.  I’m taking too long.  The point I want to get to is that I’m sad I don’t have the time and patience I did when I was younger.  Or even just the time.  I use this excuse a lot, many people my age do, but it really feels like I could've marathon-ed my way through Chrono Trigger in a weekend.
          And I think that I would.  Chrono Trigger really has a lot of great things going for it.  It is fusion of all the understandings and techniques gaming was building upon at the time, when the turn-based RPG could rule the world.  Chrono Trigger is an educated game, it has learned well from its predecessors.  It even has an understanding of the gaming mindset in a way uncharacteristic for its time.
          An example:  Early in the game you visit a carnival, where all kinds of thing are going on.  NPCs are wandering about, people say random things, you can loot garbage for no reason, etc.  It’s a pretty typical setup.  A little more than an hour later, you are brought on trial, and all those NPCs show up as character witnesses to testify against you and your thieving, evil, gamer ways.  I realize now that gaming is slowly moving away from this style, and I'm wondering if the twist will have the same kind of effect the next time the game is remade.
          It’s also a more creative game than one would typically expect for its time.  The time travelling wins big for me just by going to a post apocalyptic future, but it even plays great games with moving between relatively close periods to emphasize the progress of the world.  It tells several grand and small stories at once, and the density is one of those things I love about 80 hour RPGs.
          I can see why Chrono Trigger is the classic it is, why the combo-and-position based combat stands out against the typical lining-up-on-either-side-of-the-field model, and the game eschews a lot of sillier trends of the time, or just improves on the general experience of the genre.
          The game isn’t perfect.  It has good variety and some nice twists in style, but there are still times when I found myself grinding, and I was generally unimpressed with the level and dungeon design.  It may be the compilation of a lot of great learning, but it shows just how much further games had, and have, to go.  I can't wait until I look back at Dark Souls as tedious and uninspired.  That will be a great time for games.
          Also, it’s a strange thing to mention, but the DS has a specific text it uses in almost every game.  It’s bland and utilitarian, but in a game so clearly built on older aesthetics it stands out and really ended up taking me out of the experience.
          Chrono Trigger is good, and worthy of its place in game history, but it’s not the kind of game I’m excited to play more of right away.  I know I’ve been saying this a lot, and maybe it’s the thesis of this project, but Chrono Trigger created trends I’ve seen iterated on over and over.  I wish I could be more solidly in that mindset, in that time, but I can’t.  I can’t be someone who didn’t play Bloodborne earlier this year, and I can’t be a person who has the time in his life to perfect a game asking so much of me.  So, apologies to Chrono Trigger... It’s not you, it's me.

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