Title: Chrono Trigger and why people fall in love with certain games
Posted: May 05, 2007 (09:02 AM)
[Don't blame me for this post. I was at a conference all week and am all out of whack. It probably doesn't make sense, but who cares?]
Chrono Trigger holds a very deep and special place in my heart. It sparked something within me, changing my life. I can still remember the first time I played it, all those years ago. Seeing all those scenes, playing this legendary game, I felt something new, something deep. And it can pretty much be summed up as...
What the bleep do people see in this stupid game?!?
OK, so before I get lynched, I just want to say that I'm not here to mindlessly bash it. I tried to enjoy the game. It's not like I had any prejudice going into it; if anything I was too excited for it (it's the game that rivals the great FF6, after all!) Nothing ever clicked. What lord-of-shadow called beautiful in simplicity, I only saw boring and cliche. What people see as depth of character, I see as cookie cutter and ham-handed. What people call a refreshing use of time travel, I see as simplistic and wasted potential. What people call great gameplay, I see as a few simple gimmicks that can't hide the sheer boredom that it's based on. That first paragraph I wrote is true, more or less. This was the game that first led me to realize what a waste of time RPGs were (although it wasn't until playing FF9 a couple years later that this belief was confirmed). After all, the game felt no different than any of the average RPGs I've played, and I still firmly believe that.
And with that out of the way, let me say that I enjoy reading why people love the game. It's interesting to see what people say, what really managed to connect. Of course, it's usually the music, which always makes me wonder. After all, there's a great deal of subjectivity in music, especially for those of us with little to no talent in it. But we all know how powerful music is, and how it attaches to us emotionally. So is it the music that makes us enjoy the game, or is it the game that we enjoy, and we like the music mostly because it reminds us of said game? For my part, when it comes to listing games that had a large, positive effect on me, Mario 3 is the only one that isn't also associated with awesome music in my mind (and that's also the only one on the list for purely gameplay reasons). Zelda, Metroid, FF6, Castlevania SotN, all are as impressive musically as they are to play. Why is that?
Part of the reason, of course, is that games with bigger budgets tend to be better games, and those games are the ones that get the most emphasis on their music. But it seems as if there's more to it. Music can be the glue that holds a game together. Listening to a theme could bring back memories of a character's personality traits. But does it really? I think back to my own incredibly fond memories of FF6, a game where at least some of the characters are as laughably pathetic as the Chrono Crew. But listening to Relm's theme changes everything. Yes, she's a 2D character with nothing actually special about her. But the music seems to capture her childhood, her innocence, her offbeat, artistic way. It makes her seem more alive than in any moment in the actual game or plot. It enriches her character, not through any inherent quality of her own, but in my connection with her. Could the same thing be happening here?
It makes you wonder what really makes these games great. People vaguely allude to it all coming together in some magical way, but without being able to explain precisely how. It seems clear to me that in most of these situations (including me with FF6), it is not necessarily what is in the game itself that makes people fall so deeply in love with it, but how the person responds to the game. Why is it I can see characters like Marle and Lucca being the most pathetically cardboard cutouts Square created since FF7's Cid (well, ok, so they came first, but whatever) while others seem to think they're brilliantly designed? Because people are inferring what is not there, emphasizing their own imaginations and thoughts above what the developers created. The 3rd or 4th time I played through FF6, I suddenly realized how little was actually there; how so many major plot events were much shorter than I remembered them. I had been so enraptured by, well, something my first time playing that I didn't quite catch how much was my own interpretation and how much was Square's. And of course, now when I play it doesn't matter, as I've built the game up so much in my mind that each of these simplistic plot points are so enriched, so full of meaning that their true simplicity doesn't actually matter anymore.
Or take Zelda as another example. The plot is childish, the various attempts to create a unified mythology are haphazardly put together. Quite frankly, any underlying themes and connections besides the obvious ones are more likely to be coincidence than any genius on Nintendo's part. Yet look how many people are enraptured in the overarching storyline and the Hylian mythos. I could talk for hours about Hylian religion, mythology, and legends, despite there really not being much there to the average observer.
So bringing this back to Chrono Trigger, it always makes me wonder what the bare minimum is to make these types of games connect. After all, when it comes to people becoming emotionally involved in a game, it's always these same few where it happens. So there's obviously something there. Is it just the aesthetics then? People have already testified how important they are to them with this game. Is something else needed? Do the characters need to at least be interesting stereotypes to make people ignore how poorly designed they are? Or do they just need one semi interesting character like Magus to hide the rest of them? Just how banal can the plot be before it becomes too banal? Or do you even need much of a plot at all? After all, FF6 doesn't have one for the entire second half of the game! Of course, I see it as a plus, but there are plenty of RPG afficianados out there who still enjoy that game while clinging to the pathetic belief that these videogames are actually telling good stories. Can people accurately define just what it is that Chrono Trigger ACTUALLY has that makes it so well loved?
For my part, the bare minimum includes at least semi-interesting gameplay, which completely rules CT out. Maybe if they had something even half as deep as FF6, I could have looked past all of its many faults and just enjoyed the music. As it stands though, I can get a better effect from popping in a Beatles CD and playing Solitaire.
Posted: May 05, 2007 (11:10 AM)
Ok, I stopped reading when you stopped making sense.
I like Chrono Trigger because the time travel lead to a variety of different atmosphere & music, the graphics are some of the best of the 16-bit generation, the art direction is sweet, and just the game's plot lends itself to visually exciting story sequences. I thought the Combined Tech system, while not groundbreaking, was interesting enough. Chrono Trigger is not exactly an amazingly original RPG, but it's a very well executed one. It's the same way that I like Lunar 1 & 2 even if they're not huge, innovative leaps forward in the genre.
FF6 on the other hand is pretty overrated. It's a good enough game but once you get Phantom Beasts, everything is mostly just about casting the same spells with your entire party.
Posted: May 05, 2007 (11:43 AM)
Does every game have to be exceptionally innovative and entirely original in order to be a standout title? Of course not. Take Super Metroid, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, Ratchet & Clank, or Tekken Tag as examples. To me, these games are shining points in their respective genres, but none of them are completely unique. They have obvious influences and aspects of gameplay drawn directly from other titles. It's done so well that they become something greater than the games that came before.
Chrono Trigger is definitely one of the highlights in my gaming memory. I agree that it was not exactly groundbreaking. Still, everything about it, from the battles, to character designs, story, and music, were done very well. I can't complain about that. If we expected every future game to push the boundaries and be completely original, we will be left with very few games to play.
On the other hand, I can relate quite well. I do not like Final Fantasy VII and, as the response for my recent blog post show, quite a few of you do not like the Metal Gear Solid series. No one can be expected to enjoy every A-list game out there. Even so, we can still respect the level of quality those games achieve.
Posted: May 05, 2007 (12:11 PM)
I played Chrono Trigger back in the day, when it was new and exciting, and I liked it. I've played it since and I still like it. However, I've never liked it as much as Final Fantasy VI, which was through and through the better game. It just was. I don't begrudge Chrono Trigger fans that one game that they passionately love, but for me it was just another good RPG with great production values. There were plenty of those back in the day, and there still are. Perhaps that's one reason I liked Chrono Cross so much. For me, it crossed the line Chrono Trigger never did: it became truly memorable. I suppose if I had loved Chrono Trigger for everything it was, I would feel cheated by Chrono Cross and all the things it did differently (and in my opinion, better). In any case, it's all moot: Final Fantasy VI is better than all of them. :-)
Posted: May 05, 2007 (04:50 PM)
As someone who is more of an RPG buff, I tend to find your views interesting and well-thought out as far as looking at them in a different way. So, let me make a few disorganized points as a rebuttal/explaination/etc.
1. Personally, while CT isn't the be-all, end-all of RPGs, it has a certain infectious charm I love. A lot of it is "presentation value", but there's more. First, for the presentation, while I've only experienced many SNES RPGs through emulation, this is one I bought when it first came out for $60-70 (damn, they did charge an arm and leg for those cartridge titles, didn't they?). From the introduction alone, I had a feeling I'd be playing something I wouldn't forget. And I was right. The graphics were solid for the time, the music did a great job of establishing mood (something you couldn't count on graphics and storytelling to do in the 16-bit day) and the time-travel theme was pretty cool, with my only real complaint being that the villains of two time periods (Magus and Azala) were beaten by the mid-point or so and the true villain of the future (Mother Brain) was in a completely optional dungeon. Hell, Queen Zeal was optional, too, as I recall...and when you consider Lavos was a personality-free parasite, you could say she was the true "evil" boss of the game, while Lavos was more of a pure force of nature that provides the toughest test. As for the non-presentation thing I think was cool, it's hard to say because the presentation is what puts it on a high level — but I have to mention the combat. Because the enemies aren't pure stationary sprites (not overly common for that time) and move around on the battlefield and have animations for their various attacks, I felt more of a sense of urgency than I had for FF 4-5-6 or any other old-school active-time-battle systems. Hell, maybe presentation really is the only thing CT did really good. It worked for me, though, and I'd like to think I'm more discerning than the average gamer considering the obscene number of games I've played at least for a few minutes.
2.Different people play RPGs for different reasons. My best friend only has played a handful on his own (CT and FF 7-8-9-12) mainly because he's obsessed with doing everything. He has over 200 hours in FF 12 solely because of a desire to find EVERY mark and EVERY rare encounter, as well as every item of note (something that really pisses me off because I want to borrow it from him when he's done). A couple months ago, he called me completely indignant because he found out there's some great weapon you can get....if you don't open four particular chests scattered throughout the land. He was pissed off because he couldn't get some item because, as a good adventurer, he opened every chest he found, meaning the game basically hid an item in a manner than no one who plays the game how they're supposed to would ever get it.
3. The most important point and the one that caused me to respond to this is where you mentioned how some games have an effect on people where they use their imagination, whether it be to fill in plot holes or to create a history for Hyrule (like you alluded to). Most RPGs/adventures have a pretty flimsy story that reeks of Star Wars (puny, anonymous hero must conquer great evil force). But the ones that do it right inspire the imagination of players. People put themselves in the role of Link, of their favorite FF6 character, of Crono and/or company. Reading that opened my eyes to how to cover up a vague passage or two in my last review (WOZZ). The simple truth is that, while Dragon Warrior/Quest games activated my imagination, this one didn't. I was just muddling through it and I'd guess the way I felt about it is the way you feel about most RPGs. But I could just phrase it as the game doesn't have "it". Now I can (hopefully) put words to that feeling.
I don't know if I actually made any real points or anything, but at least reading your entry made me thing and give some sort of response!
Posted: May 05, 2007 (05:40 PM)
OD, doesn't your friend know that you can find the Zodiac Spear in another area too regardless of the chest trick?
Posted: May 05, 2007 (07:17 PM)
From the angry rant I received, I'd guess not. I could look up how to get it and tell him, but.....I like to mess with his head, so perhaps not.
Posted: May 05, 2007 (09:34 PM)
"puny, anonymous hero must conquer great evil force"
One of the things I loved about Suikoden is that this cliche can get flipped upside down. Yes, you do begin as the weakling underdog. As you progress through the game though, other characters will step in to challenge your authority, and if you use certain characters enough, they become far stronger than you.