Adults Playing Chrono Trigger

Future addiction gets depressing.
It’s fun to consider where games might go.
But as a group we get hung up on saying they have to go there. 
And advocating that they have to change.
Or else be doomed.
Perhaps games are what they are today.
Warts and all.

I watched Pacific Rim , and liked it a lot. One thing that really struck me about giant robot monster combat (best description I can muster) was the childlike sense of wonder throughout. The immensity of scale, the creativity of the designs, the absurdities of plot points and mech names (Gipsy Danger!) – they all contribute to the idea that a bunch of inner five-year-olds had a grand old time developing and presenting this awe to a new audience who didn’t know what they were watching! It’s nice to relate to the characters too, and the way we end up at the climax plays like a traditional fairy tale rather than a Hollywood blockbuster (this might explain Pan’s Labyrinth, also by the same director).

Whatever the case, the movie somehow communicates a sense of joy about its premise and purpose. It makes no ifs, ands, or buts about the concept. It certainly does pander to a particular audience, and that audience only came to see one thing. Honestly, it’s difficult to describe what makes Pacific Rim so fun to a 26-year old man, but it can’t just be robots. The Michael Bay Transformers films, by comparison, left me exhausted. So what’s different?

Probably the same difference between older video games and modern ones. Ever since we found ourselves with the strange inclination that we must “grow up” (whatever THAT means), our video games are taking a turn towards the serious. I need only point you to the difference between MGS1, the crazy comic book action story, and MGSV, a depressing and gory ride through actual war-torn countries, to see it clearly.  Only seriousness is art. We don’t like the lighthearted tone in our AAA games. Is that what we truly want?

MGSV

Seriously, the first search results for images are either 3D rendered intestines in surgery or torture – not exactly “fun”.

Their chief vice is that so many of them are very serious; because I had no time to make them flippant. It is so easy to be solemn; it is so hard to be frivolous.

It makes me thankful that I am playing Chrono Trigger. This is a game where you can tell its creator truly loved the whole concept of time travel and JRPGs. They jam every single trope in there with the combined might of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Toriyama art everywhere. The plot does not innovate (except in construction), but it constantly fills you with a strange sense of awe that never reallly goes away. They always know how to pace the whole adventure so that each new event feels exciting. JRPGs easily fall into the grinding area, yet Chrono Trigger successfully disguises it. They loved this genre, and Chrono Trigger pushes every single JRPG idea into overdrive.

Time periods, though not the same as our own, betray a romanticized vision of the past. The Medieval times of monster fighting and heroism, the Prehistoric era where humans first developed their civilization (also involving fighting) and the strange portmanteau nature of 1000 AD brims with imagination and originality. Even 2300 AD takes its cues from various pop culture touchstones of the impending Apocalypse while making them unique to the game’s themes (perhaps prescient now, if not exactly then). I am holding back on describing one other time period, just for spoiler purposes, but suffice to say it exists purely to plug every single detail into the same matrix. The creativity involved in its formation remains astounding, and I can’t wait to get there!

Honestly, the whole game works even better as an adult because you can see the narrative strands weaving together. Of course, that requires paying attention to the little things, and the polish of Chrono Trigger makes that an easy sell on this playthrough. An offhand comment, a strange historical relic, and a seemingly unimportant piece of evidence will, inevitably, come back later. The story’s dense and layered, and anyone playing it again after their first run will see this if they pay attention.

Chrono_Trigger_Artwork8

But man, if you’re looking for some deep philosophical themes or life-changing experiences, Chrono Trigger (or most any game, for that matter) will not be the place to look at all. Seriously, you’re supposed to be the main character. You’re embarking on the adventure, and that’s why everything revolves around you. People trust your judgment unrealistically because, hey, it’s a lighthearted video game high-adventure and we can totally get away with it. Their intended audience wasn’t 26 year-old me, but Eight Year Old Me, and by golly Eight Year Old Me really still likes it.

Perception will decide your reaction to the game, really. And if your perception tells you that some things are quite childish and simplistic or disconcerting about a fantasy/science fiction narrative which only wishes to entertain, then that will become a problem. I can’t help you with that! You need to be willing to see things as they are, not things as they should be. A focus on the future and how things can get better permeates us in Western culture, sure, but that doesn’t mean everything can find improvement. Some things were just fine the way they were, and we all liked it. Truth doesn’t always mean change; you need to know why somebody put a fence post up before you take it down or, worse, replace it.

In our constant pursuit to improve anything and everything, we often scrape away at the wonderful elements of the past. I’m not advocating for a silly, non-critical romanticism of the past. I mean recognizing when a work has no literary aspirations beyond a certain point, when it uses tropes creatively but does not deviate at all. Chrono Trigger’s generous to a fault, but only if you play it without preconceived notions of what it should be, and what video games should be. That’s a way not to enjoy anything.

Chrono Trigger Artwork Magu

In the same way that Paul recommends we are willing to serve, we must also be willing to accept things as they are. Change comes when it comes, and we cannot always force it or predict it. Criticizing it often won’t change anything. But, if we’re willing to see the good, we may see wholly less of the bad. We can serve in joy knowing that Christ wins the victory already. Why do we moan and groan over so many trifles?

 But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it. But now finish doing it also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability. For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality— at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, “HE WHO gathered MUCH DID NOT HAVE TOO MUCH, AND HE WHO gathered LITTLE HAD NO LACK.”

2 Corinthians 8

Those who see things rightly have no lack in whatever. I often get that sense of awe about reality in general, about the thoughts that I think, and I wish I could get more people to know this.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • Bryan Hall

    Great article, Zachary!

    How goes your play through for Book Club #1? Have you gotten to the checkpoint yet?

    • Zachery Oliver

      http://theologygaming.com/chrono-trigger-things/ Haven’t played it in a bit. Dark Souls and all, but I’m not far from the checkpoint.

      • Bryan Hall

        Nice. You almost done with Dark Souls?

        • Zachery Oliver

          I am in the Tomb of Giants, a giant underground cavern with zero light except a lantern. I gotta take it really slowly or evil skeleton beasts will jump me in the darkness. Which is taking a while!

          But to answer the question, I am definitely very close to the end.

          • Bryan Hall

            Pretty novel for a tomb to actually be dark huh. 🙂

            Googled some images for the Tomb of Giants, not sure I could play. Question: Is the game cheap in it’s use the dark?

          • Zachery Oliver

            So there’s multiple solutions to wandering around in the darkness.

            First, you can just rush in there. They provide an item called the Skeleton Lamp which, when raised, gives you a larger radius in which to see things. However, to use it as a light source means you can’t block with a shield at the same time (shields equipped in the left hand, weapons in right hand), meaning you’re sorta defenseless except for rolling/dodging.

            Second, there’s an item in a different area that allows you to equip a helmet which emits tons of light. That requires some extra work to find, however.

            Third, there’s a magic spell which also lights up areas. Unfortunately, if you’ve not raised your magic stats very much, that’s not really an option.

            I’m doing the first because heck, I’m down here already and that’s what I’ve got (and I don’t want to go back). It’s a very unique use of light in a game, actually using the absence of it to make you incredibly careful of your surroundings. If you walk slow, use whatever light source you’ve got, and then take out your shield and know your weapon/spell ranges, it’s very doable.