Revisiting Chrono Cross (Part 17)

It’s been a long road, but we’ve finally made it to the end of Chrono Cross.  Serge and friends are ready to confront the Devourer of Time and use the Chrono Cross (I may not have mentioned this, but the eponymous item is necessary in order to get the good ending, and of course it’s not acquired through the course of the main plot, so you could overlook getting it) to weave the various broken timelines together into a cohesive whole that ensures Lavos’s destruction in the future and frees Schala from her prison in the Darkness Beyond Time.

It’s kind of a big deal.

Naturally, because this is a story about the ramifications of time travel, things end where they began on Opassa Beach in Home World where a trio of ghost children who resemble Chrono, Marle, and Lucca from Chrono Trigger (they actually represent dead timelines; don’t ask) await with a massive info dump for all the plot points that the writers didn’t work into the actual story (we finally learn the true origins of Lynx; he wasn’t just an avatar of FATE, but also the repurposed body of Serge’s father Wazuki, who had been driven insane by his contact with the supercomputer; why this revelation is dropped into a chunk of text which the characters don’t react to is befuddling to say the least) for reasons that I don’t fully comprehend but which can probably be summed up with “they ran out of time.”

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I don’t think this game is great, but it really did have some potential that got smothered by obligations to its predecessor. (Image credit: Chrono Compendium)

Following all the revelations, we get to the actual boss fight, which is actually a minor puzzle fight.  You have to cast elements in a specific preset color order before you activate the Chrono Cross, which ends the fight and launches the good ending sequence (alternatively, you can just beat the Time Devourer to death, which results in a non-ending where the monster just escapes through a portal to another dead timeline where it still exists).  This mechanic is both pretty irritating and pretty ingenious, not because of the puzzle of the color order (that pattern gets repeated regularly enough throughout the game that it’s pretty easy to notice and remember), but because of the way you have to manipulate the battle system.  In purely mechanical terms, you have to know how to build a specialized element grid for your three party members that will allow them to cast seven spells back-to-back without getting interrupted by the boss, who may or may not use a technique that will disrupt the sequence.  I want to admire the way the puzzle requires intimate knowledge of the spell system, but I’m also annoyed that it’s such a crapshoot if you can’t put together the precise setup (I had to kick Sprigg, who I’ve used nonstop since she joined up midway through the game, out of my party because her element grid lacks any level 1 slots, which are essential to safely casting the Chrono Cross sequence without fear of interruption).

Successfully solving this weird little ending puzzle grants the good ending, which involves all of the events of the game being essentially undone as Serge gets deposited back on Opassa Beach with Leena at the moment just before he was pulled into Another World the first time.  When you think about all the things that you accomplished, like the reunions between friends and family who were separated across the two timelines, the good you did for the demi-humans, etc. it feels like a pretty crappy way to end the story.  We don’t get to see anything else beyond the scene on the beach where Serge apparently remembers everything that happened and Leena (and by extension the rest of the world) doesn’t, but I suppose it’s possible that the restored timeline involves a meshing of events from the two dimensions that optimizes positive outcomes for the entire cast (the ramifications of such far reaching changes are probably too much of a headache to explore, and would likely lead to another break in the timeline akin to Serge’s death).  There’s also a coda involving Kid apparently wandering through Tokyo (because dimension hopping!), which is probably supposed to be a commentary on the multiversal nature of the Chrono series and a cute wink at the idea that our reality is a variation on the game’s story.

All in all, it’s a weird ending, and I’m not sure I entirely like it.

Of course, that assessment kind of covers the game as a whole.  It’s a very ambitious title that set out to explore some really complex themes about causality and responsibility, but the end result is mixed at best.  Parts of the game are incredibly rich and interesting while whole other swaths are just lackluster and kind of frustrating.  I’m guessing that a large part of the failed aspects of the game stem from a perfect storm of unrealistic expectations (it’s impossible to overstate how big a deal Chrono Trigger was among JRPG fans in the late ’90s) and flawed execution.  Masato Kato, who was the director and primary scenario writer for Chrono Cross had a very particular vision of what he wanted to do in this side story, but I expect that demands for a direct sequel complicated and contradicted that vision.  The parts of the story that are clearly fan service (like the entire sequence in the Dead Sea and Kid’s hugely coincidental connection to Lucca) are a lot of fun on their own, but they never quite mesh with the rest of the world that Kato created in this game.  It’s like there was potential for a really interesting story here that could have flourished if it hadn’t been bound by an existing IP with that carried so much baggage along with it.

Heck, the very fact of the ending where Serge and friends get their lives rather pointlessly reset (and Serge gets the extra pleasure of knowing his life was reset!) so that Schala can finally have the happy ending she couldn’t get in Chrono Trigger is a great encapsulation of the game’s failings and its relationship to its older sibling.  Everyone loved Chrono Trigger and wanted more of it, and Chrono Cross really wanted to be something different, but it never fully came into its own because it was stuck in the shadow of its more popular predecessor.  Now this game’s legacy is as more of an obscure follow-up rather than a solid independent title that happened to share a universe with another really popular game.

Revisiting Chrono Cross (Part 1)

I haven’t tried to do a really in depth write up of a video game since my series on Final Fantasy VII two years ago (I’m going to say it was two years ago, because we’re in 2015 now and that means two years is a totally legitimate estimate), but I’ve been itching to go back and check out Chrono Cross ever since I did my replay of Chrono Trigger a few months ago before I got into Dragon Age: InquisitionChrono Trigger seems to be one of those generational touchstones that virtually all self-identifying gamers of a certain age have played, but its sequel is a really mixed bag in comparison.  I remember all the hype surrounding Chrono Cross, simply because there was a five year stretch between the two games, and that was an eternity of development for a sequel to such a popular game in comparison to the average two year dev-time that Square’s flagship Final Fantasy series had established for its Playstation era games (if I recall correctly, there was a new numbered Final Fantasy released every year from 1997 to 1999, with each subsequent game beginning production before its predecessor came out).  A lot of the long delay had to do with the fact that Chrono Trigger was a very special game for Square; they assembled what they called their “Dream Team” of writers, artists, and directors for this one game, and then the creators who weren’t directly employed by Square parted ways to work on other projects.  Getting all that talent back together for a sequel just wasn’t feasible, and in the end only one major contributor to Chrono Trigger, Masato Kato, returned for Chrono Cross.

I didn’t know about all the behind the scenes stuff when I was awaiting this game as a kid (though games have always had credits, I never really connected the funny looking names that played at the end of the story with actual creative minds that had to work together to come up with this thing that I was enjoying), but in retrospect it explains a lot about the very different feel that Chrono Cross conveys.  The cast from Chrono Trigger barely appear in the sequel, and what we do learn about them suggests that things didn’t end well for any of them (but I’m getting ahead of myself).  In many ways, this feels more like a spiritual successor rather than an actual sequel, since all that’s really retained are some thematic elements (in a much more contemplative mode; instead of focusing on a pulpy time travel adventure, Cross‘s plot spends a lot of time meditating on what happens to alternative time lines and how choices in the past impact the present), a few trappings from Trigger‘s design features (three-person party limit, combination attacks, visible enemies on the dungeon screens, simplified symbolic world maps), and the musical composer (Yasunori Mitsuda, whose soundtrack is pretty universally beloved, regardless of what people think of the rest of the game).  If you never played Chrono Trigger, you could theoretically jump into Chrono Cross without needing any prior knowledge.

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The game’s North American cover, featuring Serge, Kid, and the villain Lynx. I still don’t know why Kid has an Australian accent. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

The obvious paradox is you probably wouldn’t be playing Chrono Cross unless you’ve played Chrono Trigger.

Anyway, I’m going to blog through my replay (maybe I’ll do a New Game + run through after I finish the game once, but that’s a ways off right now), so I better get to it.  Much like my FFVII series, I figure this’ll be a regular staple for a few months, and I’ll try to write spoiler-free until I arrive at the corresponding plot points (this won’t be nearly as hard as it was with FFVII since Chrono Cross‘s plot is really convoluted, and I honestly don’t remember a lot of the major story beats).

So, we start off with Serge (our protagonist), Kid (our deuteragonist, who also happens to be curiously Australian), and a randomly generated third party member (on this playthrough I got Nikki, who’s kind of an emo punk rocker) storming a dungeon for some reason that’s not yet fully explained.  After reaching the top of the magical tower thingy (that’s a technical term), we’re treated to a cutscene which shows Serge suddenly stabbing Kid in the back and grinning maliciously.

Fortunately, this was all a dream and Serge wakes up in Arni Village, a small fishing community in the El Nido archipelago. Serge is supposed to be getting ready for a lazy day spent with his girlfriend, Leena (this opening scene’s a callback to the beginning of Chrono Trigger, which is a nice touch), but he’s running late.  Leena happens to be a sweet girl, and she tells Serge that since he woke up too late for them to go hang out (she got roped into babysitting some of the village’s kids), he can make it up to her by going to the nearby starter dungeon and getting her some jewelry from the local wildlife (there are worse excuses for starting an adventure; I just can’t think of them right now).  Once that errand’s completed, Serge meets up with Leena at the spot on the beach where Serge nearly drowned a decade earlier, and as they discuss what makes a moment memorable (more like Leena talks and the player puts words in Serge’s mouth, because he’s one of those now rare mute heroes) Serge has a moment of major vertigo and falls through a dimensional rift.

There’s much belaboring over the next hour of gameplay about the fact that Serge has found himself stuck in a world where everything is slightly different from how he remembers it, with the largest change being the fact that in this world Serge actually died as a child.  We meet Kid for real at Serge’s grave, and then we run into one of the most memorable things about the game: the decision branches.

See, branching paths in games isn’t terribly special these days, since any self respecting game developer who makes RPGs (particularly Western style ones) is going to incorporate some branching plot points.  Chrono Cross is interesting because the game is thematically all about considering the choices not made, and to emphasize that theme, it frequently presents the player with decisions that affect in small ways how the game’s going to play out (mostly in terms of what characters are available to recruit; I forgot to mention there are forty-five party members available in this game, and many of your decisions limit who will actually play a part in the story).  At this point, the player can choose to either let Kid join you in your adventure or send her away (I never really made the connection when I was younger, but all the decisions to not recruit Kid play into Serge’s fears of what he sees in that opening dream sequence; he’s trying to avoid that future by keeping her at a distance).  I chose to send her away, both because Kid’s a very unreliable party member (though she’ll prove to be important to the story, she drops out of your party with surprising regularity, so it’s better not to get too attached to having her around) and because on this playthrough I’m imagining Serge is really bewildered to actually meet the girl in his dream, and he’s wary of what else about the dream might come to pass.

As a result of refusing Kid’s company, Serge goes back to Arni Village where he befriends this world’s Leena, who just thinks that he’s somebody else who has amnesia and only believes that he’s Serge.  Together, with the village’s resident talking dog, they set out to figure out the mystery of where Serge came from and how he can get back to where he belongs.

Recruited Party Members

Serge – The protagonist.  Start the game and he’s in your party!

Leena – Serge’s girlfriend in his home dimension, and a concerned party who wants to make sure this strange boy with the identity crisis finds the help that he needs.  She only joins you if you refuse to let Kid tag along after meeting her at Serge’s grave.

Poshul – A talking dog who lives in Arni Village.  She comes along on your journey because I guess the developers thought it would be cruel to make you continue on without a third party member.  I find her very annoying, and switch her out of my party as soon as I have other options.

Mojo – A dancing, life-sized voodoo doll with a giant nail stuck through him.  In alternate Arni Village, there’s a guy who’s spent the last decade worshiping this thing, and if you show him a keepsake from his other self then Mojo comes to life and decides to spread love throughout the world by following you around.  Don’t ask questions; just go with it.

Boxing Day

It’s the day after Christmas, and I’m preparing to enjoy the second week of my winter break, which is the best time of year aside from the summer break that’s four times as long.  In that time, I hope to do some revision on a short story I wrote during NaNoWriMo (it’s always nice to have goals that don’t involve just sitting on the couch, reading comics and playing video games) and catch up on some podcasts (I’m pretty much over the moon that I got a new MP3 player this year since my last one went kaput over two years ago).  Besides the ambitious goals, I also have all the typical vacation plans of just enjoying my Christmas gifts and then writing furiously about them, because stories are meant to be engaged, and one of my favorite parts of getting into anything new is the chance to think it over and share my thoughts on it.

Anywho, here’s a quick rundown of things that I’ll be mulling over in the near future, as a kind of road map to what I want to discuss in the coming weeks (I’m not going to say in the coming year, because I operate on the academic calendar, and as far as I’m concerned the year ends in May and starts in August).

I’ve picked up several volumes of some comic series that I’ve been excited about following, including the first story arc of the new Ms. Marvel ongoing (I picked the first issue up way back in May and was instantly taken with it), the first volume of Rat Queens (on the recommendation of a friend of Rachael’s, who I now fully trust has excellent taste in comics), and a couple volumes of Saga (I know I said I was going to write about that one at some point, but I never got around to it; maybe with three volumes of the series to read through, I’ll get back to it now).  I expect I’ll have read through all of them before the end of the weekend, so maybe I’ll have something on at least one of those series in the next week.

On the video game front, I’m still working my way through Dragon Age: Inquisition, and I expect I’ll be chipping at that for a while.  If I have any further thoughts beyond, “This game’s a lot of fun, and I really don’t like Vivienne,” then I’d love to share those.  For Alex, who specifically asked me if I’m going to do any writing on Chrono Cross, the sequel to Chrono Trigger, I’d really like to blog through a replay of that game.  It’s an odd one, and it does a lot to complicate Chrono Trigger‘s pretty streamlined narrative (as much as any time-travel story can have), but I remember the game being such a big deal in my mind when it came out simply because it was a sequel to that game that I’d love to revisit it and see how it holds up fifteen years later.

On the front of non-graphical fiction, I’m nearly finished reading the third book in Dan Simmons’s Hyperion saga, and I’d love to mull over that series in depth once I’ve finished with it.  Without getting into too much detail, it’s a series that’s kindled a slight interest in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and also reminds me so much of Mass Effect (which I strongly suspect was cribbing heavily from Simmons’s series).  Also, if I can keep my promise to myself about getting back into podcasts, I might try to write more regularly about stories that I listen to.  I already said it above, but it bears repeating: stories are meant to be engaged.

So that’s what I’m thinking about; we’ll see if I actually stick to any of these plans.  Nonetheless, I hope you all had a pleasant Christmas if you celebrate it, and happy holidays throughout the rest of the season.

“Azala’s Female?” And Other Musings on Chrono Trigger’s Treatment of Gender

The characters in Chrono Trigger are pretty one dimensional.  They all have a defining character trait, and they play that trait to the hilt from introduction to end credits.  Lucca’s the nerdy, brainy one.  Marle’s the empathetic one who makes sometimes rash decisions.  Frog’s the knight errant, Robo’s the stoic robot who’s learning about humanity from real, live humans, Ayla’s the purehearted cavewoman who remains loyal to her friends through everything, and Magus is the cool jerk who never really learns from his mistakes because when you can open up black holes to an eternal void you don’t need to be bothered with learning to work well with others.

The supporting characters are pretty much in the same boat.  Any NPC you meet will have a very simple personality that reflects their defined role in the larger narrative.  Lucca’s father is a crazy inventor who gives you cool stuff when you go see him.  Magus’s sister Schala is the tragic heroine of the game’s final third who doesn’t get the same happy-ending-if-you-want-it treatment that Chrono does.  Azala, the leader of the Reptites in prehistory, is a zealot who’s determined to win the war of dominance with the emerging human race.

This kind of characterization is perfectly okay in a game that was working within the pretty strict limits of the day’s technology that precluded writing a more developed, nuanced script.  It also provides an interesting testing ground for looking at how the writers treat gender (you all knew I was going to write about this eventually; don’t act surprised).

One thing I love about the setup for Chrono Trigger is that none of the female leads fit into the typical awful “girly girl” trope (I should point out that my issue with this trope isn’t in its inherent femininity, but it’s absurdly high correlation with a character lacking agency within a story’s larger narrative).  Marle comes the closest with her princess background, but even she prefers doing things over being a shrinking violet (when the party learns about the Day of Lavos in the future, it’s Marle who first comes to the conclusion that they have to do something about it).  Our other two heroines, Lucca and Ayla, don’t get anywhere near the trope, as Lucca’s the team brain (she learns how to repair a robot based on technology from 1400 years in the future in a few days!) and Ayla’s the team muscle (she doesn’t know how to use magic, but she hits everything super hard with her fists because weapons are for civilized people… or something).  Back when I was a kid, this was probably the first game I ever played where I discovered that I really wanted to use the girl characters, because they were just as awesome as the boy characters (protip: Ayla makes a great replacement for Chrono as your bruiser while Marle and Lucca can rain down absurd apocalyptic destruction with their magic; the only drawback is having no light element attacks for those enemies who aren’t weak against anything else).

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The magician Flea. Note that he’s designed with multiple female gendered signifiers. (Image credit: Chronopedia)

Of course, all the really interesting bits come from the portrayal of NPCs.  Chrono Trigger did some very unusual things for its time.  There’s the transvestite Flea, who’s notable simply because he’s a trans character in a game from the mid-’90s that didn’t get rewritten during localization (although his gender identity is used as a joke in the script, it’s a scenario that is surprising when compared with the erasure of the trans character Poison from the western localization of Capcom’s beat ’em up series Final Fight from the same era).  Flea proudly identifies as male, and flaunts the fact that others read his gender as female.  Aside from the unfortunate implications that come from Flea being a campy villain, his inclusion strikes me as rather progressive for its time.

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The Reptite leader Azala. Note that she’s designed with no traditionally gendered signifiers. (Image credit: Chronopedia)

Another surprisingly complex NPC comes in the form of Azala, Ayla’s nemesis in the distant past.  What I find most interesting about Azala is that I never knew she was supposed to be female until I played the DS port of Chrono Trigger a few years ago (that version features an updated translation that takes advantage of better data management to flesh out the characters’ dialogue so it’s not so stilted as in the original).  It’s a simple throwaway line from one of Azala’s minions, but the revelation that she’s female forced me to reexamine my assumptions about gender and positions of power (I’ve done that a lot in the intervening years, and I still find myself getting tripped up by my own prejudices sometimes).  I had always operated under the assumption that Azala was male because she was the Reptites’ leader, because male is our cultural default for characters that lack apparent secondary sex characteristics.  Learning that Azala’s female was a pretty big deal for me.

Schala

Schala’s design, with the flowing purple robes and the mournful look on her face, just screams “Nothing will end well for me!” (Image credit: Chronopedia)

Things are not all great, though.  Chrono Trigger‘s most problematic character is probably Schala, the princess who has tragic ending written all over her from her very first scene.  She’s stuck in a horrible situation where she has to please her mother, who’s been brainwashed by extensive exposure to Lavos, while also wanting to help Chrono and company stop the obviously imminent threat to the kingdom of Zeal’s well-being.  Nothing goes right for her, and she ends up pulling double duty as both a damsel and shallow character motivation for Magus, who does all the evil stuff he does just because he wants to find and save his sister (bonus points for the new ending the DS port sports where you can learn that Schala not only doesn’t die after Lavos does its apocalyptic dress rehearsal in 12000 B.C., but she ends up being merged with it to create the thing that’s the big bad for the sequel, Chrono Cross).  She’s a sympathetic character, but the story doesn’t allow her to do anything for herself, and just wallows in the how sad that is for her.  Considering that she’s probably the most prominent character in the series (unlike virtually all the other characters from Chrono Trigger who get cameos or shoutouts in the sequel at best, the big mystery of Chrono Cross revolves around Schala’s fate), it’s pretty unfortunate that she also represents the most problematic depiction of a woman within the game.

Besides the specific problems, you do have a few of the other general complaints that pop up in depictions of women in fiction.  Ayla, while a great character, is designed to look like a supermodel in a fur bikini rather than someone who should be physically imposing, and Marle does get struck with the damsel hammer in the game’s first arc (it’s at least a somewhat interesting take, since no one actually kidnapped her, but the same can’t be said for her ancestor Leene, who really is kidnapped and in need of rescue).  Still, when everything’s totaled up, I find that Chrono Trigger does a lot of things very well in its depiction of women.

On Grief and Resurrection (And Chrono Trigger)

The other day, one of my students came to me in the morning and told me that she had had a dream about her grandmother the previous night.  It was a strange dream, apparently, because it involved my student’s grandmother telling her that she should eat a placenta, because those things are very healthy.

I couldn’t help smiling when she told me about this dream, because it was so odd, and it was about her grandmother, who passed away a couple weeks ago.  It reminded me of many dreams that I’ve had about family who’ve passed.  For me they’re always a little bittersweet, because typically I know in my dreams that there’s something weird about being around this person (maybe I even know that they’re dead, but the fact that they’re with me is still joyful).  Those dreams are some of my favorites, because they invariably leave me feeling a little wistful after they’re over.  Waking up is a case of reality literally settling back in, and I often have a moment of disorientation as I remind myself that that person I dreamt about isn’t alive anymore.

I really like when I have those dreams.

They always precipitate a little moment of renewed grief, but the brief resurrection is worth it.

That’s a lot of thoughts and feels that I didn’t really have the time or ability to communicate to my student when she brought up her dream, so all I was able to tell her was that I have dreams like that too, and I think they’re really good ones.

Chrono Trigger comes into this because, like many large scale adventure stories in the RPG genre, it features a heroic sacrifice by a beloved character.  Anyone familiar with Final Fantasy VII will probably get that this story device can offer a good player punch, particularly when it’s done to a party member, but they’ll also point out that it’s pretty heavily used.  I’ll agree with that assessment, but I’d point out that Chrono Trigger is a game that revels in JRPG tropes and then tries to subvert them in mildly surprising ways.  In the case of the beloved party member’s heroic sacrifice, Chrono Trigger does two things: it kills off the protagonist, and it does it when the player is expecting the story to end but then forces em to play on through the fallout of the protagonist’s death.

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Chrono at the moment of his death. (Image credit: Chronopedia)

The thing about RPGs, particularly RPGs from the 16-bit era, is that the silent protagonist serves more or less as a proxy for the player.  That character’s the blank slate on which you’re supposed to impress your own personality, and Chrono follows that tradition nicely.  He honestly doesn’t have any real character traits (whatever people may say about his inherent heroism, I’d point out that at every major plot point that relies of Chrono doing something heroic, the designers gave the player the option to at least be reluctant about it; you can waffle about before leaping into the Gate to follow Marle to the past, you can be obstinate and say you don’t want to deal with Lavos, you can take your time before walking Chrono into Lavos’s maw to save everyone else who’s stuck there; the player may have to eventually choose heroism in order to continue the story, but they at least have the option to do it grudgingly).

Anyway, the mechanical details are a tangent from the thing that’s really interesting about Chrono’s death.  Since he’s the player proxy, and the game continues after he dies, the player finds emselves in a position where ey have to carry on after their own virtual death.  Ey get to see the fallout from this event as the rest of the party mourns eir passing while also trying to figure out what to do next about Lavos.  It’s a weird little inversion where the player kind of grieves for emself, even if only briefly (the game’s constructed so that the player only has to complete one major quest before getting the chance to resurrect Chrono).  At this point it’s pretty typical wish fulfillment being employed, with the narrative taking advantage of the time travel conceit to allow the player to both get the feels from seeing a heroic sacrifice and not actually having to pay the cost of said sacrifice.  I’ve read that the developers originally considered a scenario where Chrono could still be recruited back into the party, but it would have been an earlier version who was returned to his particular moment in time after the adventure ended, leaving Chrono permanently dead at the story’s conclusion.  The idea resonates as particularly bittersweet, but it does undermine Chrono Trigger‘s essential theme that the course of events are never fated, which is probably why the developers went for a more unambiguously happy reunion.

Despite the original concept having the greater emotional weight, I like the way Chrono’s death and resurrection is constructed.  Yes, it’s wish fulfillment; I don’t care.  Saving Chrono reminds me of all the best parts of my and my student’s dreams about our lost family: we can snatch a few more moments with them from our memories, and hope that someday we’ll enjoy their company again for real.

Chrono Trigger: The Game in Which There’s No Such Thing as Somebody Else’s Problem

I love Chrono Trigger.  This is not a particularly groundbreaking sentiment, given that this game came out in the waning days of the Super Nintendo and it served as a sort of capstone on Squaresoft’s record of excellent RPGs during that period in gaming.  Lots of people love Chrono Trigger.

Chrono Trigger cover

This is the first version of the game that I got. I have two others. (Image credit: Chronopedia)

The funny thing is that Chrono Trigger‘s not a really niche game.  Well, it wasn’t designed to be a niche game, but everything that came out before Final Fantasy VII blew the market wide open on console RPGs tends to be slightly obscure to people outside a certain generation of gamer.  What I’m trying to say is that Chrono Trigger is one of those games that’s remarkably easy to play.  It’s designed as an introduction to the JRPG genre, with minimal difficulty spikes throughout the game that allows for an essentially continuous narrative experience (almost no grinding is necessary to keep pace with the game’s challenges on a first playthrough).  For any other game that’s not ‘hardcore’ this ease of entry would likely be seen as a major flaw by a certain subset of gamers, but with Chrono Trigger it’s just part of the charm.

So to get down to things, here’s a very brief overview of the game’s plot, which I’ll be discussing in some depth in this post and perhaps future ones (never underestimate the potential to over-think a story that involves time travel).  You play as Chrono, a teenager from the kingdom of Guardia who has little to say but lots to do.  Through a series of bizarre coincidences, Chrono gets drawn into an adventure spanning the entire history of his planet as he learns that in the distant future the world will be ruined by an evil creature known only as Lavos.

Now, here’s the part of the story that has been stuck in my head for the last couple days:  Chrono and his friends know that Lavos isn’t scheduled to wreak havoc until a thousand years after their own heyday, but they decide to do something about it anyway.  This is not your typical save-the-world scenario where the threat is imminent and somebody has to do something or else everyone is boned.  No, the only actual victims of Lavos’s wrath are the people on the tail end of a sixty-five million year span of history.  It’s not that those people don’t matter, but it would be understandable if our heroes, upon learning about how temporally distant they are from the cataclysm, just shrugged their shoulders and went back to living their lives.

I mean, that’s a fairly common attitude to real world issues that are going to come back to haunt humanity in the future, after all.

In the last few days, as I’ve been mulling over this time-travel-apocalypse narrative, I’ve had a realization: this is a story that flies in the face of everything that’s idealized by Rapture stories.  Our heroes know the end of the world is coming, and it’s coming a long time after their own lives will be played out, but instead of accepting that that’s how things are meant to be, they fight tooth and nail against it (literally in the case of the cavewoman Ayla).  Our heroes have no personal stake in fighting Lavos, but they do it anyway because it’s the right thing to do.  Contrary to the typical Rapture-driven ethos of “I can’t stop things from getting worse so I’m not even going to try,” Chrono and his friends get right down to the business of making the future better, regardless of whether they’ll feel the impact in their lifetimes.

Now, I’ll grant that because this is a story about time travelers, you do have to factor in the whole “With great power” maxim, since pretty much no one else has the ability to combat something like Lavos, but that always struck me as more a necessity of the story, since it’d be pretty weird to have time travel not be something really extraordinary and special that only the heroes can participate in (also, just imagine how many paradoxes would likely get introduced by having other people zipping back and forth through time; actually, don’t do that, because it can give you a headache).

Still the point stands that Chrono Trigger is a game that doesn’t believe in the idea of somebody else’s problem.  Every problem that the heroes encounter requires their intervention simply because these characters can’t turn away from a problem, regardless of the impact it would have on them personally.

It’s kind of refreshing to revisit a game with such idealism.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 7/28/13

Let’s see what’s going on!

Religion

1. There has been a lot of good stuff coming out of Defeating the Dragons this week.  It’s hard to pick just one article that I really liked, so I’m going to link a couple.  ForgedImagination’s writing about her struggles breaking away from a fundamentalist branch of the Church are incredibly moving.  Here’s one about her experiences with the toxic effects of modesty culture, and here’s another where she discusses her difficulty even setting foot in a church these days.

2. In a similar vein, Morgan Guyton at Mercy Not Sacrifice has been churning out a ton of good material this week.  He’s discussed the nature of the gospel as an open invitation to a party instead of a get out of hell free card, what it means to participate in a Church that is “exclusively for the excluded,” posted an open letter to an atheist that he hopes to begin a dialogue with (there’s discussion of Slavoj Zizek), and offered up a meditation on how the doctrine of utter depravity is better interpreted as utter providence.

3. From Richard Beck at Experimental Theology, a rumination on hopeful belief versus dogmatic belief framed in the context of the question of what the Christian afterlife looks like.  Beck calls himself a hopeful universalist, and makes a good point about the reality that faith consists of a certain amount of doubt, and so certainty is not something that’s helpful to throw into the equation. Also from Beck, a paper he presented at a conference on Christian ethics back in June which discusses the connection between Christianity and anarchism.

4. I read Fred Clark at Slacktivist regularly.  He’s a very harsh critic of the religious right, and sometimes with good reason.  Here’s a critique he recently wrote pointing out how the purity culture that parts of the Church participate in creates a bizarre climate where ideological extremism only exists in one direction.

5. I’m so happy that Rachel Held Evans is back from vacation now.  She’s the reasonable bridge builder in my regular diet of Christian bloggers.  This week she wrote a thoughtful post about how anger is a useful tool for spurring action, but a hindrance in maintaining a clear vision.  Also, because she blogs for CNN now, she wrote a great article there discussing the reason that people are becoming disillusioned with the modern evangelical branch of the Church.

Comics

Kitty Pryde

Kitty Pryde (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Over at Beyond the Gamer, XmenXpert posted a nifty list of five superheroes in the Marvel universe who haven’t been made into Avengers yet, but really should be.  Kitty Pryde tops the list, which why not, seeing as she did single-handedly save the Earth from a giant bullet by phasing it through the planet.  Honestly, if you’re a hero in the Marvel universe and you save the whole world all by yourself, that should be an instant Avenger card right there.

Science

1. Magnets are a lot of fun.  Magnets used to make ferrofluids do interesting things with their structure is more fun than that.

2. Rachael and I saw Waking Life this week (in what I’m calling the slowest movie line-up of the summer), and while I thought it was strange, it did ask some interesting questions about the nature of dreaming.  If you haven’t seen it, then it might be worth your time; just don’t expect any comprehensible plot, since the entire two hour film seems to be mostly a simulation of a dream.  To help you figure out what that’s supposed to mean, here’s a list of ten theories on the nature of dreaming.

3. So, leave it to a bunch of Germans to freeze light for a minute.  “This light moves too quickly!  We must stop it so we can optimize its efficiency!”

4. I’m not sure this is exactly what they were talking about in Inception, but it’s an interesting avenue of research.  I’m curious to see what comes of memory implantation (one person in the comments mentioned that this could have profound effects on treating Alzheimer’s if it eventually led to being able to implant a person’s lost memories).

5. I listened to an audiobook a few years ago that was set in the near future where everyone had these weird silver glove things that worked like a cell phone.  They were fully flexible, and people just kind of stuffed the gloves in their pockets until they needed to make a call, then they pulled the rumpled little thing out, put it on, and got connected.  The first step to getting those gloves is this stuff here.

6. “We all love cephalopods!”

7. We actually get yellow skies like this in Georgia on occasion, though never with the awesome cloud formations.  Rachael and I used to joke that maybe it was the world ending; apparently we weren’t the only ones thinking that.

8. A quote from Rosalind Franklin, who discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, about the importance of allowing science and everyday life to intersect as much and often as possible.

Gaming

1. I don’t have a smartphone.  If I did, I doubt I’d try to do this with it.  “You died of the plague, roll a new character.”

2. I haven’t played this game, but the trailer looks good.  It’s a point and click adventure about a woman who’s nine months pregnant, in jail, and suspected of murdering her cellmate.  Also, it’s free.

3. Chrono Trigger is, objectively, one of the best games ever made.  I own it on three different platforms because no matter how many times it gets re-released, I always want to play it again.  This tribute makes me all nostalgic, and also leaves me wondering if Square Enix will ever do an HD update.  Check it out.

4. When you stop and think about it, you realize that the play cycle on Donkey Kong really was pretty short.  So short, in fact, that one guy with way too much time on his hands did a play-through of all three levels using stop motion photography and beads.

Movies

1. I feel very ambivalent towards the X-Men movies.  Even the ones that are generally considered good aren’t perfect.  Also, like any action movie, there are always plot holes.  For your consideration, a series of videos enumerating all the problems that were in the first three X-Men movies.

Current Events

1. Via MaddowBlog, an article discussing the recent trend in conservative policy toward instituting prison reform as a cost-saving measure.  Personally, I think this is a wonderful move on the part of the conservatives, because it holds true to the conservative ideal of fiscal responsibility while doing something that really will be of benefit to society as a whole.

2. From The Next New Deal, an article reviewing the libertarian model proposed by Robert Nozick in his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia.  I am not a libertarian, so I won’t say that this is a good critique of libertarianism writ large, but it puts the model that Nozick promotes in a very different, very harsh light.  If I have any libertarian readers, would you care to comment on this?

What the Heck, China?!

1. A man in China has a pet turtle whom he gives cigarettes to.  The turtle is a nicotine addict.  This is very sad, because I love turtles.

The Internet is for Sharing

1. Kotaku links to a Reddit thread where people are posting comparisons between Game of Thrones and Star Wars.  It’s Reddit, so you’ve probably already seen it, but I live under a rock and found it novel, so here it is.  Obviously, it contains spoilers for both franchises.

And that’s it from my little corner of the internet.