Monday, September 12, 2016

The Game that Made Me Cry: A Brief Review of Chrono Trigger

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Chrono Trigger (1995) is the first Nintendo game I've played since Duck Hunt when I was a kid.

My RPG experience has been largely in PC games, especially the Dragon Age series, so I was really impressed by this game. It surprised me with how modern it felt. Granted the graphics have improved, but the mechanics behind play are still there.

Now, all of this should surprise no one familiar with the game. It has been frequently cited as one of the best video games of all time, after all. But the best part of Chrono Trigger for me was by far the character development.

As an avid reader, I've often experienced the sharp pain of loss at the end of a good book--one that concluded perfectly happy--but never before upon completing a video game.

Many players have criticized the characters as being flat and stereotypical. Very little time is dedicated to backstory, and there might altogether be a page of dialogue for each character. So why was I so attracted to Marle, Lucca, Frog, Robo, and even Chrono, who never spoke a word?

1. Stereotypes Make Easy Identifiers

As I mentioned in my article on anime, the presence of archetype characters allows for the quick introduction of characters, establishing what to expect from them and then deepening them as the story progresses.

In Chrono Trigger, much of the character development is the player projecting their own imagination of the sprites, guided lightly by the dialogue and plot. This results in greater player investment, especially in the characters they choose to include in their party.

2. Self-projection on Chrono

The main character Chrono never speaks. This allows the player to take on the role of view point character themselves, with little to no character filter. Again, this results in greater player investment, this time in the relationships between characters because they feel like your own relationships.

3. Themes of Friendship and Loyalty

While the challenge of establishing loyalty within your party can be entertaining in RPGs like Dragon Age, it can also be divisive to party dynamics. The characters are different and complex, often with contrary opinions that must be taken into account before making a decision.

In Chrono Trigger, this complexity is absent, but in its place, the player is left with the feeling of party unity. Everyone is working towards a big picture goal and backing the player's decisions 100%.

Furthermore, instead of being at odds with one another, the party members care for each other. Lucca fixes Robo several times, Robo comforts Lucca when she is upset, Marle is always the first to offer help, etc.

Modern RPGs often give the impression that the party would fall apart without the main character there to hold everyone together, but this is not the case in Chrono Trigger. When Chrono is absent, the party is still unified in its goal and committed to saving him.

This results in a theme of genuine friendship, trust, and support.

Conclusion

Stereotypical characters with limited formal character development can prompt more investment from the audience--player, reader, viewer--with a greater emotional payoff.

At the end of Chrono Tigger, when each character left the party to return home, I was upset. That reaction is one that I have never experienced at the hands of any other video game.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Have you played any retro games recently that you were impressed by?

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