Category Archives: good things

Chrono Trigger – The Underdog

This article was originally featured at HonestGamers.com

Where I Began
I have a vague recollection of the first time I picked up a Super Nintendo Entertainment System controller that vaulted me into Chrono’s distinctive reality. Memory can be vague, and I could imagine that it was in the company of a friend, or with a “Rental” sticker on the cartridge; perhaps it was the time I relived the adventure in retelling to another Role Playing Game fan who had yet to discover the ground breaking, time travelling tale.

That is perhaps part of the inspiration for Chrono Trigger, I could easily ascribe such, logically. However, my experience with the game was probably not much different than yours. I ran around, stole lunches, drank competitively, beat up a robot; checked on the girl I’d knock over first and definitely did not wait around for her to decide what candy she wanted.

Then I was judged summarily guilty as a subversive terrorist against the Kingdom and locked up in a tower. What a morning! To suggest I wasn’t have a great time would be a mistake, even though I learned, much to my chagrin, that the game was taking notes about my choices. That there were tangible consequences to my actions was a lesson I did not forget.

I didn’t care for a second that it was genius world building, mechanics-in-story seamlessly interwoven. This is a game that defined how time travel mechanics, world building and character design needed to work. No one aspect of its design received less attention than any other, and this is apparent even in detailed analysis.

Chrono Trigger is a masterwork of pixel art, eight channel orchestral character themes, strategic turn based combat and some of the most memorable characters you’re ever likely to meet. With character designs by Akira Toriyama, music by Yasanori Mitsuda and Nobou Uematsu, this is no doubt the console’s most ambitious title. Many of RPG gamings most familiar tropes got their start here, even if it did not originate them.

A Fantasy of Power
Chrono Trigger’s defining quality is its ability to allow you to become invested in your choices. Even if you don’t care, personally, for Marle, the rudderless princess you knock over, concern for her life and your impact upon it places you squarely in the middle of events. Your personal involvement with each of the characters not only dictates how much work you put into them, it also determines the outcome of the game.

To quote Nick Fury, “Ever been in a war, Councilman? Did you feel an over-abundance of control?” Each choice you make has an ever outward scaling knock-on effect that draws you to an apocalyptic conclusion seemingly beyond your control. You can escape death, rescue the princess, thwart the tyrant and even befriend the monster, but can you prevent the destruction of all humanity? Perhaps the ultimate answer we seek is addressed by Chrono Trigger: We can decide the outcome of the future.

Grandmastery
The heads of the creative team behind Trigger are considered grandmasters of their respective art. Their music, character design, pixel art and world design have inspired countless people to try their own hand at it. I submit there is no greater achievement than that. Let us not forget that the programmers also achieved an incredible feat on the aging console.

I remember being astounded that I could talk to someone and then run around the screen with the dialogue page still on screen. At the time I called it “multitasking”, though in truth it’s probably closer to task switching. Ever the techhead, I was impressed at the performance of that little grey box. Spell effects were impressive, many of which filled the screen in a showy fashion not before thought possible.

To say that these developers and creators were at the top of their craft is a fact, and they pushed the SNES to its limits and proved it still could awe the fans … without the use of any in-cart accelerators, I might add. There is no substitute for creative talent, and Chrono Trigger stands as a testament to that fact. So why is it so easily overlooked?

Progression and Heroism
I stared in heartbroken awe as Chrono’s sixteen pixel tall figure was disintegrated by Lavos’ vicious attack. Then, as Undertale would say, I was “filled with determination”. I had rescued Marle from death, and didn’t believe for a moment that he would succumb. I knew in advance that he was locked as the first party member for a reason.

It wasn’t cynical anticipation; I knew something terrible was going to happen. I’d watched games try new things and was curious what was next. Excitement may be a strange attribution to player death, but I trusted Chrono Trigger to continue to give me choices. When given the opportunity to restore the timeline, I got right to it. I know now I didn’t have to bring him back, but here’s the thing: When I play Chrono Trigger, I can’t bring myself not to.

I feel obligated to bring order back, to restore what is ruined, to vanquish darkness and win the day. I know it stems from the deeply rooted sense of right I have within me, and here’s something else: I’ll never try to get any of the other endings. Stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this.

Your Ending
There are thirteen distinct endings in Chrono Trigger, and each can be effortlessly pursued thanks to New Game+, which grants you all of your prior equipment. You can defeat Lavos at less than half of your party’s maximum strength. That is a clever hint; all of the game’s potential has not been exhausted, and neither has yours.

In 1995, no one was told Chrono Trigger had multiple endings. The Internet was slow and communication was sluggish and not centralized. Translation: We didn’t have Facebook, Skype, Discord or any social media forum of significance. I don’t know how long it took for word to get around about alternate endings, but our perception of the game as complete was transformed. I didn’t have access to Chrono Trigger to explore the other endings, so for me, it was, but I don’t recall wanting very much to pursue them.

Did I find the man in the spacesuit underwhelming? Mechanically, not at all. “Core Lavos” can still be a tough fight if you’re not on your toes or privy to its defenses. Akira’s designs have a tendency toward silliness, so I wasn’t exactly surprised. Defeating Lavos, though, isn’t the point of the game.

Cause Without Root
The emotional resonance we talk about as reviewers, players and critics, is a blustery way of saying “I felt that.” Determination to win was what the characters, quests, music and art gave me. I remember feeling joyous – happy-sad – when Marle was re-united with Chrono. It may be ironic that Chrono Trigger doesn’t have a lot of emotional resonance.

All of its storytelling force comes from its ability to make you want to complete the goals that you own. They aren’t your goals; they’re preset, and can be broken down into a flow chart of relatively simple cause and effect events. We know that doesn’t lessen their meaning, because we make simple choices all the time. The difference is we get to see the resolution, or conflict, that comes of those choices in a short time frame.

Stories struggle with multi-universe scenarios. Chrono Trigger’s successor, though not direct sequel, Chrono Cross, is a branch of that narrative root. Players, when presented with forty characters to chose from, would chose not to play the game. Would a direct sequel have worked better? Would it even have been possible? I doubt it; other games have tried to recapture the magic and been panned in the attempt by critics and fans alike.

Chrono Trigger speaks to the power of our choices, and the uncertainty of consequence. Perhaps if it had just one ending, it would be more favourably regarded. It does not pretend that your choices do not matter; that there is only one possible outcome. It takes a risk and entrusts you with the fate of everyone within its world.

Why do I call this an underdog? Chrono Trigger changed how RPGs played and our expectations. It is easily glossed over as one of the best RPGs of all time, possibly because of its signature art style and narrative themes. When the world had moved on to Final Fantasy Tactics, critics still recognized Chrono Trigger’s deeper influence.

Is it preservation that has caused Squaresoft, and now Square Enix, to shut down every reinterpretation of its work? Three dimensional worlds do not suffice, novels of great respect, nor even a modest upscaling or remastering of the original assets behoove. Their narrow path of marketing does seem puzzling in the face of so many remasters of their other franchises. Let’s wrap this up.

Conclusion: Infinite Inventory
Chrono Trigger is a seminal classic. It has a novel presentation that relates the power and powerlessness of choice. Its music is some of the industry’s finest, and extolled strong female characters well before it became an industry focus, thanks to Lara Croft (also released in 1995). It continues to sell in a largely unmodified form, ported to many platforms.

It’s greatest weaknesses are indeed simple: Akira’s particular art style may just rub you the wrong way; the main storyline is uncharacteristically short. Some music themes can overstay their welcome, rarely exceeding a minute in length as was typical of the SNES. Multiple endings can be a chore to pursue.

Nonetheless, this is widely regarded as a must play, and is available on mobile for Android and iOS. If you’re retro-curious, it was also ported to PlayStation One and Nintendo DS with additional features including animated cutscenes, additional endings and more. ‘Nuff said.

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Tracking the Past (Part 5)

Part 5: Trackerfixing, Self-Addressing

The 604 Crew made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, one summer. While my participation in various Vantari and VCVGC parties garnered some attention, and the respect of people who fascinated me, I was hungry for recognition. Roger Earl provided some of that, sharing his endless enthusiasm and incisive analytic talent to the table.

He was the cool geek, and he made me feel cool. I didn’t understand what it was to be cool then, and it would be another ten years before I began to figure it out. He was that guy, you know, the one who didn’t just own an Amiga, but grokked it. He was into the underbelly of technology and always had a fascinating story about his work to tell.

Banks are every bit as fallible as the rest of us, don’t forget that.

Roger’s legitimizing of my hobby increased my hunger for more of the same. Then, The 604 Crew, more of an idea than a group, extended us an invitation to participate in a competition they called “Trackerfix”. A compo! An honest to goodness compo! In Canada!

Awesome!

Rowan turned out to be a pretty cool guy too. He actually knew music theory, whereas I’ve – until recently – flown by the seat of my pants. Very little theory, except for what my Dad taught me. Valuable things like – in solos you can go where ever you want, as long as you come back. Question and answer, and be an avid listener.

It wasn’t a coincidence I used Yes samples in my music, but I digress.

Rowan told us we had a half hour to compose something with the chip samples we were given, so I did what I do best: Immediate response. It’s something I learned from watching Emily Carr art courses on PBS that applies to creativity of all kinds. You don’t think – you just take it in and create.

1 Gig Per Byte had a good bassline and not much else, but I could be proud of it. After this we were invited to contribute to The 604 Crew’s music disk, so I submitted a few tracks that were admittedly repetitious in nature. I was pretty upset by this, and it is possible to find some of that vitriol in my sampletexts, if you look.

Not my more gracious moments. I composed songs to combat this view and … frankly, aspect of myself. I had no musical education to lean on, so I had to find it in external influences. Those in my immediate vicinity worth mentioning are Derek who expected higher quality samples from me, and Ryan who was never satisfied with my first effort. Dave selflessly hosted out music, and without him – well, I’ve been over that, haven’t I?

I was growing as a musician in leaps and bounds. Yet, it was those who I never met who contributed significantly to my development. Where to start? Moby, of course, because anyone who says they don’t know Moby, just doesn’t know it. Jogier Liljedahl, u4ia (Jim Young), Count Zero (gotta love some bombastic YM2149 drumlines!), EuphoniX and so many more.

The Atari demoscene was my bread and butter.

Even now my most ‘popular’ downloads online are my simpler, less technically advanced tracks. Theme of Light, for instance, was my response to Robert Miles’ Children. Songs like that prove I wasn’t a good judge of how my music will be received. The sample quality is simply atrocious, but it does have a good beat, and under the right circumstances, might be rave or dance material.

Who knows?

Dave and Ryan believed in my music, and me, enough to help me progress to a higher form of music. Well, enter the multi-channel era. Whilst they tinkered with ScreamTracker and FastTracker, Dave provided me with an Atari STe, which I used to produce my 8-channel works.

While audio fidelity suffered with doubtful mixing quality, my skills flourished. 1997 and 1998 were banner years for me, with 1998: Sailor Rifts my magnum opus. Filling a single disk to the brim and stacking samples together to make it all fit into a single module, I composed until Octalyzer STe couldn’t possibly manage another pattern. 830K not once, but twice.

It wasn’t long before I was going to need a new machine.

Continued next week.

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6 Free Games from Sega

Make Love Not War features 6 top-rated titles on Steam! Hop on over now and click “Install Games” to add the lot to your account! Included are:

  • Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit
  • Hell Yeah! Virtual Rabbit Missions (DLC)
  • Hell Yeah! Pimp My Rabbit (DLC)
  • Jet Set Radio
  • Sega Classics: Golden Axe, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 3 and knuckles, Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic Spinball

Of course check out the sales on Total War: Attila, Company of Heros 2, Warhammer Dawn of War II, Total War Master Collection 2014, Company of Heros 2 Master Collection and associated DLC.

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Transistor Gallery

Enjoy these drop-dead gorgeous screenshots of SuperGiant’s art deco masterpiece, Transistor!

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Chroma Squad – “Little, Pixely, Fun”

Vitals
Published/Developed by Behold Studios
Platform(s): Windows, Linux & Mac. To Be Announced for XBox One, Playstation 3/4 and Vita
Steam for $14.99 CDN -|- GOG.com for $14.99 USD (DRM Free)
Consider also: Chroma Squad Soundtrack on Steam or Bandcamp

Power Rangers, Saban’s imitation of the sentai hero genre in Japan, is a formative experience for most of us in the 1990s and have continued to this very day. Over a dozen variants of the rainbow spectrum suited warriors have left an indelible mark on western culture. Chroma Squad captures that nostalgia with an imperfect experience, but memorable gameplay and undeniable warmth of heart. Continue reading

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Gaining Experience: The Pursuit

PC gamers have it rough. Not only must we build and maintain our hardware, cover all of the associated costs of ownership, we’ve got to wade through what is – in 2015-16 – an endless sea of game bundles, remakes and remasters, demakes and community made mods. Sometimes the game we want isn’t even on our preferred platform, and we need turn to a console, be it the Wii U, PS3/4 or XBox 360/One.

Where does the best experience live, and how do you find it?

As always, if you’re in a rush, you can skip right to my list of the best game vendors in the industry. Continue reading

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Don’t Stop Writing

So much can get in the way, but for every successful writer I have witnessed one constant: A trail of countless words. Be a critic, be an editor, find your specialty, but don’t stop for a moment. Get a few words in a day, or every other day, once a week. Continue reading

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Remember I said “Total Radio Silence”?

Starwise-bust-watermarked

Fliss Starwise

Okay I admit I never said that, but I did mention that this “wonderful new story”, entitled Sliver of Light, would not receive the spoiler treatment. Having totally turnedcoat on that idea, there is now a ‘novel development blog’ which I will be updating whenever it feels appropriate. Not in such a way as to detract from the core business of writing. The blog is called Cobalted (link opens in new window/tab), and has of this moment features a character synopsis for the main character, Fliss Starwise with more on the way soon.

Go check it out. This isn’t my usual kidnapping, disappearance or abuse intrigue and mystery. The narrative is called limited omniscient, my favorite writing style, granting me access to the thoughts and feelings of every character and it is my most comfortable vantage point. I’ve gotten the impression that many of my followers appreciate Aaran’s personality, or frankly, how real she is. So do I and I’ve mentioned that I was moving away from the darkness in which she lives.

A tale that any one can pick up is just more important to me than trying to be something grittier than myself. So many Canadian games and fiction comes across as harder and more jaded because that is what is expected. It’s not enough to be brilliant, genius and amazing if you’re nice, too. Without getting into the subject at length, I don’t believe that’s necessary to demonstrate integrity.

I will say this: We can recognize the battlefield and fight it without letting go of our souls.

You do know that is the core of Aaran Vanadyl’s being, don’t you? Some of you must. It’s easy to become comfortable with stories of abuse and pain, desensitized by the commonality and medium of experience and incident exploited for entertainment. I do not miss the contrast and ironic barriers placed on sexual content verses everything else. Let’s not limit the idea to violence, because that’s escapist. Violence is not the only victim silenced in our public discourses.

Sliver of Light will feature action (read: violence with a purpose) as much as its other elements, which include fantasy, mystery and of course, fiction. Foremost it is an ‘ordinary tale’ of adventure and coping with life as it happens to its cast. Awakening the heart of Amustere Goldfinch, the languishing mind of Diver Seasmoke and meeting the beautiful Pittance with her own goals.

I take a risk in exposing this work so early on, and I know it. However … I believe I am not alone in seeking and elevating what is good. Even with “so few” followers, I am further assured. So, as always, thank you. Cobalted will update with new chapters every Monday, because it should be a day you have something good to read.

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