Chrono Trigger: thoughts on a certain yes/no choice …

Remember when I wrote something about ethical choices in videogames? Uh, I won’t blame you if you don’t, it was a long time ago. Back then I said that there was a specific choice in Chrono Trigger that I wanted to write about in more detail. And then … erh, I didn’t do it. Months passed! But it’s been nagging at me all this time!!!

So I’ll write about it on this fine, sunny day! Spoilers for Chrono Trigger will follow, and I recommend you play this game, because it’s vey good.

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Originality is overrated! and other thoughts on JRPG plots

I enjoy daydreaming about ~the perfect JRPG plot. Come to think of it, it’s something I’ve been doing since the 1990s, when I first played a JRPG. It’s a videogame genre that I find particularly appealing and even inspiring. I believe these games just give me a sense of fun, of adventure, freedom and discovery that others don’t necessarily give me. They are usually really long, they are about journeys and are full of interesting, diverse characters. (I don’t mean diverse in the modern US marketing speech sense, just that any decent JRPG party will feature characters with different skills, personalities and backgrounds. This is just more interesting than a cast of characters who all have the same age and the same approximate background and job … looking at you, Final Fantasy VIII.)

Anyway, what is the perfect JRPG plot? Or rather, what makes a JRPG plot great? I believe that it’s easy to overestimate the importance of complexity, realism and especially originality. These things are not actually that important. In fact, they can get in the way and destroy your gaming experience. Because that’s what a good videogame plot is: an experience.

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When RPGs give you ethical choices …

… it is also your choice whether to accept them at all.

When I play RPGs, I like having the feeling that my actions and my own choices actually affect the story, and be it just in some small way. I’m totally fine with linear stories, but it’s always cool to be feel like you’re not just along for the right, but an active participant instead of a passive observer. I’ve noticed that even when the choice turns out to be an illusion, I still feel a little bit more involved in the game. It makes the experience more immersive for me, because it prompts me to really think about the characters and their world … Hmmm …

Then again, an abundance of pseudo-choices can have the opposite effect. In Golden Sun, I was constantly given the choice between saying Yes or saying No to questions and suggestions – but for the most part, giving the “wrong” answer just resulted in my opinion getting ignored or overruled by the other characters. Pfff! Stop asking me this stuff if you don’t care!

What actually prompted this post was an old-ish SiliconEra article about Bravely Second‘s sidequests, titled Bravely Second’s Job Options Overshadow Sidequests’ Difficult Decisions – the headline actually tells you the core argument of the article, which is really refreshing in this age of clickbait titles. Still, I disagree completely with the sentiment.

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Moms and dads and families in Chrono Trigger

Pinballing around the internet, a blog post caught my eyes, because the headline was “Motherhood in Geekery” and the image underneath was a Chrono Trigger screenshot. Motherhood! In Chrono Trigger! This is exactly a topic I’d been thinking about lately. Chrono Trigger and parenthood in general, actually. There are several moms and dads in the game. Anyway, the article itself covered a lot of different canons, but only discussed Chrono Trigger briefly, with one sentence about Crono’s mother, so it left me bubbling with “But what about — you’re forgetting about — and couldn’t we also say that —“, and I’ll release these thoughts into the wild in a blog post of my own:

Parent-child relationships in Chrono Trigger!

(Very major spoilers for Chrono Trigger, and some for Chrono Cross in passing.) Continue reading

Regarding the choice to do bad things in videogames

It’s almost ridiculous how often I write a blog post to-be in a normal text file (to be revised and posted later), save it under a random name because I’m in a hurry and/or uncreative … and then never find it again. So, somewhere on my harddrive, there is a post with thoughts and musings on this video and the broader topic of “violence in videogames” and the ways in which the medium can be used to comment on its own use of violence. And the topic of “choice”, namely the choice to commit (virtual) violence.

“Choice” is a key concept for videogames. While novels and movies tell audiences a story, videogames make their players feel that it is their own story, a personal experience that is created by their own actions. Usually, this is pretty much an illusion: most games have a linear story and leave the player few big choices. And even if it’s a game with a lot of options, most of it is pre-determined anyway and planned meticulously, still controlled by the creators and not the player. If you have the choice between saving a character’s life or letting him die, both paths are still stories written by someone else. Gameplay also limits your options. You often have only one type of action you can use to solve any problem: shooting, driving karts, flying a spaceship etc. (You know these comical moments when you don’t pull a lever, but slash at it with your sword? You only have that B button!)

Videogames with violence-oriented gameplay have a hard time leaving players a choice in whether or not they want to solve their problems in a violent way. And how do you make a point about the excess violence if violence is the only option the game gives people? It’s like giving someone an apple only to then criticize them for having an apple in their hand.

One great commentary on the violence inherent in the genre of jump’n runs is The Visit by Marius Fietzek. You think you can just jump on animals simply because it’s this particular genre of videogame? No!

It reminds me of the first time I played Chrono Trigger. I was left stunned when I was on trial and an NPC accused me of having stolen and eaten his lunch. Yes, I had eaten his lunch. But this being a JRPG, I had naturally assumed that I could take everything, enter everywhere and never worry about an NPC’s opinion. To be put on trial and judged for normal RPG behaviour was bizarre … and pretty cool.

As a side note to be explored later: There’s something special about a violent act committed in a videogame whose gameplay is usually about solving problems peacefully through dialogues or riddles. Some of the worst things I ever did (as a videogamer), I did in adventure games. Of course they were predetermined paths and there actually were no other options. But they were still my ideas. I came up with the idea to saw off Brink’s hand in The Dig with a sharp jawbone! That was an idea that formed in my head, it was something I thought of. It hadn’t been my first idea, but eventually, that’s the solution that came to mind and that I decided to try. That was scary in a psychological way.

When it comes to making players feel a sense of responsibility, guilt (or pride), the illusion of choice can work just as well as actual choice. At least until you replay the game, try to do things differently and discover that it’s all predetermined. Like the trial in Chrono Trigger. It does not matter in the big picture whether you are found guilty or innocent, but I remember my initial confusion very fondly. <3