April 6th, 2009 by Anuj
So, I’ve been playing a lot of Chrono Trigger for DS lately. I suppose it really took off during my flights to and from San Francisco last week for GDC, and then my 12 hour “layover” also helped in this department.
Anyway, the game is of course brilliant, but what is more nostalgic to me than anything else is how brilliantly the story is told. Sure back in those days, all the stories were told this way, but even still for some reason I think that most other games still didn’t do it as well. Earthbound did, but that’s another reason Earthbound was awesome. Anyway, as usual, I’ve talked a lot about something and started talking about related subjects without actually saying what I am referring to.
I’m referring to the short-burst storytelling as is common in RPGs, especially in those days… the kind of storytelling that is all but dead in today’s day. I’m referring to the story that is told while you talk to townsfolk and random NPCs while running around the world. Most RPGs today use town “banter” as a poorly taken advantage of tool of immersion, and then use cutscenes and “significant” character dialog as story progression. The last game that I truly felt proper short-burst story telling in was I think Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic… if you played it, you know what I’m talking about.
I suppose it’s not really the fault of modern games or writing or writers or any one particular group… well unless you classify ‘lazy assholes’ as one group, but who the hell hasn’t been guilty of something that may defunct them into that category? With so many games now being forced to focus on story and allow time and presence for cutscenes and character dialog, it’s no wonder that we as an audience look for these things and basically skip everything else and let our subconscious sort it out. Not to mention the otherwise difficulty in developing a unique or original story that might actually entangle the player’s interest even a little.
I think that’s one of the new revolutions that needs to take place in storytelling in games. Make it sort of ADD and just start skipping forward hours and hours and just forgetting about everything in between. It’s like when you watch those shows and you see the “Previously on…” and pretty much get the gist of everything you missed. Basically make a game like that… I think that’s kind of what it was like. Skipping from one significant story element to the next, as walking through a town talking to NPCs.
Additionally, I’ll mention that I’m crazy impressed with how ridiculous the combat system in Chrono Trigger is. I dunno if I was too young or ignorant or spoiled to really appreciate it back when I first played it, but after over a decade of games with only a few handful or so of RPGs that have had a similarly awesome combat system, it makes me appreciate it a whole lot more. I’ll say that I wish I could have some better means to interface with the game, or some better UI elements to do moves or know what I want to do, but alas, maybe in another game…