Why People SAY Chrono Trigger is Great Isn't Really Why It's Great

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I recently played the free demo of a game called Lost Sphear, a game that appears to be deliberately imitating Chrono Trigger, one of my favorite RPGs of all time.  The game... did not interest me very much.  It felt dull, flat, and lifeless.  The mechanics were confusing and complicated.  For all the talk about how this game and the one before it from the same studio (I Am Setsuna) are an attempt to recreate the golden age of SNES RPGs, I was hoping not to be so thoroughly disappointed.  But here we are.

I wonder whether the problem is a radical misdiagnosis of what it is that made Chrono Trigger so great.  Lots of people agree with me that it's a fantastic game (I'm always surprised when lots of people agree with me...), but when you ask them why, I think the answers they frequently give, well, aren't quite right.  

So, for your compare-and-contrast benefit, I am now going to list you for "Why People SAY Chrono Trigger is Great" vs. "Why Chrono Trigger is ACTUALLY Great."

Why People SAY Chrono Trigger is Great:

  • No random encounters
  • No fighting on the world map
  • Position-based combat system without going to separate "battle screen"
  • Intriguing time-travel paradoxes and puzzles
  • Excellent soundtrack by Yasunori Mitsuda

Why Chrono Trigger is ACTUALLY Great:

  • Strong, varied, and colorful character and world design choices that make an instant impact
  • Simple, straightforward battle mechanics and low difficulty level
  • Strong, consistent fun, cartoony tone balanced with a serious weighty story with immediately established stakes and underlying depth
  • Time-travel adventure
  • Excellent soundtrack by Yasunori Mitsuda

For the record, it's not that the things in the first list are BAD.  I like those things, too.  It's just that if you were to create a game that has those things and ONLY those things, and compare it to Chrono Trigger in your ad copy, you are likely to come up with a game as dull and lifeless as, say, Lost Sphear.

The "no random encounters" bit is especially tiresome.  It's true that random encounters can be problematic for a lot of RPG players, but plenty of RPGs got rid of them before and after, and very few of them came anywhere close to the awesomeness of Chrono Trigger.  What's interesting about Chrono Trigger's battle system is not that the encounters aren't random, or that they don't take you to a separate "battle screen," but that a large percentage of them are choreographed, designed, and INTERESTING experiences.  Instead of just plopping enemies onto the map to await the hero's coming, a la Final Fantasy XIII, enemies are frequently engaged in activity when you find them - or there's some clever twist to how they hide themselves from you or attack you.  A large percentage of the fights in Chrono Trigger have fun gimmicks to them - so it's more than the fact that the battles aren't random.  A lot of the time, they're actually NEW CONTENT.  They're interesting in and of themselves!

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And this goes to the heart of the appeal of Chrono Trigger - a game that almost perfectly follows the Pirates of the Caribbean Principle.  It's constantly making interesting LOUD and STRONG design choices, in virtually every apsect of its creation.  The five time periods are all radically different from one another - different color palettes, different emotional tones, different designs, different musical arrangements.  The six main characters, likewise, are all radically different from each other - different combat styles, different personalities, different shapes and sizes, different colors, different speech patterns.  Part of what allows the "dual tech" battle system to work so beautifully is that the six characters are so varied and colorful, that it creates an awesome feeling of SYNERGY when they come together to join attacks.  Every location, every character is immediately emotionally graspable and relatable.  Story segments and scenes are brief but resonant.  Chrono Trigger's design choices READ.  They make an instant impact.

Couple this with a battle system that's remarkably easy to pick up and play with, an underlying story full of intrigue and twists (as traditional for a JRPG), and one of the greatest soundtracks in video game history, and you've got a recipe for tremendous success.

The sad part of all this is that a lot of the things that made Chrono Trigger awesome were not unique to Chrono Trigger... back then.  Final Fantasy 6 and 7, Super Mario RPG, and Earthbound all followed these principles, just to name a few.  To some extent, the Pirates of the Caribbean Principle was ASSUMED in games of that era.  Too frequently, nowadays, dialog is interminable, characters are bland and indistinguishable from one another, the tone is either over-serious or over-silly, and battle systems are over-complicated.

And yes, I am trying to get at a little of those old-school values in my own game, but I admit it's challenging sometimes.  There's a reason, I think, that these virtues have fallen out of favor - they're hard to achieve!  At least I know the goal, however, which is something.

So please... don't tell me your game is "imitating Chrono Trigger" unless you're imitating its design strength, its straightforward simplicity, its melodic score, its vibrant color and variety, and its fun and adventure.  More of that, please!  

Adventures of Chris HD Artwork

Check out the latest for the Adventures of Chris HD by lead artist Kyle Anderson :D

I think it turned out pretty well!  The first demo of the game should be ready to go pretty soon.  I'm excited to get to show off a little bit of it.

Someone's Feeling More Animated Than Usual...

The Adventures of Chris HD revamp is coming along - it's been a bit of a slow start, but we've got sketches and finished animation frames and more on the way!  I'm excited to update you as more artwork comes in, and the game starts to take shape...

In the meantime, check out these awesome sketches by animator Ivana Libiakov√° from models by lead artist Ricardo van Duuren!

 We've had a bit of a slow start, but things are coming along.  Mostly, we've had to readjust a bit thanks to our decision to do a full-scale redesign rather than simply convert to HD.  The current plan is also to expand the content significantly - more details later!

We've had a bit of a slow start, but things are coming along.  Mostly, we've had to readjust a bit thanks to our decision to do a full-scale redesign rather than simply convert to HD.  The current plan is also to expand the content significantly - more details later!

Adventures of Chris Greenlit on Steam!

Well, I got an email I wasn't expecting yesterday - The Adventures of Chris was greenlit on Steam!  The reason I wasn't expecting it is because, according to my Steam-provided stats, I wasn't that close to 100% of the way to the "Top 100" in terms of yes votes.  I figured I had a long slog ahead of me.  Yesterday, however, the good folks at Valve decided to greenlight a whole bunch of games, including mine.  It doesn't feel like as much of an accomplishment as I'd hoped - better to reach the goal line than to have the goal line suddenly moved forward a whole lot.  However, for the record, not all games got greenlit, so I suppose it's something!  And hey, one way or another... THE ADVENTURES OF CHRIS WILL BE ON STEAM :D

I am, however, going to hold off on releasing The Adventures of Chris on Steam until the HD revamp is complete - I only get one launch, and I want it to be as awesome as possible!  I'm thinking it would be good to find a way to make the original AIR app available as a bonus download, for those who want to experience the original, shorter, retro-styled version, but I'm not sure yet what I want to do on that front.  Thoughts are welcome.

Adventures of Chris HD Officially On the Way!

  The mysterious jungles of the Yucatan await your exploration...

The mysterious jungles of the Yucatan await your exploration...

I'm excited to announce that my adventure platformer game is about to get seriously souped up!  The soundtrack has already been rearranged and remastered by AAA award-nominated music producer David Franco (listen to samples here), and now the graphics are getting a full-scale HD revamp by artist RicoD (you can check out his portfolio here - there's some awesome stuff in there!).   I can't wait to share sketches and designs as we work them out!

The upcoming version will have more than just cosmetic differences, however.  I will be expanding the game significantly, as well as finally porting to Unity.  So far, the game has been built in Adobe AIR using Starling.  AIR had the advantage of using a language and platform I already knew, and allowing me to build for mobile, PC, and Mac very easily.  Unity, however, is a far more popular platform with many more available target platforms (including Linux, WiiU, and PS Vita!), with many more supported tools and a larger, more active development community.  It's high time I made the switch!  The port to Unity will mean that Adventures of Chris should now be available on Linux - and hopefully other new platforms as well!

The present expansion plans include a lot of cool new toys, including:

  • Two new world locations to explore, with two new bosses and more!
  • A greatly expanded end-game
  • A shortened opening segment, to allow you to get to the free-exploring meat of the game much faster
  • New abilities and upgrades to help you fight much more challenging bosses
  • And more...

And if you're an OUYA or FireTV owner, don't worry!  I intend to keep supporting both systems.

I intend to blog about my porting challenges and new developments as they come out, so follow my blog here or my Twitter account (@chris_guin) to catch sneak previews and keep up-to-date, and make sure to check out the game's page at Steam Greenlight.  If you're a fellow game dev, you might be interested to learn what you can from my experiences!