4cr Reads – Chrono Trigger from Michael P. Williams
As someone who writes about video games every single day, I can imagine how hard it must have been for Michael P. Williams to write a whole book on a game as beloved as Chrono Trigger. What if readers don’t like it? What if I don’t talk enough about the game mechanics? Should I focus on the story of how the game came to be? Would it bother people if I talked a bit about my own life and how Chrono Trigger made an impact on me?
For those of you who missed it, Boss Fight Books had a Kickstarter campaign a year ago to create books on Earthbound, Galaga, Super Mario Bros 2, ZZT and Jagged Alliance 2, in print and digital form, and backers could select to pledge for one book or pledge enough to “subscribe” to the whole lot either digitally, in print, or both. But Chrono Trigger was not on that list! So how did this book get funded? A sixth book was put up for a fan vote, and backers could vote for Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, Metroid/Super Metroid, or The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. And not too surprisingly, Chrono Trigger won!
Going back to the book, I’ll say right now that Williams did a great job. He remarkably balanced everything in the book while showcasing the right amount of personal insight, technical data and trivia to keep the reader engaged page after page. One moment we’re reading about William’s life in Japan and about how experiencing Japanese culture first-hand during his stay as a teacher allowed him to grow and evolve as a person in much the same way that playing Chrono Trigger did in his youth. Then we’re reading about the now-classic elements of the game (no random battles, combining techs, traveling in time) while feeling as if we were experiencing said elements for the first time. This is all thanks to how the author allows us to be there, right next to him, as the story unfolds. And then, there are the interviews with the two people who worked on translating Chrono Trigger to English. The story of them both working on the same game at a different place and a at a different time, as if existing in two parallel universes explains why Chrono Trigger feels a bit different at some points, but is still one awesome game.
The interviews with Ted Woosley (the original translator for Chrono Trigger) and Tom Slattery (who had the job of working on a new English translation for Chrono Trigger, as well as on several Final Fantasy games) were highlights of the book since I loved learning more about the process used to adapt the original story, dialog and names to what we got to experience back in the day (or with the DS port of the game). We’ve definitely come a long way, and while Woosley had a hard time working with a short deadline and restrictions in the amount of characters he could use due to space and storage restrictions (remember, cartridges were incredibly expensive back then!), Slattery had to find his own voice for the Chrono Trigger port while trying not to erase the memorable lines that gamers remembered This balancing act is highlighted by an anecdote describing how he changed was the first line in the game (when Crono’s mom wakes our hero by saying “Good Morning, Crono!”) without knowing that the website to promote the Nintendo DS port was going to be goodmorningcrono.com – and yes, the site is still live!
By the time Williams starts to talk about time-travel and how every action from our group of heroes affects the whole world, while still keeping things strangely familiar (and making us thinking of more time paradoxes than there are grains of sand in the beach), he has our undivided attention, ready to jump into the next discussion, as is the case in passages like this:
Chrono Trigger combines the successes of both Final Fantasy Legend III and Live A Live, making time travel both integral to the story and historically comprehensive. Time travel seems so deeply enmeshed in the plot that it’s difficult to imagine the game without it. Blasphemous as it may sound, however, I believe that Chrono Trigger doesn’t actually need time travel to be a successful game.
It’s a lovely way to stir up the hornet’s nest, but it is because of crazy arguments such as this one that Williams keeps things moving along at a steady pace. Only a few pages removed from the above statement, he starts to talk about the “Dream Team” of developers that worked on Chrono Trigger (Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yuji Horii and Akira Toriyama), and I loved being reminded about how the cover to Chrono Trigger on the SNES, that iconic image of Crono bouncing off from Frog while Marle strengthens his sword with the power of fire is just plain wrong. Those of you that have played Chrono Trigger already know this, but Marle does not use fire magic in the game (her element is water), and the only reason why she’s using fire in the cover is because Toriyama was having a hard time drawing ice on the sword.
This is as far as I’ll go with my review of Chrono Trigger by Michael P. Williams, because it’s a book that you all should read and experience on your own, and I don’t want to spoil the whole thing with my uncontrollable babbling. You can buy the book straight from Boss Fight Books either in Paperback or ebook format (or a combo with both). You’d do well to check out the rest of their selection as well because there are some serious gems there. If all goes well, I’ll back at some point in the future with a review of ZZT by Anna Anthropy.