Celebrating Fantasy: Chrono Trigger

The other day, I started this series off by celebrating Harry Potter, the series of books that made me want to be a writer. Today, I’m switching gears and celebrating one of my favorite childhood video games, Chrono Trigger. This is one of the games that first began my interest in fantasy as a genre.

It’s also, not coincidentally, considered one of the best video games ever made. For those who may not know, Chrono Trigger is a JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game) originally developed by Square and release for the Super Nintendo way back in 1995. (For those who might be wondering, I was 5 years old back then.)

When I first played the game, I was probably too young to really get it, but it was still one of my favorite games. It was just so much fun to feel like you were part of this epic story that was unfolding. The game starts innocently enough, with Crono, the main character, going to a festival to celebrate the coming of  a new millennium.

But when he bumps into a young woman at the fair and she decides to enjoy the festivities with him, things take a crazy turn. Through a bizarre interaction between magic and technology, the young woman is sent back in time four hundred years. Naturally, Crono follows her, and that starts the adventure.

In all, you visit six different time periods in the game: a prehistoric world where humans and dinosaurs live side by side, a world of magical floating islands and a frozen wasteland below, the middle ages, the present day, the day of the apocalypse, and a post-apocalyptic future. This diversity of settings made Chrono Trigger something new that you hadn’t seen before then. Most fantasy settings up until then, in both books and games, tended to stick to pretty typical medieval-ish settings.

When I first played the game, I didn’t realize just how amazing these settings were. Now, as a fantasy writer myself, I can really appreciate the creativity involved in this. Even more amazing is the fact that the developers managed to tell an epic, complex, and coherent story that spanned all these different time periods.

And the characters were so much fun to spend time with. Even though this was before the age of long cutscenes and spoken dialogue, I felt like I knew these people. From the prehistoric warrior Ayla to the futuristic robot Robo, they were all distinct and interesting, and they were fleshed out with the perfect amount of dialogue.

A lot of people might say you can’t learn anything from video games that you can apply to your writing, but I have to disagree. Games like Chrono Trigger are a big part of what made me a writer, and it still influences my writing to this day. You’ll see my love for time travel, for example, in the final book of World in Chains series. And my main character in that series, Nadia, takes a fair amount of inspiration from Marle, one of the main characters in Chrono Trigger. Some people might scoff at taking inspiration from video games, but there’s still a lot to be learned. And, of course, you have an entire genre based on video games now, LitRPG. I’m toying with the idea of writing one myself, but I need to do some research first.

Regardless of what I do or do not write, Chrono Trigger will always hold a special place in my heart, and in the hearts of many others.

What about you? What fantasy video games have you really enjoyed?

Celebrating Fantasy: The Harry Potter series.

Today, I’m launching a new series I plan to do from time to time: Celebrating Fantasy. In this series, I’m looking to celebrate the fantasy genres and the reasons I love it. I plan to discuss books, video games, movies, and any other forms of fantasy fiction. Some of the works I talk about may not be my personal favorites, but I will still celebrate what I enjoyed about them.

To launch this series, I’m going back to the age of 10. It was the fall of 2000, and I was in fifth grade. At that age, I enjoyed video games, but I didn’t read all that much. One of my teachers noticed this and suggested the Harry Potter series to my dad at a parent-teacher conference. My dad, being the perfect absentminded professor stereotype, picked up Chamber of Secrets instead of The Sorcerer’s Stone.

As it turned out, this was a good thing, and Chamber of Secrets still holds a special place in my heart. I like the first book, but it’s my least favorite of the entire series, and I’m not sure I would have fallen in love with it the same way if I’d read it first.

It’s probably cliched at this point, but Harry Potter is the series that made me want to be a writer. Before reading it, I had no idea that a book could take me on such a great magical adventure. Too often, I ended up reading the boring books they gave us in school, and those just weren’t the same. They could never fuel my love of reading the way Harry Potter did.

What makes Harry Potter so great for me?

It’s a combination of things. J.K. Rowling knows how to tell a great story. The characters are vividly drawn. The setting is fun and detailed. Her ability to weave a mystery plot and drop the perfect hints is masterful. In all, it’s fun. It’s the kind of world you love to escape into, and that’s what I’ve always looked for in my fantasy.

There are so many fun little things in the series that make the world feel so much more real. The magical candy. The joke shops. The many, many magical creatures. Is it always a consistent world? Does it always make perfect sense? No. But I don’t care because it’s so much fun. (In fact, one of my favorite things to do is pick at holes in the plot and world of Harry Potter. Any book that can get me to do that is great.)

I also loved how the first two books were great standalone mysteries that set up a few things for later in the series. From the third book on, it became more of an epic series, and that was great, especially when Rowling developed the plot based on little things she’d set up in the earlier books. Those things seemed inconsequential at the time, but they were ultimately very important. As a writer myself, I’m in awe of how well she planned some of these details. I like to do the same kind of thing myself, but I write a bit more by the seat of my pants. For me to make those kinds of things work, I have to write an entire series and then insert the little bits of foreshadowing.

All of this added up to a reading experience unlike anything else I’ve ever had. I remember the feeling when a new Harry Potter book arrived in the mail. It was like Christmas all over again. On the day that the sixth book came out, I’d had sinus surgery that morning, so I felt miserable. But then I came home, and the book was there. Reading it helped distract me from how miserable I felt.

Even now, at the ripe old age of 28, I will go back and read the entire Harry Potter series back to back. There’s something magical about it (no pun intended), and no matter how many times I read it, that magic never seems to fade.

So what books got you into fantasy? What would you like to see me celebrate here?