I’m not a huge console jockey — I used to be, but PC games (in my opinion) quickly outstripped the quality and quantity of content in console titles by the middle of the PS2’s lifespan. Plus, it just costs a whole lot of money if you’re trying to maintain multiple systems and purchase games that you blow through in less than 10 hours, so for the most part, I stick with my computer.
There is one notable exception to all this, and that’s my trusty little pink Nintendo DS. (Why pink? Because my sister-in-law bought it for herself, got bored, and gave it to me for my birthday… and I’m not embarrassed about color.) I’ve had a portable Nintendo system in one fashion or another since the late 80’s, because it really fits the bill when I’m traveling or away from keyboard (i.e. quality bathroom time). I don’t game on my DS a lot, but I did enjoy and beat Professor Layton, Elite Beat Agents, and dabbled in Final Fantasy IV.
For Christmas this year, my wonderful wife bought me Chrono Trigger, somehow using her woman’s intuition that I would appreciate such a gift. Also, I wouldn’t stop yammering on about it since she’s ever known me. I even once had a factory-sealed copy of CT for the SNES that — in the interest of paying down debt — I sold on e-bay and have mourned since.
I wouldn’t say it’s my all-time favorite game, but it’s easily in the top 10. During a summer break from college, I have fond memories of playing this in my parents’ basement (cue bad nerd joke) and loving the crap out of it. It was perhaps the nadir of SNES RPGs — the “dream team” of Square developers who crafted a game with great music, a terrific plot, interesting battles, memorable characters and — best of all — time traveling. If you haven’t ever played it (young whippersnappers!), it’s kind of like they crafted an entire world (albeit a small one) that consisted of several eras that you could jump back and forth in, changing the timeline to help save the day.
Happily playing it these past couple days, I was thinking about how games age different than most entertainment media. It’s safe to say that video games have the shortest lifespan when compared to movies, books, music and television, mostly because of the technology and innovation that has been exponentially ramping up since the late 1970’s. A game purchased and played today will probably look and feel somewhat creaky in five years, and downright archaic in 10. Lifelong gamers have been accused of letting nostalgia tint their view of past games over current ones, and I’ve seen not just a few haughty game journalists lecture such people to just let those games go, admit that they’ve aged terribly, and wallow in the excellence of modern gaming.
I call bull on this. Really. Yes, some games age poorly — early 3D graphics are just painful to look at, some gameplay is downright simplistic or unwieldy compared to today, and for the most part, innovations in the industry have moved us forward, not back. Yet I would argue that older games still have purpose and lifespan, especially some of the classics that don’t depend as much on graphical prowess or machine power.
There’s a reason why casual gamers still play Pac-Man or Tetris on flash web games or in XBox Live Arcade. There’s a reason why teenagers who weren’t even alive when the SNES came out love to pick it up and play a couple of rounds of Street Fighter II or Contra 3 in my office. And there’s definitely a reason why companies keep re-releasing older games on new platforms (yes, it’s about money, but people pay the money on purpose).
Some gameplay is just timeless. Some stories transcend the limitations of the technology to burrow into our minds forever. And sometimes a game that remains stuck in the past can be a fascinating portal into our own past, a snapshot in time.
Chrono Trigger might be just tiny sprites, a very rudimentary character development system, and (ho hum to some) menu-driven gameplay, but to me, it’ll always be a terrific game to challenge my interest in anything new that comes along.