Timestamp: 11 hours, 46 minutes
Location: The towns in the sky, 12000 B.C.
Why is this a good week to begin “Finishing”? Because I know what happens when I go home.
Let me explain: I’ve been away on business, pretty much all week. I miss my family, I miss my bed, and I miss my house (work-in-progress though it may be), but never do I get the sort of quote-unquote “me time” like I do on a business trip. I have to do something with the evenings, after all, and rather than exhausting myself (and my bank account) by scoping out the nightlife or finding fancy restaurants, I spend most of my evenings with hours to kill in a hotel room. It’s not glamorous, but it is what it is: me, my computer, my music, and whatever games I brought along for the ride.
Chrono Trigger DS was one of the games that got packed, and for this week, it’s been the game. I started it on Monday, and I’m now ten hours in as I prepare to go home. The first ten hours happened in four days. The next ten could take a month.
Not only is there a major priority shift when I go home (I have walls to build and children to spoil, after all), but there’s another complicating factor waiting there for me: Dragon Quest IX.
Turns out, I’ll be reviewing it for PopMatters.
This is where the balancing act begins — never in my entire life have I been able to juggle two RPGs, much less two RPGs on a portable platform. On one hand, it’s at least good that both are on the DS — that’s a system I can bring to bed, a system I can play while the rest of the house is trying to watch TV. Still, once I start Dragon Quest, am I going to remember at all what I was doing in Chrono Trigger? What if I don’t play Chrono Trigger again for two weeks? What then? Will I remember the story, the characters, the goals? Will there be an hour of ramp-up before I’m sufficiently briefed enough to continue on my merry way?
I wouldn’t have such anxiety about all of this if the game hadn’t already pulled out one of the oldest tricks in the JRPG book of challenges: “what do I do now” syndrome.
On Tuesday, I picked up a legendary sword called the Masamune. An old man told me I needed to find some dreamstone so he could put it together again. And nobody would tell me where to find it.
The search was on.
At this point in the game, our hero Crono and his party have been granted the ability to flit from time period to time period. Not knowing where to find the Dreamstone, I first searched the entire continent as it existed in the game’s version of 1000 A.D. I then searched the entire continent as it existed in the game’s version of 600 A.D. I then went back to 1000 A.D. to try and find something I missed, looking in the nooks and crannies of the castle, exploring simplistic dungeons with more vigor than they were ever designed for. I repeated the pattern for 600 A.D., and nothing.
Here I am - now what?
I remember this feeling — I spent many days playing The Legend of Zelda not knowing exactly what I was supposed to do next — the feeling of having unlimited directions in which to travel and not knowing which one to pick. Back when I was playing Zelda, the idea of such exploration was still such a novelty that we embraced it; in 2010, it feels like a nuisance. There is very little to do at this point in Chrono Trigger if you’re not following the linear story path, and I was stumped.
I’m not sure why it never occurred to me to finally use the passageway to prehistoric times that had been sitting at the End of Time. Maybe it’s because I missed whatever subtle hint was supposed to lead me there (maybe somebody said that it “hasn’t been seen in a long time”, or something similarly ambiguous), or maybe I just didn’t realize that I was supposed to talk to the keeper of the End of Time. Whatever happened, finally figuring it out was a great feeling, but one that made me dread the next time I had to deal with such uncertainty.
It’s one thing to have that sort of experience when you’re sitting in a hotel room with nothing to do. It’s a completely different thing when you have a half-hour to fit some gaming in and you effectively get nothing accomplished.
Still — Chrono Trigger is a blast. If you haven’t yet, check out the various threads over at the Vintage Game Club for some great discussion on the various points of interest in the game. Hopefully, this won’t be the last I write about it.