What makes a great game? – Part 9: Friends
Mostly, this is an addendum to Part 8: Characters, but I felt it warranted its own discussion. I’m linking everyone’s theme songs to their names because their individual themes helped to define their character and the emotions when you encountered them and it’s how I remember them years later.
It’s an interesting thing, considering characters in games your friend. Growing up, I recall playing Chrono Trigger at a friend’s house as well as Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy Tactics. The time spent at my friend’s house was my real introduction to the Japanese RPG and the start of my development into the gamer I am today. The main characters, especially in Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, became my friends. From moment one in Chrono Trigger, I was involved because of the people.
Has it ever happened to you? You’re enjoying the local festival and you bump into this girl with a ponytail. She then decides to tag along as you try out the festival games, praising your competitive nature at the soda drinking competition and your strength at the strongarm game. You stop to check out the supposed “teleportation device” and she, being the lovely lady she is, is asked to get up to try it out. Her pendant glows, and before you can do anything, she is whisked away into some swirling vortex. Being you, you can’t let this slide. You grab the pendant that was left behind and you jump onto the platform and vanish into a similar vortex… only to find yourself 400 years in the past.
That’s the intro to Chrono Trigger. A weird sense of responsibility to a girl you (Chrono) had just met thrusts you into this time-spanning adventure. You come to know the girl you bumped into and you collect an odd array of companions as you go, getting to know each one along the way. They become your friends and after spending hours on end playing the game, I was glad to have them by my side. Dungeons can be mighty lonely after a while and having two more people with me makes things so much better. To this day, I remember fondly my times in the world of Chrono Trigger and even now I still go back there to spend time with my old friends Marle, Lucca, Frog (aka Glenn), Robo, Ayla, and yes, even Magus. In fact, the music of Chrono Trigger has special meaning for me because I experienced every moment of that music in the context of the game and with my good friends. When I hear the music, I remember fondly my times with them and something tugs at me to go relive it.
Something very similar happened to me when I played Final Fantasy VI (which, at the time I knew only as Final Fantasy III). The game starts out with this mystery girl using a suit of MagiTek Armor with a pair of guards similarly equipped (the eponymous Wedge and Biggs, but back then they were Wedge and Vicks). They storm the town of Narshe and encounter a frozen “esper” in a cave which causes the deaths of the guards and knocks the girl unconscious. She awakens in a house and is told to flee before the locals find her. Well, they find her but she’s rescued by Locke, a “treasure hunter” with a heart of gold. Eventually you come to be introduced to Edgar, Sabin, Celes, Cyan, Shadow, Gau, Mog, Umaro, Relm, Setzer, Strago, and Gogo. Oh, the mystery girl’s name is Terra. Each character had their motivations, their stories, their issues, and their complexities. At one point your entire group gets separated from each other and with Celes as your only character, you set about searching for your friends. By this time, yes, they are my friends. Well, not so much Gogo or Umaro, but it’s hard to be good friends with the mimic and the Sasquatch.
To this day, I can go back and play those games because to me they’re more than just games, they’re ways for me to hang out with my friends again. To relive those adventures with those who stood by my side through every battle and obstacle.
In a way, you can extend this to the MMO genre of games as well. You’re adventuring side-by-side with your friends through the wilderness and dungeons that lay strewn upon your mutual path. Exciting, isn’t it?
Until next time, remember your friends fondly and go back as often as you can to that far off time!
P.S. This reminds me of a passage from a book…
Old stories told by travelers,
Great songs that bards have sung,
Of Mossflower summers, faded, gone,
When Redwall’s stones were young.
Great Hall fires on winter nights,
The legends, who remembers,
Battles, banquets, comrades, quests,
Recalled midst glowing embers.
Draw close now, little woodlander,
Take this to sleep with you,
My tale of dusty far-off times,
When warrior hearts were true.
Then store it in your memory,
And be the sage who says
To young ones in the years to come:
“Ah yes, those were the days.”
– Brian Jacques, Mariel of Redwall