Chrono Trigger, Nostalgia, and the Beginning of Fandom

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Anime fandom didn’t lead me to JRPGs. JRPGs led me to anime, a little more than 10 years ago around this time.

Today I picked up, for $20, a copy of the Nintendo DS remake of Chrono Trigger. I first played the game when I was still a freshman in college, and memories came flooding back to me as I ended up glued to the console for nearly four hours. The spiky-haired hero who looked way too much like a DBZ character. The meganekko that I thought was cute at the time. The spunky princess who looks way better, IMO, in sprite form. The story seemed somewhat thinner than I remembered, though I knew that as the time traveling motifs continued it would get more and more complex. I never actually finished it back then, so there will be more to discover in the days ahead.

It took me back to the beginnings of my interest in Japanese pop culture. Many of you know that Evangelion was what turned me into an anime fan. That’s still true; it was the first series that not only impressed me but made a lasting emotional impact. However, the groundwork for my fandom was actually laid a year before that by Final Fantasy VII. Some kids had come over to my house back then and brought a Playstation 1, and with it FF7; as I watched them play it I was impressed with the epic storytelling and the attempt to evoke more than merely basic emotions in the characters. The scenes were cinematic. There were flashbacks, regret, self-doubt, the whole shebang. I never expected that kind of storytelling in games, and it didn’t take long before I was told that this was the sort of storytelling that existed not just in new games but in anime, as well. By the time I was given Eva, I had already been on the hunt for similar types of stories, and had previewed a number of anime like Ghost in the Shell and Akira. I was ready, and once the match was found, I fell in.

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JRPGs and anime pretty much seem to come from the same kinds of imaginations, after all: Toriyama did the character designs for Chrono Trigger, and well-known seiyuu have been adding their voice talents to games ever since speech became widespread with the PS2. Most JRPG character art is clearly anime-style, and many have anime cutscenes. Playing Eternal Sonata was pretty much like watching a Hirano Aya anime, and many story elements/tropes/cliches are shared: the childhood friend who wakes you up, memory lapses, fan service…the list goes on. Nowadays of course JRPGs get anime adaptations, like Tales of the Abyss or the Persona series. Games can also follow anime trends. I remember coming to the end of FF7 later and thinking–they really took some motifs from Evangelion, didn’t they? Which led me to the even more Eva-influenced Xenogears, though that took things to somewhat ridiculous heights.

It seems to me that gaming–which is bigger than movies nowadays–may in fact be as much a gateway into anime fandom as much as a manga volume or a particular anime series. Video games are very mainstream now, and it can’t be an accident that at least a third of all cosplayers I see at cons now are dressed up as game characters. Ultimately it’s because, at their best, the same kind of storytelling values that you see in good anime–rich character and plot, thoughtful endings–are present.

I’d like to turn it over to you now: how many of you out there got into anime through gaming? Was it a gradual exposure to Japanese-style storytelling or was it more immediate that did it? Share your experiences below!

5 thoughts on “Chrono Trigger, Nostalgia, and the Beginning of Fandom”

  1. from philippines>>
    for me, it’s the other way round
    at start
    i play ps1 – suikoden, chrono cross, wild arms, pokemon, digimon and final fantasy
    and watch anime that is air on our TV, we don’t have pc yet
    it was just natural. not a fan or anything
    then we bought a pc, then time pass, my brother gave me inuyasha disc and showed me how to download on torrent. then there start my being fan of anime
    then in the internet, i learned about western and japanese difference in animation, there i started to prefer japanese animation from western
    then the rest of the story continues, because i prefered japanese animation, of course,  i will also like japanese rpg, well playing those rpg back there is also included in the reason but anime is more prevalent
    my year spent on anime now is 6 years

  2. trebors: ah, interesting. I think the main difference between you and me is that I didn’t grow up with anime that aired on TV; I grew up before the era of Toonami and Adult Swim. I got back into gaming via PSX myself, with FF7. I played Chrono Trigger a little later.

    FaS: it’s worth a shot! It’s a good story and the gameplay is intuitive but still deep.

  3. I grew up playing NES and SNES games. In third grade, I got a GameBoy Colour: Special Pikachu edition with Pokemon Yellow. This led to an interest in the cartoons, and eventually I started watching Digimon and CardCaptor Sakura as well. A few years later in early middle school, I watched some Ghibli films and really became an anime fan then.

  4. My road to becoming a fanboy began with discovering I liked video games that were a little different from Super Mario Bros 1. I got into action-adventure games and RPGs on the NES, and watched them grow on the SNES and PS1.

    Chrono Trigger didn’t quite change my life, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and managed to reach every ending. As Mike said, some parts of the story haven’t aged well — which is true for quite a few 90s games. But it didn’t rely heavily on flashy cinematics, unlike some recent Final Fantasies. And the game’s length was reasonable without becoming tiresome. For instance, even though I loved Dragon Quest 8 and Persona 4, I admit both games might benefit from a director’s cut which could reduce their length.

    Retronauts created a podcast about Chrono Trigger. The lesser known group RetroforceGo did too — the podcast is archived here: http://www.mediafire.com/?sharekey=02ee082ca6a8dfc56e7203eb873681295ddffc5961b426e3b8eada0a1ae8665a

    I didn’t become an anime fanboy until about 1998, when a friend lent me a videotape of Slayers TV. I could’ve become a fan earlier, since there were quality translations of good material, even back then. But even though I borrowed trade paperbacks of What’s Michael and Oh My Goddess from local libraries, they didn’t leave much of an impression on me. Maybe I was just focusing my interests on some indie comics at the time.

    My interests as a fan have slowly changed. These days, I’m more likely to get into an RPG if it’s classic or if it’s something I’ve never experienced before. I’m branching out and enjoying games which resemble shoujo manga (such Spirited Heart, and Atelier Annie), and eccentric indie games / doujin soft. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll try all those crazy 3D action games that more mainstream fans like.

    Finally, I’m not entirely sure what recent games Mike might actually enjoy. I recall he likes tsundere characters… so perhaps he should browse TVTropes’ “Tsundere” entry, and browse down to Games. Nearly everything mentioned is in English.

    [Comment edited: added paragraph breaks.]

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