MOSAIC: The Time Traveler

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MOSAIC: Exploring the reasons I'm “stuck in the past”

The Oprainfall Origins series is an admittedly modest one. It suggests each of us, as longtime fans of video games, has our one definitive “gateway game,” the one experience that helped us realize how powerful video games were as a medium. I’ve headed up this series since its inception way back in July last year. A handful of my staff have contributed up to this point; when confronted with the task of choosing “the game,” I found it would boil down to a handful of choices…for my peers.

I’ve been here a long while, ladies and gentlemen, and the number one accusation I seem to get from our audience—and from my staff—is that I’m perpetually stuck in the past. I created and headed the Origins series to get everyone at Oprainfall thinking about their roots. But when it comes to how I perceive video games and what motivates me personally as a gamer, that sentiment can only be described as an obsession. To that end, I introduce a series I’m calling MOSAIC.

MOSAIC is a series that analyzes the twenty-or-so “definitive” games in my eyes—the ones I attribute to my obsession with video games as a medium of philosophy, as well as the definitive way to express one’s self. It’s absolutely fascinating to me how the audience can experience the purpose and message of a storyteller more closely and imaginatively in a video game than in any other storytelling medium out there.

Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, MOSAIC: a journey that shall attempt to answer why I am so “stuck in the past.”

Final Fantasy Legend III map

The Time Traveler

I’ve spoken at length about this game elsewhere, but when it comes to the subject of time travel, Final Fantasy Legend III, otherwise known as SaGa 3, is what immediately comes to mind. I played through this game again recently in order to better remember the impact it had upon me so long ago, and it succeeded in teleporting me back to the early nineties, when I first got my hands on it. The game’s themes, much less how it handles time travel, have hardly aged effectively compared to games with a similar premise like Chrono Trigger. But Final Fantasy Legend III was the first time I had ever encountered time travel in a video game.

The Advantages and Limitations of Final Fantasy Legend III

Final Fantasy Legend III screenshot 1 Final Fantasy Legend III screenshot 2

Just taking a look at some of these screenshots, anyone can tell that Final Fantasy Legend III was ultimately a very simple game at heart. It had a basic plotline (send folks into the past to preserve the future) filled with familiar role-playing game tropes when they were just beginning to become tropes. But at the time, I was far too young to realize how familiar these concepts of light and darkness were to the more experienced gamer. Although simple at heart, the story of Final Fantasy Legend III—complete with legendary swords, evil monsters, tragedy, and saving the world…absolutely captivated me.

I know I can’t be alone in this. I know I’ve spoken of music over and over again when it comes to the powerful effect it has on one’s psyche, but…hearing this theme just took me right back. The Talon was the first-ever time machine I controlled as a player. And it’s funny to think, when confronted with naming the Epoch in Chrono Trigger years later, I named it the Talon as an homage to my own gaming past. And when Ayla exclaimed, “Talon has wings!” a little later in the game, my inner child squealed.

The Talon from SaGa 3 DS The Epoch from Chrono Trigger

A game created for the original Game Boy is functionally limited, but it forces the player to become more imaginative. A young, impressionable mind such as mine began to wonder about certain characters’ backstories and why, exactly, this world needed to be saved. Despite offering a rich cast and the power of time travel, Final Fantasy Legend III didn’t do much to expand upon these people, their lives, or the potential chaos brought about by their actions.

’Tis with that in mind that I approach the DS remake of SaGa 3, exclusive to Japan, with trepidation and curiosity. I’m choosing this MOSAIC series to exclusively announce my intention to do an Import Review and proper analysis of the DS remake of one of my favorite games ever, much like I’ve done with Soma Bringer. I already know the basic story, actions, and strategy present in SaGa 3: Jikuu no Hasha—Shadow or Light because of my love for the original. The DS remake no doubt offers a closer look at the game and its cast. I’m wondering how much of said closer look I’ll understand as someone who was so deeply impacted by the original game.

I wonder how much more story SaGa 3 has left in it, and I wonder what parts the DS remake will choose to elaborate upon. The Game Boy was certainly limited as a platform, but just look at the impact Final Fantasy Adventure had over time. I hope playing through the remake enhances my experience of the original game, unlike a certain…unlike what Sword of Mana did to that game.

The Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger—Group shot

Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen. Beyond my earlier analysis of Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, I have so much more to say about the Chrono series in general as far as the effects it personally had on me. To stop this inaugural piece from turning into volumes, I can only say a MOSAIC devoted to the Chrono games is coming sometime down the line and that time travel will have very little to do with why that game rocked me to the very core so long ago.

Chrono Trigger does, however, act as an effective springboard to the following statement: Of all storytelling mediums, video games handle time travel most effectively. Movies, novels, animation, and any other entertainment medium you can think of have all done time travel. But the reason I believe video games provide the most effective means to convey the impact of time travel is due to the player-character relationship. When you’re watching a movie or turning the page to your favorite time-travel novel, all you really do is observe. But when you, as the player, jump in the Epoch and travel to the era of your choice, you participateyou are the time traveler.

I know when I was thrust into the various eras of both Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy Legend III, the very first thing I did was explore. How have various areas been impacted by hundreds of years passing? What secrets can I find? Movies and novels just aren’t that open-ended. Video games provide the distinct advantage of leaving progression entirely up to the player. There are entire philosophy textbooks waiting to be written on this subject. Perhaps one day, I’ll pen one of them. But for now, just think back to when you played Chrono Trigger and wound up in 600 AD for the first time. Did you zip right to Guardia Castle to advance the story? Or did you take the time to talk to the various townsfolk and realize where…or when…you were?

With video games, you can do whatever your heart desires. And the advantages of a chronology as ironclad as Chrono Trigger‘s are truly vast. Even without the visuals of the SNES or the wonderful music of Yasunori Mitsuda, that game’s narrative and character development provide the definitive means to tell a time-traveling tale. Everything else is just making that narrative the most effective one it can possibly be. Chrono Trigger improves upon the precedence I established earlier with Final Fantasy Legend III in that respect. Unlike the Game Boy and its simple visuals, the SNES helps create a more lasting image in your mind of how badly a world can be twisted by the various shadows that trigger its demise.

This Is The Last Time I’ll Bring Up Radiant Historia, I Promise…

Radiant Historia artwork

Wait, I can’t promise that! Still, whether or not I feel we’ve spoken about this game enough, I have to mention the way it handles time travel. The game’s primary function is very reminiscent of Chrono Cross (travel between two parallel dimensions). The way it articulates that function, though, is truly revolutionary. Simply by walking up to a save point, the player can travel to any major plot point in the entire game. The entire game’s timeline is not only presented point-by-point (quite literally), but the player, as Stocke, has the means to visit and revisit these points anytime, no matter how far he or she has progressed.

Radiant Historia—Chronicle

Radiant Historia has a truly memorable plot that skillfully conveys the strengths, weaknesses, shadows, and redeeming qualities of its cast and the various Chronicles that allow Stocke to travel through time freely. But even moreso than its plot and everything else that makes that game truly remarkable, the way it handles time travel is, in my personal opinion, far and away the greatest example of how to handle time travel in the medium. For that, I consider Radiant Historia to be one of the greatest achievements in video games. Outside of begging ATLUS to reissue the game again so those who missed out can experience it for themselves, there’s not really much else I can do or say about the impact of Radiant Historia on the well-travelled time travel genre.

To Conclude

With that, the inaugural piece of MOSAIC is behind me. Without speaking volumes, I’ve managed to analyze one of my favorite video game tropes of all: the ability to travel through time. This series promises not only to analyze concepts in games, but also the emotions, themes, and characterizations within. Hopefully, these explorations of my gaming roots through MOSAIC will help you all remember where we all come from as gamers, and maybe help convey the message that being stuck in the past…isn’t so bad.

It is only through remembering the past that we can realize how far video games have come as a means to entertain and to inspire.

Do any of you folks remember or adore any games I left out that feature time travel? Be sure to let me know in the comments below, because you might just sell me on a game you love.