I’m going to make this short so you can move along and enjoy what you came here for! The work you will be reading is at once an autobiography, an enthusiast’s ode to the early years of gaming, and a coming of age story of boy-meets-cartridge.
— Ted Woolsey, from the forward
Woolsey’s warning at the beginning of the book is much appreciated, since it’s quite easy to accidentally take this for a book about the videogame from which it takes its title.
Instead, what we have here is a New Games Journalism piece spun out to the length of a book. And no, the length in no way legitimizes this. It condemns it all the more. So, as is the norm for a work like this, since the question of game analysis never even once enters into it, the only remaining point to consider is the quality of Williams’s perspective. And to be honest, I found it to be an all too common one.
Point for point, practically any discussion of Chrono Trigger with modern gamers is identical. They all laugh at Crono’s cat collection, fawn over all the different endings, elevate its anime narrative to high art, gush over new game plus, endlessly debate about the mechanics of time travel, fantasize over game character fan fiction, boldly bash Squaresoft’s PlayStation RPGs, and finally swear their undying allegiance to the game cartridge.
In case you think I’m making that last part up, these really are the kind of people that find their religion in these games. “Of the many series of books I’ve collected and organized over my literate years, some of the most impactful and fascinating have been the Nintendo Player’s Guide series… These books were scriptures.” (p. 94) He actually does compare it to “reading well-highlighted Christian devotionals.” (p. 102)
But something happens to these kids, that when they grow up they abandon their religion, leaving behind little but the occasional bout of lip service. (Williams gives a detailed account of his personal break and rebellion in the chapter titled Straight? White? Male?, in which he’s tormented by the absence of homosexuality in the game, and tears the game apart looking for it.) So of course, as soon as he draws the comparison between his obsession for strategy guides and religion, he can’t keep himself from giving a brief lecture on the need for people to put down their religious books, grow up, and just do whatever you want. Whatever it may be. So what then of systematics? Or of theology? Williams would have it all committed to the flames.
His fundamental thesis is that if there is a God, He couldn’t be anything more than human, which is clearly developed in his description of a bonus scene from the game where you can meet the developers, Sakaguchi, Horii, and Toriyama, which he collectively refers to as a holy “trinity”. He even explicity calls Hironobu Sakaguchi himself “God.” But Williams’s final conclusion after having seen God face to face is, “We have met our creators, and they are all too human.” (p. 113)
This is the starting point for all New Games Journalism. After all, they say, the game creators are just men, and what am I? Am I not a man too? Am I not THE man? Who are these others? They are my torturers. Devils. And if there is to be a God in this universe, I am he. There is no other.
So it’s no surprise that this kind of writing turns inward, autobiographical and ultimately rejects the game in favor of the author himself. For “my glory will I not give to another.” And as Williams himself puts it, “We want bragging rights.” (p. 18)
But what good is a god that reveals himself, but is never heard? Being impotent, he cannot attract readers without deception. And that’s why the book is titled Chrono Trigger. Nobody would have given it a second glance otherwise. And therein lies the “lip service” to which I alluded earlier in the review.
But there is at least some little good to the book, and that would have to be the chapter with the interviews of Ted Woolsey and Tom Slattery, who worked on translating the game’s script for the Super Nintendo and Nintendo DS respectively. If nothing else, it’s at least interesting to read about the challenges they faced when putting together the English script.
But apart from that, there’s little else of value in this book. I have to wonder at exactly what discussions Nintendo Life had in mind when they said, “If writing about video games had always been this good, we’d be having very difficult discussions about the medium right now.”
The only conceivable reason those discussions would now be difficult would be due to extremely malnourished readers who had subsisted entirely on writings like this. Being so sickly, I imagine most things would be difficult for them.