Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chrono Trigger's New Game+

Over a decade ago, Squaresoft and Enix teamed up to create an RPG. This game would not be like most of the endeavors they would later work together as one company to make, for this would be good. In fact, one of the greatest RPGs ever created, by most accounts, including my own. The game was called Chrono Trigger, and it became one of the most immortal pieces of the genre to date.

Chrono Trigger's creativity, variety, innovation, and colorful presentation has never really been duplicated, in my opinion. No RPG time travel has had quite the same engaging significance and fun, nor has an RPG had as well-done a merging of different time periods, and I'd have to say that I've yet to see any past, present, or future utopia civilization in an RPG that can quite measure up to the mysticism, opulence, and magical majesty of the Kingdom of Zeal. In most cases, I'm fine with this--CT wouldn't stand out and its imagination wouldn't seem as neat if any old game could copy it, and I'm all for other developers coming up with their own twists on preconceived concepts. That's what creates variety in games.

But one of CT's particularly imaginative concepts that's almost never been copied as anything more than a shadow of its original self that I WANT duplicated in full glory is the New Game+ feature. For all 0 of you who aren't familiar with CT, New Game+ is an option on the game's beginning menu that opens up once the game has been beaten once. It allows you to restart the game with all the levels, items, money, weapons, Techs, armors, and accessories that you had in the previous game. This very handy feature allows you to breeze through the game quickly again any time you like, which means that you can watch the game's plot and character development more cohesively, and not have to deal with the stupid tedium of level-grinding and long boss battles (not that CT really needs either of these, being on the easy side of the easiest regular game genre to date, but, y'know, it's the thought that counts). And you're given incentive to give the game at least one more spin by the fact that you can get many alternate, just-for-fun endings to the game by beating the last boss at different times in the plot's progression. Definitely a neat extra.

Now, don't get me wrong. Plenty of games have copied the idea in some way or other. Sometimes it can be in a way that is just stupid and useless, like with Baten Kaitos 2, which, after going through an inordinately long game with an annoyingly complicated and touchy battle system that you have to use in inordinately difficult battles, that include that goddamn Holoholo Bird boss, AKA the Rainbow Sunshine Bird of Satan and its Cute Fluffy Hellspawn, allows you to restart a game with...the records of the cards you've encountered in the game. No levels, no battle abilities or equipment, no money, no items, not a goddamn thing of any use at all. Including the New Game+ this way is a cruel joke more than a replay enticement.

At other times, a New Game+ can be almost as good or even just as good as CT's was in terms of keeping your characters' stuff for the next replay. Mass Effect, for example, lets you start over a game with the exact same character as you completed the game with, levels, credits, equipment, Paragon and Renegade points, abilities and all. I think you might still have to repurchase Grenade and Med Gel upgrades, but, hey, advanced levels and weaponry right from the get-go, along with oodles of extra cash, makes that pretty much alright. The Tales of series has an interesting twist in that you can keep lots of handy things like money and skills in a new game, along with get bonuses like extra HP and doubled Experience, but only if you did well in the previous playthrough--although the measurement of how well you did is only by your success in battle, rather than in any important aspect of the game, so I'm not as enthusiastic as I could be about it. Still, good potential.

The thing is, though, that there's MORE to CT's New Game+ than most games even attempt. Oh, sure, I LOVE the idea of making the replaying of the game much faster and smoother, because if I replay an RPG, it's either because I'm showing its story and characters to my sisters, or because I want to view them myself again. It sure as hell ain't ever because I can't suppress the gleeful desire to move a cursor through a menu and press the Confirm button thousands of times again.

But CT's New Game+ didn't just rely on the game's terrific plot and characters to entice you to play through again--although that would have been and most often was more than enough, to be sure. It gave you a fun extra to keep you going through at least once more: the multiple, amusing endings. They were a fun, imaginative little extra to stick in there that really made you want to go through again just to see them all, even the ones that were little more than glorified remixes of the credits.

See, THAT'S what most of these games with New Game+ knockoffs are missing. They give you the option of experiencing the game again without having to spend as much time or effort on the boring part, but they don't really tempt you to do it with fun extras. Sometimes you get something little here and there, such as Tales of Legendia's option to replace the party members' regular clothing with "Formal" outfits (which are grossly disappointing and stupid, but that's beside the point) or animal costumes, but such small efforts are usually cheap, minor, and don't provide lasting incentive. I mean, using the last example, fighting in animal costumes is only engagingly funny for so long...and then you're just left with characters running around dressed up like those particularly odd team-mascot-outfit-wearing furries for the rest of the game.

I'll grant you, I CAN think of 2 games that have done the New Game+ thing as well as CT did. The first is Chrono Cross--same basic deal, with the added bonus of a way to make the game go twice as fast as normal with everything it does. THAT feature might make CC's New Game+ better, actually, as the faster you can zip through that nonsensical shitstorm, the better. The second is Makai Kingdom--again, you get to restart with all your stuff from the last game, AND there are various fun (and even sometimes informative about the game's events and characters) alternate endings to unlock on the subsequent replays. And unlike Chrono Cross, Makai Kingdom is actually a game you would WANT to play over.

In general, though, games that copy the awesome idea Chrono Trigger introduced to RPGs over a decade ago are only producing second-rate (or worse) replicas. What's the deal?