Compromises, Conflicts, and Chrono Trigger
“I’ll never understand the humanoid need to ‘couple’…Too many compromises. You want to watch the karo-net tournament; she wants to listen to music, so you compromise—you listen to music. You like Earth Jazz; she prefers Klingon Opera, so you compromise—you listen to Klingon Opera. So here you were ready to have a nice night watching the karo-net match and you wind up spending an agonizing evening listening to Klingon Opera.”
–Odo, Star Trek: Deep Space 9
Over the course of our relationship, Mike and I have been through many compromises, both large and small. For the most part, these compromises simply serve as necessary evils that ensure our harmonious co-existence (see above), but on occasion, they can have unexpected benefits as well. For instance, since we started dating, Mike and I have introduced each other to many different things that we now enjoy together. As an example, I have loved cats my whole life, while Mike always figured that he was more of a dog person. Yet, when we decided to get cats for the apartment, it was his idea. He decided he wanted some furry companions, figured cats would work best, and took me to the shelter the next day. He likes to say that it’s my fault we have them, but judging by the look on his face whenever he holds Rogue, I don’t think he’s ever looked back.
In turn, and perhaps in payback for the whole “cats” thing, Mike introduced me to the world of gaming. I admit that I knew people who were gamers while I was growing up, but I based my entire understanding of the culture around the assumptions that a) it wasn’t that interesting, and b) even if it was interesting, I certainly wasn’t a skilled enough player to appreciate it. Bit by bit, though, I have discovered that gaming can be (gasp) quite fun. Also, although there are some games I will never be good at, I’m not as bad a player as I thought I would be. And so, step after baby step, I have immersed myself in the world of videogaming.
This month, I made my first foray into classic RPGs. I’m notentirely sure why; mostly, I think I was just curious. At any rate, a few weeks ago, I tentatively asked Mike if I could try Chrono Trigger for the Super Nintendo. As I understand it, this is one of his “favorite all-time videogames ever,” and to see the look of rapture on his face when I suggested that I play it, you would have thought I was talking about having a threesome instead of playing a game. At any rate, after the jumping up and down had subsided, he quickly set me up on the Super Nintendo and showed me how to play the game.
I admit that it took me a little while to adjust to Chrono Trigger, and the first session wasn’t much fun. I spent most of it wandering around the Millennial Fair, trying to figure out what the hell I was supposed to do. Eventually, I met Marle and Lucca, whom I renamed Kirra and Lexie, respectively. (I mean, come on, Marle and Lucca? Those names just sound weird to me.) The battle system scared me at first, and initial panic made me resort to my Kingdom Hearts battle strategy, pushing the A button as fast as I could and letting the game handle the rest. It took me a bit of time to figure out that I could shift between different attacks, techniques, and items, and even longer before I could do so with any degree of strategy.
By the second or third sessions, I finally started to become competent with the game, and my enjoyment of it increased correspondingly. There were, however, a few elements that I never quite mastered. One of them was the concept of “stats.” Hardcore gamers, my boyfriend included, are very familiar with stats. Stats are how you keep track of your characters’ strength, speed, magic, and defense levels. Different items or armor can increase stats, and based on your knowledge of the armor and the individual characteristics of each playable character, you can select the items that will help you the most. I could figure out that the items I picked up were usually better than the ones I already had on, but it confused me when they weren’t. I would pick up a new piece of armor, and try to equip it on one of my characters, but Mike would stop me. “No,” he would say, “keep the one you have on. It’s better.” When I protested that the new armor increased the character’s strength, he would draw my attention to other elements, such as speed or magic defense, that had actually decreased as a result of putting on the damn armor. Weapons and helmets were just as bad. And accessories. God, do not get me started on the accessories. Seriously.
Another problem with the game was that Chrono Trigger’s storyline is fairly complex, especially because of the time travel element, so I sometimes had trouble figuring where and/or when I was supposed to go at certain points in the game. For this, Mike’s help was invaluable. He would draw my attention to certain things one character had said, or references to other parts of the game that I was supposed to have remembered, but couldn’t, because this was my first time playing it and not my tenth. For most of the game, Mike acted as my live-action walk-through, sending me in search of hidden rooms and telling me the secret weaknesses that would allow me to beat the bosses. This was often very helpful, but it could occasionally be irritating as well. If I did manage to figure out something on my own, for example, I would find myself annoyed with the constant narration. “I know,” I would say somewhat peevishly, and Mike would throw up his hands and not say anything else (for a few minutes at least). I also sometimes suspected that his narration caused me to skip logical steps in the storyline. At one point, while I was the Fair, he helped me to win a clone of Crono. “Don’t worry,” he said, “you’ll need it later.” And so, days later, when the man at the End of Time told me that I needed a clone, there it was, sitting at Crono’s house, waiting for me. Which wasn’t terrible, I guess, but it did feel a little bit like cheating.
The other problem with Mike’s narration was that, sometimes, he would decide to not say anything when I wanted him to say something. He had no problem telling me where to go or who to talk to, but he wouldn’t tell me what kinds of decisions I should make. Because I am not used to RPG decision-making, this was problematic. My natural inclination was often to make the choice that I apparently wasn’t supposed to make, and he wouldn’t give me any kind of forewarning. The worst of these incidents occurred when I finally confronted Magus/Janus after Chrono went on his little “sabbatical.” Frog was yelling at Janus about how he would pay for his crimes, so I figured I was supposed to fight him. It was only after I had agreed to do so that Mike piped up with, “No, you shouldn’t fight him. If you don’t, he joins your party.” (Insert brief pause here as the author of this article relives that particular moment and once again suppresses the urge to throttle her boyfriend. OK, moving on.) After thinking about it, I agreed to go back, but of course, I hadn’t saved in at least an hour, and so a huge portion of the game had to be replayed. Mike offered to take care of it for me, but still. It was hours before I stopped glaring at him.
All the bad parts aside, though, I did have a few chances to shine. I spent part of one afternoon playing the Death Peak section of the game while Mike was out of the house, and although it took me about twenty tries to get up the goddamned mountain, and at least as many to get across the fucking bridge, I was ultimately successful. I was very proud of myself, especially because I knew that if Mike had been there, he would have offered to do the mountain/bridge sections for me, and it was definitely more satisfying to have conquered them myself.
To date, I have not completed Chrono Trigger, but I am nearly there. I am about one mini-quest from taking on Lavos, and I have that fun little combination of nerves and excitement that tends to precede these sorts of climactic battles. I know that Mike will be there to guide me through the final stages, but I also know that when I do take on Lavos, I will do it myself (so help me God, I will do it myself). Mike might be tempted to take over, but in the end, he will respect my wish to kick Lavos’s ass personally. Even in the imaginary world of Chrono Trigger, it seems, compromise is everything.