Dark Souls, Chrono Trigger, and the Long Journey
Both Dark Souls and Chrono Trigger succeed at making players feel the scope of the adventure by emphasizing space and time, respectively.
For its part, Dark Souls uses its world to assure players they’ve undertaken a massive journey. Even ignoring the difficulty and mythology, a player understands the magnitude of what Dark Souls offers because he or she must traverse it. Before obtaining the Lord Vessel, if players want to get anywhere in Lordran they have to walk. Even if theoretically it doesn’t seem like much get from Lost Izalith to Darkroot Basin, the player must travel every step of that distance with the setting being, at best, indifferent to overtly hostile. This sense of scale is enhanced by the lack of loading screens. A player can seamlessly travel from the roof of Sen’s Fortress to the misty expanse of Ash Lake, making the world appear enormous.
Through the enforced traversing of these environments, the players come to know them all. The various areas are not just dressing for action set pieces or eye-candy. Lordran is a ruined but crossable environment that becomes familiar even if its hostility means it can never be home. The interconnectedness of the setting convinces players of the scope of the world and their own actions within it.
What Time Is It?
Chrono Trigger, while certainly boasting impressive maps and environments for the Super Nintendo, uses the vastness of time to make players feel the full size of the game. Essentially, Chrono Trigger encourages players to observe and participate in all of human history, from its tribal beginnings to post-apocalyptic doom. The full span of time works in this case because even if there is only so much variation in the landmasses, seeing them at various points in time tells the players they are engaged with a long struggle, one that extends far beyond the lifetime of any single person.
This sense of scale is reinforced because players not only jump into and out of various eras to have adventures but also witness the results of their actions through time. Eons may pass, but the players can leave their mark. Robo spends centuries working to convert a desert into a forest. The presence of the Black Omen is a result of player action as is the conversion of the Moon Stone into the Sun Stone by leaving it somewhere for light to fall on it for millions of years. By participating in these adventures not only in specific times but also across them, players can see the size of the game is not just limited to overland maps and dungeons.
Don't Stop Believing
Dark Souls and Chrono Trigger create lengthy and compelling adventures by emphasizing different aspects of their game. With its large, interconnected world that players must travel and explore, Dark Souls provides an enormous setting worthy of an epic adventure such as an assault on the home of the gods. By creating a central narrative that has players traveling through time to save human civilization and the planet, Chrono Trigger crafts a journey that extends across the ages. Both instances, it should be noted, share a common point. The epic dimension of both games requires player engagement. There is plenty that can be missed in Dark Souls and Chrono Trigger if the player is not exploring the world or exploring all that the different eras have to offer. Both games are designed in a way, however, to encourage that sense of exploration and provide a long, full adventure.
This article was written in participation with the Blogs of the Round Table feature on Critical-Distance.com. Other similar articles can be found on the website here.
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© 2018 Seth Tomko