Play or Pass: Banjo-Kazooie and Chrono Trigger

Welcome to the next post in my year-long series “Play or Pass” that takes on the proverbial “must before death” theme with video games. Every other week I will be covering one or two games from “32 Video Games You Have To Play Before You Die,” a list compiled by BuzzFeed based on a reader poll. I will not be critiquing the list itself, but rather I’ll be discussing each game or games in whatever manner feels fitting and will attempt to answer a couple simple questions: Have I played [insert game name here]? If yes, do I consider it a “must” and why? If no, do I want to play the game before I die? I’ll be going through the games in the order in which they appear on the BuzzFeed list. Good? Good. Let’s get on with the games!


Week twenty-four: (30) Banjo-Kazooie and (31) Chrono Trigger

Banjo-Kazooie cover art © Rare, Nintendo
Banjo-Kazooie cover art © Rare, Nintendo

Well, here we are in the top three. Yup, only three more games and this “Play or Pass” series is over. (sad face)

So…yep…

…uh…

BANJO-KAZOOIE! JesusHChristontoast…Banjo-Kazooie. I mean, where do I even begin?  I’m thinking that, as with Super Metroid, I’ve written so much about this game that I don’t know what else to say about it. On one hand, I’m all totally EVERYONE MUST PLAY THIS GAME, in much the same vein as it was with Super Mario 64. And I kinda think that really holds fast. I do have my issues with the game (namely, f-l-y-i-n-g, always and forever), but the game is so good at what it does. It’s a third-person-3D-platform-adventure-collecting game. And it just might be the best damn third-person-3D-platform-adventure-collecting game that’s ever existed. We can argue about that all day, since, sure, Super Mario 64 did set the stage for 3D platformers. But Banjo-Kazooie blew those doors wide open in showing players what was possible within that realm. From the story and characters to the controls and the mechanics, the developer, Rare, gave players something truly new in Banjo-Kazooie.

In it, we had a brand new cast of characters, each of whom was imbued with more personality than a thousand Marios could ever muster. We were given a new twist on the ol’ “damsel in distress” story. We were allowed to collect and explore and battle in our own ways. We listened to a brilliantly charming soundtrack that perfectly matched the on-screen action. And we worked with a well-designed set of controls that simply made sense. What more could you ask for of a game?

Since I’ve got another (important) game to cover in this post, I’m going to wrap up my gushing with links to my existing writings about Banjo-Kazooie (and it’s sequel, Banjo-Tooie). It’s really not hard to see why I think it’s a must for anyone and everyone.

#Listmas2015: Why Banjo-Kazooie Remains Tops in Gaming
UWG Top 10: #7 – Banjo-Kazooie
Weathering tough times with help from a bear and his bird
Tagging along again with bear and bird in Banjo-Tooie

Have I played Banjo-Kazooie?
Yes.

If yes, then do I consider it a “must?”
YES.

If no, then do I want to play the game before I die?
N/A


I know that there are many classic, “must play” games that I will never get to, but I am insanely happy that Chrono Trigger is no longer on that list. While I’ve enjoyed a small fraction of JRPGs, and they provided unique experiences all their own, I can now see why Chrono Trigger is often placed on a pedestal higher than most. It’s a remarkably deep, highly enjoyable, and terribly simple game (in some respects) compared to its many, many, many descendants. Everything about the game is quite polished, from the really gorgeous graphics to the stylish gameplay. And how creatively the developers utilized the idea of time travel to imbue a game world with both vitality and pain, to give players the chance to change the very world in which they are playing. This without today’s trappings of the open world and multiple moralities. What a wonderful, wonderful game is Chrono Trigger.

Um...yeah. Sure?

Earlier this year, I completed Chrono Trigger for the first time, and the paragraph above is of my parting thoughts. The game marked my second “game project” to date, and it was certainly a doozy. Have only read about the game up to the point of playing it, I thought I knew what to expect. But the game exceeded my expectation in so many ways, the most notable concerning the characters. I’ve played a decent handful of JRPGs in my day, but the folks in Chrono Trigger proved to be so much more memorable and complex than I could have ever imagined.

That said…

I didn’t actually call the game a “must” in my post of 3/14/16.

As I sit here with a severely mixed set of emotions swirling around my brain, I honestly don’t know if I would call it a “must.”

*crickets*

What’s that they say about how to lose friends and piss off others?

Wait, what?

I really don’t want to get too far off track, but I need to delve into real-life for a moment and talk about nostalgia.

Nostalgia is the reason I started this blog. I had built up wall of memories that, to a certain degree, was affecting my outlook on gaming. At the time (2010-2011) it seemed that nothing I was playing could contend with those games I had played in the past, so I needed to start dismantling that wall. And I chose to do so by sharing those stories here, brick by brick (so to speak). For the first couple years of writing, I heartily wore my rose-tinted glasses when it came to games of my past. Sometimes those glasses focused only on the positive, and sometime they focused on the negative. But they mostly focused on a weepy (weary?) sense of a “past long gone but not forgotten.”

Eventually those glasses started to lose their sheen, but I remained close to the idea of keeping “nostalgia” as my driving force in writing. As things progressed, I made attempts to start focusing more on the here and now in games and life. It’s both worked and fallen flat. (Curse ye fickle Internets!) With the “Play or Pass” series, I really wanted to question my penchant for nostalgia. I wanted to be less mushy and more skeptical about games, particularly the games that I believed I loved. I wanted to see if I could crush those rose-tinted spectacles and view those game more objectively.

If I’ve learned anything from all this, it’s that nostalgic is a real bitch. I have a very long way to go in “conquering” it, but I’m making strides. In fact, this new mission has led me down an interesting gaming path, one where I’ve chosen to revoke the games of now to take a closer look at games that I missed or once enjoyed. (Mostly…I mean, it’s not like I can just ignore South Park: The Fractured But Whole. I’m only human.) I’m revisiting once-thought favorite games to see if they hold up. And I’m looking at games that I initially passed over, some from this very list (i.e. Assassin’s Creed II), to experience them without the clamor of the initial zeitgeist of their release. The games I’m choosing to play now are for me. (And for you…Metal Gear Ac!d is on the way, I promise.)

Which brings me back to Chrono Trigger. Before playing it, I was well aware of it’s platinum status in the pantheon of gaming. It and the phrase “best game ever” were commonplace in nearly every related article I read. But the choice to play the game actually wasn’t mine. Instead, I left the choice up to you, the readers. As a refresher, here’s what the final poll looked like:

Mission JRPG poll results

(Notice how close the contest was between Chrono Trigger and Earthbound? I sure did.)

To some degree, I almost wish I had had absolutely no knowledge of all the general love for Chrono Trigger, because all throughout it, my mind kept asking “is this the best game ever?” And when someone shoves something like that down your throat, metaphorically or otherwise, your natural instinct is to recoil. So yes, I am being hard on Chrono Trigger when I question if it’s really a “must.” I don’t have any nostalgic feelings or qualifying statements muddying up the water. Did I enjoy the game? Yes. Am I glad I played it. Absolutely. Do I understand why people hold it in high regard? Sure, it was a remarkable game for its time, and it holds its own against other, newer games.

So would I call it a “must?” Um…well…?

Alright, here goes…

Have I played Chrono Trigger?
Yes.

If yes, then do I consider it a “must?”
No. There, I said it — no. The fact of the matter is that Chrono Trigger is a great game, but I could have gone my whole life without playing it an been none the wiser. Now, I would call the game a “must” for folks who are naturally inclined towards JRPGs and games with in-depth stories. In fact, I’d go as far as to recommend to first-time JRPG players, because it’s not an overly-difficult game to play, and its elements are rooted in modern games of the genre. (And it also kicks many of those elements in the ass, which is a good thing.) However, I don’t see Chrono Trigger as casting as wide a net of acceptance as a game like, say, Banjo-Kazooie. It’s not a casual, pick-up-put-down game. It requires a good deal of investment and patience on the part of the player, and it’s hook isn’t immediately revealed, which is truly dependent on how one plays the game.)

Alright, now I’m just babbling. We can chat more in the comments, if you’d like. But I hope you can see what I’m getting at.

If no, then do I want to play the game before I die?
N/A

14 thoughts on “Play or Pass: Banjo-Kazooie and Chrono Trigger”

  1. Really interesting thoughts to be found here; had to stop and think for a bit. It’s kind of hard to call a game a *must-play* because that’s similar to saying that it is essential to the experience of being a gamer. I’d struggle to call most of my favorite games *must-plays* without some sort of further clarification. The way I see it, *Banjo-Kazooie* and *Chrono Trigger* are both games that are very important for their respective genres. *Banjo-Kazooie* became the face of the “collect-em-up” 3D platforming genre, so I’d say it’s a must-play for modern platforming fans who want to know more about how the genre developed or for those who’ve never played a platformer of that type before and what to know what they’re all about.

    *Chrono Trigger* is important because of its unique nature. It does many things differently than the JRPGs of its time, so again I’d say it’s a must-play for those who already like JRPGs and are looking for something different, or for those who want to try JRPGs and are looking for an entry point into the genre.

    Outside of those circumstances, I’d say both games are incredibly fun and enjoyable, but not something that absolutely must be played.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for this comment, because it sums up well the crux of this series and my big issue with it: calling any game a “must” is purely, and truly, subjective. Even though a majority of gamers may agree that a game is great, i.e. Super Mario 64, which tops many a best-game-ever list, there’s really nothing behind calling that same game a “must.” You’re right in that doing so, we’re implying that said game is quintessential to anyone’s given gaming life, and that’s something of a brazen statement to make. Because it implies further that if you haven’t played said game, then you’re not a real gamer or you’re stupidly missing out.

      Anyone who plays video games is going to be drawn to some games over others. And the way we play these days is so very different from the Sega vs. Nintendo days when games and consoles weren’t so prevalent. So when looking back on these two games, as you noted, it makes sense to recommend either to different sets of gamers depending on their interests over simply blanketing them both as absolute musts and anyone and everyone. That’s just not how gaming works these days. Both Banjo-Kazooie and Chrono Trigger have their places among the greatest of games, but it’s up to the individual player whether or not they are ventures he\she wishes to pursue.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, really interesting discussion about the definition of a “must” and nostalgia’s role in rating games! I played Chrono Trigger for the first time (properly) approx. 4 years ago on the Wii’s Virtual Console, thought it was a stonkingly good game, a “must” even… and I daresay it won’t be long before I view the game through a nostalgic lens. With that in mind, it’ll be really interesting if you happen to think back to this question in a few years’ time!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’m sure that at some point, nostalgia may make me flip-flop my opinion. In fact, I began questioning myself the moment I hit publish. Because there really is something very special about Chrono Trigger. It’s nothing less than a standout in a sea of standard JRPG fare.

      And, see…even as I type that, I gotta ask if that’s really me talking or the me who’s heard the same thing said about the game over and over. I think I would like to revisit the game in the future to see if my feelings hold fast or change any.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Banjo-Kazooie is most definitely a must so I agree with you there. As for Chrono Trigger, although I would say people should play, I also see why it wouldn’t necessarily be a must. I don’t have nostalgia for the game, having played it for the first time on the DS. I do respect it and have since fallen in love with the characters, music, and time travel elements. I think it’s a quality game that stands up today. But again, I know where you’re coming from and don’t argue with that opinion either. Great article! Keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Much obliged! 😊 I must admit that this post took a very long time to write simply because I didn’t know how to honestly assess Chrono Trigger without sounding taxingly blunt. My previous attempts were just ranty messes, and they came off sounding like I didn’t like the game. And I did, I really did! It was a really fantastic experience, and one I don’t regret in the least. Chrono Trigger is a wonderful and unique game, but I honestly don’t think it changed my gaming outlook as much my previous game project, Pokemon LeafGreen, did. And that’s really why I didn’t call it a “must.” Still, it gets my vote for one of the best JRPGS, that’s for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can see where you guys are coming from. I think it’s the same way I feel about Suikoden 2, that it’s a great game but it’s not mind blowing in any way. I suspect that back in the day it was groundbreaking, as Chrono Trigger was for me, but for me now the game mostly just has a large helping of nostalgia and the rest of the RPG elements have been tried to the point of blandness. I still love the fanbase though and all the tributes created to the music :).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks for adding your thoughts! The soundtrack to Chrono Trigger is one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. I’d definitely place it in my own top ten or twenty. It’s evocative without being overbearing. It’s timeless!

          I won’t deny the importance of Chrono Trigger in the history of games — it’s a lesson that I’m glad I learned. And I’m sure that my reaction here would have been much different if I had played the game when it first came out. It is interesting just how much nostalgia effects our experiences with games. Powerful stuff, it is. ☺

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree as well. I only began playing Chrono Trigger maybe a year ago, and while I enjoyed it, it certainly didn’t rocket to the top of my “favorite games” list like I expected it to. I enjoyed it, I thought it had a really great story, and considering when it was released I thought it implemented some really cool mechanics that I don’t think had been explored up until that point (e.g., time travel and that your actions *actually* had consequences!).

    Usually I group “nostalgia” and “hype” into the same box of feelings that can kill a game faster than any poor development choice, but that doesn’t always completely stop the disappointment when an old favorite – or an expected new favorite – doesn’t quite work out that way.

    Having said that, I only ever played Banjo-Kazooie as a game rented from Blockbuster, but I loved it!

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  5. I second your opinion about Chrono Trigger. I played it for the first time a few years ago now, and being a lover of RPGs as much as the next person, I didn’t find myself itching to start a new game plus. It certainly had its moments, but it didn’t grab me by the shirt and shake me like it has for some people. Would I play it again now? Maybe yes since it has been a few years, but I remember when I finished it that I was definitely ready to move on and wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss was about.

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