leah Hey wow I love this essay, I agree with almost every word and especially like how you lay out the value of the game’s (literal and figurative) forced perspective and the strange heuristics of a “modern” JRPG battle system with its multiple layers of systemic abstractions that defy real-world metaphor.
Though I would disagree mildly with one part - I think the inverse relationship between attack tier power and accuracy in Chrono Cross is a little intuitive, at least in video game logic terms. Think of it like a fighting game: you have light/medium/heavy attacks, each with its own attack speed and therefore vulnerability to blocks/counterattacks. You usually start up a combo with a light attack, then lead into medium and heavy followups. Once you’ve pulled off some combo hits, your meter will charge and you can unleash a special. This all loosely mimics a general notion of fighting the audience might have from watching martial arts movies or anime: the hero starts out with light attacks to soften the opponent, then the pummeling begins, and eventually the fight climaxes with a dramatic special attack. Or, maybe the hero charges headfirst with a risky but devastating move.
I think the fighting game metaphor is made a lot more obvious in Xenogears, another proto-Monolith Soft game with Honne and Kato on staff. The battle system is simpler and the characters are depicted as large sprites on the left and right sides of the screen. The heroes are even martial artists! But Cross’s battle system is directly descended from that. (Xenosaga Episode I also evolves the general concept in a different direction.)
But yeah, I love and agree with the thesis of both these games putting extra effort into evoking the sense of the screen as interdimensional portal, creating a dreamlike diorama world that feels like it exists beyond what you can see on the screen, and beyond what you could see even if you explored every inch. Which ironically makes these games’ worlds feel as vast and complex and lived-in as the background art, while 3D open-world megagames often end up feeling small!
whatsarobot I’m guessing by “camp value” they’re probably referring to the first game’s English voice acting, which is of the “we grabbed the first five Americans we could find off the streets of Tokyo” variety. It’s also not included in the remaster at all: Japanese audio only. Which is kind of lame, because I’ve heard people heap superlatives on the second game’s (properly localized, professionally staffed and recorded by native speakers) English VO. But anyway, that’s probably out of date unfortunately(?).