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New Game Plus in Chrono Trigger and Dark Souls 2

Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.

This is the NTSC U/C front cover art of Chrono Trigger for the Super Nintendo, developed and published by Square Enix and with characters designed by Akira Toriyama.

This is the NTSC U/C front cover art of Chrono Trigger for the Super Nintendo, developed and published by Square Enix and with characters designed by Akira Toriyama.

In both of these titles, new game plus works for entirely different reasons. In both cases, however, new game plus is a natural, reasonable extension of the game itself.

Time and Time Again

Once the game is finished for the first time, Chrono Trigger presents the option to start again from the beginning with your characters retaining all the powers and upgrades from the previous play through. In effect, this makes the game easier a second time around (or third and so on). While the main challenge of the game decreases it opens new gaming opportunities for the player, namely the discovery of the different endings and how to achieve them. It becomes possible, for instance, to travel to the final boss and fight Lavos with only the protagonist, Crono, from the start of the game. This structure encourages replaying the game multiple times to see where and how the ending can be changed, which fits perfectly with a game about time travel being used to prevent an apocalyptic scenario. While the game becomes less difficult with each new game plus, the desire to find all the endings—or at least the most satisfactory to the player—drives continued playing.

Dark Souls 2, on the other hand, does not become easier in new game plus. The player does have a more powerful character and knowledge of how to progress through the game, but these advantages are entirely subverted. The player’s character may be stronger, but all the enemies are strengthened too, along with more difficult “red phantom” versions of enemies being introduced. The player’s trust in his or her knowledge of the game becomes just as illusory a benefit. He or she may know the level layout, but the introduction of the red phantom enemies changes how easily he or she thought to progress through the level. Bosses get some alterations not only in general boosts to their stats but also with some of them having allies that join in the fight against the player. Where Chrono Trigger’s new game plus encourages with the technique of multiple endings, Dark Souls 2, which has two ambiguous endings, dares the player into new game plus to meet ever increasing challenges.

Dark Souls 2 cover art

Dark Souls 2 cover art

Edge of Forever

The story, then, of Chrono Trigger is the primary reason to engage with its new game plus. Its adventurous take on time travel and the search to discover the cause of and means of preventing the end of the world are charming and engaging, and Chrono Trigger is often cited as one of, if not the, greatest JRPG. In a narrative sense, the idea that a game about time travel having multiple endings seems right. The characters use time travel to change the future, giving the whole concept of space-time a mutability that would lead to the idea that the game has multiple, different ending points, including the possibility of failure. New game plus, then, and the multiple endings it brings, is a natural extension of the game itself and the story it tells.

Dark Souls 2 is not a rip-roaring adventure through time. It is a grim, destructive affair where the player is expected to die over and over again as he or she traverses a ruined landscape for reasons that become increasingly hazy over time. Set against Chrono Trigger’s plastic and malleable understanding of time, Dark Souls 2 is a perpetual loop, where this drama of destruction and rebirth recycles endlessly with the player’s character being only the most recent individual to undertake this quest. These elements, though all different from Chrono Trigger, are similarly a logical extension of the game play and story of Dark Souls 2. For it, new game plus isn’t a chance to see other endings or change time. In Dark Souls 2 time is fixed and eternal; a cycle of conflict and momentary personal triumph set in scabrous wasteland that, unlike the future of Chrono Trigger, cannot be redeemed. It is too late for that just as the future at the end of Dark Souls 2 is necessarily bleak. Even if the land is restored, the player and his or her character know this story is doomed to repeat. It makes sense that the new game plus of Dark Souls 2 isn’t focused on narrative but on the challenge and the elation that comes with victory, even knowing that victory has a short shelf life.

Forever, Just Because

In effect, Chrono Trigger and Dark Souls 2 are games that never end. Their game play and narrative design lead to and encourage the player to continue with a new game plus. Though the reasoning is different for each title, they both stand as first-rate examples of how and why new game plus can work.

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This hub was written for Critical Distance and its series Blogs of the Round Table, and other articles in the December series can be found here.

One of the red phantom Iron Clads seen in Dark Souls 2

One of the red phantom Iron Clads seen in Dark Souls 2

© 2014 Seth Tomko


Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on December 22, 2014:

Thank you, The Rev, and you're correct that the "bad end" is a cessation of game play that doesn't allow new game plus. At a technical level, though, each ending does close the game; it is the presences of the other endings that drives the player to discover them in new game plus. I do agree that a new game plus that took into account the player's failures would have been a wild ride, but even in a game as innovative as Chrono Trigger there are limitations. The fact that the game was able to do so much with comparatively little hardware should put most current games to shame.

The Rev on December 22, 2014:

I haven't played any of the Dark Souls games, but Chrono Trigger is probably the best take on the New Game+ system ever. As you said, it's narratively appropriate and adds real replay value.

My one possible beef with it is that the Bad End ("The Future Refused to Change") is also a narrative Dead End - there's no New Game+ option if you fail to save the world. While this makes sense from a game balance perspective, a Bad End+ option would have been interesting. I guess the Lizard Chrono ending kind of counts?

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