How the hell do you screw up friggin’ time travel!?
Okay, to be clear, we’re not talking about how do you screw up while time traveling. A healthy 80% of all time travel fiction is based entirely on this concept, and, give or take a Time Cop, that’s always a good time. It’s the human condition, right? You go back in time with your intricate future knowledge of how you’re going to make everything better, make a few changes here and there, and Bob’s your uncle, Hitler is president. Whoops! I think we all learned a valuable lesson about not messing with the natural order of things (and I would seriously like to speak to whichever time traveler is responsible for our current political situation).
No, what we’re focusing on today is how you mess up a story that involves time travel. After all, time travel is one of the best tropes in all of storytelling. Want to change the past? Duh! We all do! But changing the past (and hopefully avoiding Hitler) isn’t the only option available with time travel. Want to see the future? Or drop that text book, and experience the past like a tourist? Or how about traveling through time to prevent a “bad future”? Did anyone order a child from an alternate timeline? Hell, let’s go nuts, screw up the timeline, and see an alternate reality where bad is good and good is wearing ill-fitting leather. Time travel opens the door to any number of wonderful tropes and stories! And leather!
And let me tell you a secret about time travel stories: don’t ever try to figure them out. Time travel is always, always going to be a complete mishmash of conflicting ideas and contradictions with the very concept of cause and effect. And that’s fine! It’s time travel! It breaks all the physical rules of the universe, it may as well also cause a broken brain. So don’t bother trying to figure out how there can be more than one Trunks at one time, or how you can’t wrap a gun in beef shank and bring it to the past, or why the hell bringing a teenager on a time travel expedition would ever make sense. It’s all just nonsense from the moment someone goes back to the future, and you’re expected to not think too hard about how Bruce Banner accidentally invented the fountain of youth while trying to quantum leap. You can’t ruin time travel by not properly following the rules for a fictional event. Time travel is the Wild West of storytelling, and you’re perfectly justified in claiming that if two time travelers kiss, they instantly become horny lizards or something. It’s cool! That’s just how time travel works in this universe, and they’re going to have a wonderful little reptilian family. Be happy for the lizards!
And time travel can be amazing in videogames. Videogame narratives by their very nature must be linear. You can have a flashback in Lost, Breaking Bad, or [please insert name of show that premiered in the last decade], but that simply doesn’t work in a videogame. If Mega Man has a “flashback level” to before the adventure started, he’ll lose all his sweet robot master weapons and extra lives. And that just wouldn’t do! It’s even worse in JRPGs, where experience is key, and your character must start at level zero. A flashback in a JRPG would never fly, because your hero has to start as a blank slate, or, at the very least, an inexperienced townie. Seeing some “ten years earlier” with a child that somehow knows Ultima is not even a possibility.
But time travel? That’s how you meet the past. Swing on back, take your time in a special dungeon or town, and meet all the villains before they became corrupted by malevolent fog. Or use time travel in new and interesting ways, like by changing subtle items in the past to greatly influence the future. Plant some beans. Break some walls. Distract the guy building the wall. Time travel opens all sorts of avenues. And in your better games, time travel offers entire worlds. Here’s the craptastic present, an even more rotten future, and a glorious past that you can restore with a little elbow grease (and giant swords). But at least there are lasers in the future! That should help you save the day. Just remember to take your time and explore every nook and cranny to discover the difference between these disparate time periods!
Final Fantasy Legend 3 seems to present itself as such. Right from the start, you are introduced to our quartet of heroes, three of which hail from a future approximately fifteen years ahead. Our fourth warrior is a woman from the present, where the rest of the gang has been raised and trained after being smuggled back with the aid of a mutant professor and his time machine. Everyone is informed that the world is being flooded by a nebulous evil god/master (pick your translation), and it is now their job to travel between the past, present, and future to find enough pieces of that time machine to lift off and launch a missile right into this damp god’s face. And that’s a great excuse for an adventure! It promises three different time periods (and thus three different worlds) all in the midst of this forever flood. And, bonus, as the game progresses, we’re also granted the ability to dive beneath the waves, so there’s a full trio of underwater “worlds”, too. Let’s see how that coral reef has developed over thirty years!
So it’s kind of a shame when it all turns out to be bullshit.
Here’s the basic flow of Final Fantasy Legend 3: You start in the Present, and venture through a tower. This grants you the ability to go back in time. Now you can participate in a rescue mission in the Past that guarantees an old lady and a young girl will be alive in the future (present). Back to the Present, and it’s time to waddle around another tower or two. This allows travel to the Future, where some helpful future townsfolk grant the ability to access a floating continent. The floating continent, you’re told, does not have “time”, so it is an area that does not have a past, present, or future. Then it’s off to Heaven (Pureland) and Hell (Underworld), which are under similar time restrictions. These three areas (Floatland, Pureland, and Underworld) contain a healthy 60%-75% of the dungeons in the game, and, as part of the finale, they’re going to be the largest/longest dungeons as well.
Did you see what happened there? This is a story that introduces a time machine from the first moment, and then doesn’t even use the damn thing for at least half the game!
That’s how you screw up a time travel story, dear readers. If you’ve got a time machine, and you’re not using it, you’re doing something wrong. Use all the toys in your toy chest, and never turn your time machine into a glorified airship. Final Fantasy Legend 3 dropped the ball, but you don’t have to.
But if you do mess up, just go back in time and try again. At least it would make a good story.
FGC #460 Final Fantasy Legend 3
- System: Gameboy. There were actually two different versions, one published by Square in 1993, and another rereleased by Sunsoft in 1998 (because a certain game made Final Fantasy a tweak more popular). Both versions are exactly the same, give or take some terrible cartridge art.
- Number of players: Four party members, one consistent guest character, but only one player.
- Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Disappointing plot aside, Final Fantasy Legend 3 is easily the most accessible of the Final Fantasy Legend titles. This makes sense, as this is right about when this “version” of SaGa branched off to form Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, and SaGa continued on in a different form on the Playstation 1. Or at least that’s how I remember it. Regardless, this is the rare SaGa/FFL game that doesn’t require a friggen chart to map out character progression, so it’s fun for a girl or a boy.
- But the equipment system still sucks, right? Oh my yes. I might cheat my way into perfect stats just so I never have to manage the inventory ever again.
- Favorite… form? You have a lot of options for character customization. No, wait, scratch that. You have a lot of options for whether you would like your party to devour gears and cogs to become robots. Or you can eat a hunk of meat and become a man-bat. You’ve got options. Regardless, the worm is the best choice, as he’s a friendly looking lil’ dude. For a monster.
- Did you know? There was a DS remake of FFL3, and it never made its way over to Western shores. But some dedicated fans translated SaGa 3 Jiku no Hasha: Shadow or Light, and now you can play the dang thing in English. Hooray for our side! Literally!
- Would I play again: I want to say there is a JRPG from the 90’s that uses time travel a little more effectively, so I’ll pass on this legendary adventure.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Space Harrier for the 32X! That’s going to be a mammoth of a good time. Please look forward to it!