Introduction to Chronicles

Chronicles, an extension of the Pathfinders project, focuses on Chrono Trigger, a video game, and applies best practices and methodologies from Pathfinders in order to capture and preserve these playing experiences, as well as document the articulation of culture in video games for generations to come.

Now obsolete, such early and authentic gaming experiences are in danger of becoming inaccessible to future audiences, along with any migrated versions that may follow a profitable video game release. Furthermore, the cultural context originally embedded within these earlier games, as well as the articulation of this culture, is also threatened with extinction. Chrono Trigger is one of these many examples.
Since celebrating its twentieth anniversary in North America on August 22, Chrono Trigger, the iconic Japanese Role-Playing game (RPG) developed by Square co. (now Square Enix) in 1995 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), became one of the definitive experiences of the era selling close to 2.31 million units in global sales1 and featured an extensive plot with deep character development, a unique battle system, and multiple endings; it is widely hailed today as one of the best video games ever developed. Not only was it the third best-selling video game in 1995,2 but since its debut, Chrono Trigger has been re-released and localized on six different platforms (the PlayStation, PlayStation Network, Nintendo Dual Screen, Wii Virtual Console, and the Apple App Store and Google Play distribution services), eventually spawning two sequels, Radical Dreamers in 1996 and Chrono Cross in 2000, amounting to 5.4 million units in the franchise's lifetime.3

Due to the innovation, success, and extensive remediation featured throughout Chrono Trigger's lifetime, as well as its status as a video game “classic,” this artifact was chosen as the prime subject of archival for this project.
Current statistics show that 155 million Americans play video games with an average of two gamers in every U.S. household4. Considering that the first home console system, the Magnavox Odyssey of 1972, housed the first ever video games by legal definition5 these cultural and historical artifacts have rapidly become deeply entrenched as a form of entertainment within our society and economy, and through the force of globalization, has permeated across international boundaries.

Partially, this is a reflection of the prevalence of localization in digital objects and also stands as a direct reminder of the ease in which one could tamper with and alter the historical and cultural integrity of the work in question. As such, video game localization in some way mimics the digital preservation practices of migration and emulation, inherently leading to multiple translations and cultural additions or omissions depending on the region the game will ultimately be distributed to. Video game localization also depends upon the financial viability of importing a game to a new region
this creates numerous levels or extents to which localization teams manipulate and translate titles:
No localization: The game and packaging are not localized at all. The source language version is taken as is and distributed in the international territories.

“Box and docs” localization: The game is not localized, but the packaging and manual are.

Partial localization: The game is only partially localized. Usually, all the game text and the packaging are localized and the voiceovers are subtitled.

Full localization: The game is fully localized, including voiceovers.6
Even more notable in its application, culturalization takes a step beyond localization, closely reviewing the game’s cultural material and whether or not the assumptions and choices delineated within the video game will translate in a viable manner. Although:
“localization assists gamers with simply comprehending the game’s content through translation, culturalization allows gamers to engage with the game’s content at a potentially more meaningful level. Or conversely, culturalization ensures that gamers will not be disengaged by a piece of content that is considered incongruent or even offensive in the game’s environment.”7

  The levels of culturalization are as follows:
Reactive culturalization: Make the content viable; i.e., avoid disruptive issues to allow a game to remain in the target market.

Localization & Internationalization: Make the content legible; i.e., perform “typical” localization to allow the game to be understood.

Proactive culturalization: Make the content meaningful; i.e., adapt and provide locale-specific options to allow the game to be locally relevant.7

As evidenced by these distinctions, the definition of a video game localization and, even further, culturalization is broad in nature. Nevertheless, these attempts at further disseminating and revitalizing video games consequently preserves them in a more or less altered format; these localizations can never remain exactly as they were conceived. In Chrono Trigger’s instance, a process of partial localization coupled with reactive culturalization took place, inevitably leading to alteration of original Japanese content through translation and censorship.
Documenting the history of cultural articulation in video games, through localization and culturalization practices, and preserving the integrity of these original works — as well as their re-releases is at the heart of the preservation strategy developed through the Pathfinders project, known as “traversal.” This methodology aims to build upon the method of “collection” by:


“providing scholars wanting to experience the work
in its original format access to video documentation
of the works in performance on a [platform]
with which the work would have been originally experienced.”
- Pathfinder's Online Book (2015)

As such, expanding “traversal” to encompass other forms of digital media is crucial. By preserving a video game through video documentation whether it is an original or a localized release – we are deliberately archiving a historical and cultural moment that is in danger of becoming, if it is not already, obsolete. This is why selecting Chrono Trigger  a video game with an intimate history of cultural articulation  for “traversal” was crucial to the success of this project.
Besides video recordings of traversals, this open source multimedia book also offers insightful interviews from various video game players, 33 high-quality images of physical artifacts, translations of in-game dialogue between localizations, and 25 pages of findings concerning the articulation of culture between Japan and North America as such, it is a companion to the Pathfinders multimedia book, and readers are recommended to access each in conjunction with one another.

This research would not be possible without the help of my mentor, Dene Grigar, who sparked my interest in digital preservation when I first started contributing to Pathfinders in fall of 2014 as a Washington State University of Vancouver (WSUV) Auvil Fellow. Following fall and spring semester, the assistance of a College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Summer Mini-Grant allowed for the continuation of my research and helped fund the hardware and software needed to perform the traversals.

The videos recorded for this project can also be accessed by scholars from this Vimeo channel. Also of great importance is the resource known as the Chrono Compendium
an online, community-curated encyclopedia which features extensive information regarding the Chrono Trigger universe not covered within this book.  

Funders and Collaborators


Works Cited:

[1] "Chrono Trigger." Video Game Chartz. VGChartz, n.d. Web. 3 Aug. 2015.

[2] White, Barry. "Top Fifteen Square-Enix Games of All Time." News10. News10, 18 July 2009. Web. 3 Aug. 2015.

[3] "Digital Entertainment and Amusement Businesses Related IPs: Chrono." Square Enix Holdings. Square Enix Holdings Company, n.d. Web. 3 Aug. 2015.

[4] 2015 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry. N.p.: Entertainment Software Association, 2015. PDF.


[6] Chandler, Heather Maxwell., and Stephanie O'Malley. Deming. "Determining What to Localize." The Game Localization Handbook. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2011. N. pag. Print.

[7] Honeywood, Richard, and Jon Fung. Best Practices for Game Localization. N.p.: International Game Developers Association Localization Special Interest Group, 01 Feb. 2012. PDF.

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