Promises vs Teasers

So, Chrono Trigger on the SNES had an opening movie that played if you left the game on the title screen. It was sort of a highlight reel cut together in a spoiler-minimizing way, showing impressive moments from throughout the game with enough context for you to tell they were significant events but not enough context to understand that significance. It was a teaser of some of the cool stuff you’d get to do and see if you played the game, and it was a trustworthy promise because you could see it was rendered in-engine, down to including battle menus for a few of the scenes.

I remember revisiting this cinematic repeatedly during my first playthrough, excited every time by new moments where I’d say to myself, “Oh! I did that! I know what that is now!” After playing the game, the movie became a highlight reel of my own adventure.

On the PS1 port, they replaced this opening with a fully-animated anime-style movie that introduces the cast via a mix of scenes that basically happen in the game and ones that totally don’t. This accomplishes a very different goal - it shows the characters and sets the mood, but it doesn’t really promise anything specific about what you’re going to do in the game, and even once you’ve played it it just shows things generally reminiscent of your adventures - the animators didn’t extrapolate what people and events look like the same way each player’s imagination did. While the result is more impressive than the in-engine visuals, I can’t help but feel like something has been lost. It feels like an advertisement rather than a highlight reel. A teaser rather than a promise. So I’m glad that more recent ports use both movies.

These days games don’t really do the whole in-engine versus animated/pre-rendered scenes thing anymore, so it’s less clear what you’re seeing in these kinds of movies. I’m a few hours in to Dragon Quest XI and by coincidence I happened to rewatch the opening movie and partway through I was suddenly saying to myself, “Oh! I did that! I know what that is now!” I realized that this was an old-school Chrono Trigger style highlight reel, and I got excited to continue on the adventure and find out what all the other moments in the opening were about. It was good to have that feeling again.