I, Robot

I, Robot
Electric Soul

Brendan Main | 27 Oct 2009 12:52
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For all their supposed superior intelligence, robots can be pretty stupid. They may be handy if you need someone to calculate pi to the thousandth place, but when it comes to the really tricky questions, they don't have a clue. Present them with a paradox and they'll blow a gasket. Read them a sonnet and steam will shoot from their ears. They can plot the very vectors of time and space, but they just can't fathom "this emotion you hu-mons call ... love." You'd think that with all their advanced circuitry, they could just Google it.

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Our chrome cousins can be forgiven for flunking the big questions about life. After all, they aren't exactly alive. Like many fixtures of science fiction, they serve to remind us of what we're not. Nuts and bolts versus blood and guts. Unflinching steel versus frail flesh. Usually these differences create a yawning divide, with thinking, feeling squishiness on one side and ruthless mechanical efficiency on the other. But for all their strength, we often remember robots for their weaknesses - from C3PO's effete bumbling to Hal 9000's slow spiral into paranoia. To this list of classics I'd add one more: Robo from Chrono Trigger.

While RPGs commonly revolve around saving the world, Chrono Trigger raises the wager - in Square's time-hopping classic, the entirety of human history is under threat. As your party travels through time to confront foes in the past and future, they trace the lifeline of their planet, from prehistory to post-apocalypse. At stake are matters of global destiny, and the rise and fall of civilizations - those which end not with a whimper, but with a bang. These grandiose, yet impersonal, themes threaten to overwhelm the story if not for the individual portraits of your party members interspersed throughout, casting this epic quest as something more intimate. Of these, Robo's story is one of the more personal - despite him not being a person at all.

During one trip through a time-warp, your party finds itself cast forward through time to a bleak future. It is a place of despair - harsh winds wrack the jagged ruins of cities, where small pockets of humans cower, waiting patiently for extinction. It's here that you encounter Robo, a heap of corroded scrap in an abandoned facility. With a little effort, you revive him, but time has taken its toll. He remembers his serial number but not his name. After seeing the grim state of his surroundings and learning of a cataclysm that rocked the world three centuries earlier, he and your party agree: This future should not exist at all.

But in the face of this inglorious fate, Robo remains quiet and contemplative. For him, it becomes a question of existence: Having been restored from his derelict state, Robo literally returns from the dead to join your party, a fact not lost on him. Then there is the circular logic of the quest itself: If the party succeeds and his future is averted, there are hints that he may disappear as well, a quantum event unspooling into the ether. So while other characters focus their sights outward, Robo's journey is more introspective, one tied to body and to place.

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