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Imitation is the Sincerest Form

Sean Sands | 17 May 2009 09:00
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I believe strongly in the rights of private organizations to protect their brands and their products. And, so when Square Enix last week came crashing down like a tsunami from a summer disaster movie on Kajar Laboratories, which had used the company's assets to build an unauthorized Chrono Trigger sequel, I could not argue with the validity of their claim.

The cease and desist letter was a tactical strike that laid the project, Chrono Trigger: Crimson Echoes, to waste and left a team that had endeavored for years hobbled and broken on the home stretch of their long-distance marathon.

It's hard to look at those years of effort lovingly put in as an homage to Square's classic game and not sympathize with the little guy up against what comes off as a cliché villain corporation helmed by an old-man with an oxygen tank lounging in an oversized chair petting a cat with one hand and twirling his moustache with the other. But, let's live in reality for a moment.

There is no disputing that these fans "hacked" (a term used by the C&D letter) Chrono Trigger and manipulated the company's artwork, brand and intellectual assets without authorization of any kind. It's hard to imagine that those involved didn't know this would be a problem for a company that is still actively pursuing the Chrono Trigger brand. Their own demo readme file seems to concede as much.

There's simply no scenario where Square doesn't have a financial obligation to shut the project down. Perhaps taking legal action two weeks before release following a four-year development comes off as vindictive and snide, but still the point remains.

The line is hazy and indistinct between the need for community outreach and the need for protecting a brand. From Square's point of view, there's simply no tangible benefit to allowing an unauthorized ROM sequel to a valuable franchise, or at least not one that outweighs the potential damage. Not only does this threaten and compete with Square, but to have allowed the release of an emulator-driven, fan-made game like this would have set a dangerous precedent.

That's one genie that would certainly never have gone back into its bottle.

I don't really imagine that the makers of Crimson Echoes had malice or greed in mind, but while that leaves their plight a sympathetic one I'm not sure it necessarily forgives that they should have seen this coming from a mile away. When it comes right down to it, deciding to spend four years building an unauthorized project by illegally pulling art assets from an existing company's product and then trying to release it through an emulator is not exactly smart. Before we get too wrapped up in heart bleeding for the poor mistreated folks at Kajar, it's possible we should consider what a monumentally misguided idea this was in the first place.

I feel basically as much sympathy as I would for a wounded lion tamer or NASCAR driver. It's sad that you got bitten in the face or set on fire, but what exactly did you think was going to happen?

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