Welcome to my new guest post segment, Stories That Built Me. Each of these posts will be done by a guest (authors, booksellers, bloggers, and more?) who will talk about how different stories shaped them.
This post is from Adib Khorram, whose upcoming book Darius the Great is Not Okay is one of my absolute favorite things being published this year.
Imagine, if you will: The year is 1996. A young boy’s parents finally gave in and got him a Super Nintendo Entertainment System for his twelfth birthday. The system comes bundled with Super Mario All-Stars+Super Mario World (a timeless classic which will go down in history as one of mankind’s greatest achievements).
Imagine that 12-year-old boy is me. Because it was. That birthday present was the first video game system I ever owned, and it opened a whole new world for me. It wasn’t all good (I certainly played more than was healthy for me), but it opened up my imagination in a way I had never experienced before. It offered challenges I had never faced.
While it was all fun, and compelling, it wasn’t life-changing. It didn’t leave a lasting impact. While the characters were colorful, vibrant metaphors for my own id (hello, Yoshi, the gluttonous dinosaur), they were two-dimensional. They bopped Goombas, stomped Koopas, and inspired lifelong fanaticism for me and so many others. But there was something missing.
From Super Mario All Stars+Super Mario World, I moved on to Mega Man X, another classic platformer with an iconic protagonist, challenging levels, and the kind of gameplay that required me and my friends to sit around cheering each other on as we, one-by-one, fought bosses, collected weapons, acquired the secret Hadouken power-up by playing the Armored Armadillo level more times than was actually fun, and eventually gave up at the Sigma stages because none of us could beat the ridiculously difficult Bospider.
Seriously, people, it was a nightmare.
I dabbled in other games: there was an X-Men game that had the vibe of the 90’s animated cartoon (and was also too difficult for me to beat); Kirby’s Dream Course, a golf game that my friends were way better at than me; and the seminal Super Mario Kart, which we all spent way too many hours on.
And then I got the cartridge that changed everything.
Memory is a funny thing, but I’m pretty sure I picked it up from Venture with my allowance money. Yes, I said Venture. It was a thing. Trust me.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I went into Chrono Trigger. Maybe I was still at the age when I didn’t have expectations from games. I liked the cover art. I liked the packaging. It seemed like it would be fun.
What I couldn’t have possibly expected is that it would change my life. That it would shape my tastes—not just for video games, but for storytelling in general—for the rest of my life.
As soon as I popped the cartridge in and turned the power on, I was mesmerized. First came the sound of a ticking clock, and the visual of a swinging pendulum. (To this day a ticking clock will give me chills.) Then the music came in, building from a simple piano melody into a sweeping, epic intro.
I was immediately hooked.
Chrono Trigger tells the story of Crono, a young man who meets a girl at a festival and, through a complicated series of events, ends up on a millennia-spanning quest to change the course of his planet’s future. He visits the Dark Ages, a dystopian future, an ice age, and even the time of early humankind.
Along the way, he’s joined by friends from across time, vibrant characters with unique personalities, desires, and heartbreaks. Each of them matters. Each of them has their own story to tell that ties in to the story as a whole.
I had never experienced anything like this. A video game that told a story? Characters with dialogue? Moral conundrums? (Granted, the game is fairly linear—this was the 90s, after all—but the choices you made in the game had small but noticeable effects on the story.)
And I didn’t experience all this alone. My friends watched as I played: the story and music were so immersive, it felt like a movie at times. Chrono Trigger shaped so much of our views on friendship, on courage, on heroism, and on the intricacies of time travel, so much that my very first memories of writing (back when I was in 7th grade) were essentially a mishmash of Star Trek and Chrono Trigger fan fiction.
And the endings…yes, endings, plural. There were thirteen of them. You had to replay the game to get the different endings. Again, in a simplistic 16-bit way, the choices you made affected what ending you got. What a game-changer. What a way to spend 600 hours.
I did eventually get all the endings, and max out all my character stats, and move on to other games. But every game that came after was chasing the high of Chrono Trigger. I needed games about friendship, about found families, about groups of people who come together to achieve something none of them could achieve alone.
That’s probably why the first several books I wrote were about close-knit friendships, group dynamics, and saving the world. Granted, those books are all in a trunk now, but the love of stories about friendship has never left me. That’s why Darius the Great Is Not Okay features a powerful friendship at its heart. And that’s why I can’t imagine ever writing a book without one.
That’s also why I love reading about friendships, especially sprawling, messy, complicated ones. Here are two 2018 reads that perfectly hit those notes:
Seafire by Natalie C. Parker: This captured not only the feel of a group of friends coming together as a family to save the world, it also captured that sci-fi, not-quite-this-world-but-eerily-close feel that I loved about Chrono Trigger.
Running With Lions by Julian Winters: Talk about a friend group. This inclusive, loving group of friends accept each other for who they are, even though they’re not afraid to call each other on their bullshit.
Adib Khorram is an author, a graphic designer, and a tea enthusiast. If he’s not writing (or at his day job), you can probably find him trying to get his 100 yard Freestyle under a minute, or learning to do a Lutz Jump. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where people don’t usually talk about themselves in the third person. You can find him on Twitter (@adibkhorram), Instagram (@adibkhorram), or on the web at adibkhorram.com.
Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian—half, his mom’s side—and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life.
Darius has never really fit in at home, and he’s sure things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Soon, they’re spending their days together, playing soccer, eating faludeh, and talking for hours on a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s skyline. Sohrab calls him Darioush—the original Persian version of his name—and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab.