My Review: Chrono Cross (PS1)
If you were to ask me what the definition of a 'perfect' video game was, I'd probably show you my copy of Chrono Trigger and answer, "This". Squaresoft's Super Nintendo classic combined the talents of prominent developers from both Squaresoft and then-rival Enix, and this mixture of developer talent created one of the most beloved RPGs of all time, featuring a cast of lovable characters, gorgeous graphics, and a fantastic soundtrack composed by Yasunori Mitsuda and Final Fantasy standby Nobuo Uematsu. To this day, there hasn't been an RPG quite like Chrono Trigger- it's a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Needless to say, when Squaresoft began working on a sequel for the Playstation, expectations were justifiably high. Chrono Cross, released in 2000, distances itself a bit from its predecessor, featuring several new gameplay and storyline features. This was, I fell, a wise decision, because once it steps out of its predecessor's shadow, Chrono Cross is just as ahead of its time and imaginative as Chrono Trigger.
Fate has no forgiveness for those who dare stand against it.
Chrono Cross expands upon the time-travelling of Trigger, focusing on the concept of parallel worlds. The game stars a silent protagonist named Serge, who grew up in the continent of El Nido. When he goes to the beach with one of his friends, he hears a mysterious voice calling out to him, and ends up opening a gate to another world, one where he drowned as a child. Serge meets an enthusiastic young girl named Kid, who is hunting a panther-like creature named Lynx, who is seeking an artifact known as the Frozen Flame and has a peculiar interest in Serge. Guided by the prophet Belthesar, Serge and Kid look to uncover the mysteries of the Frozen Flame, and save the worlds from another powerful force that will consume all existence.
Chrono Cross initially seems to be entirely unrelated to Trigger. As you progress through the story, however, more and more connections between the two appear. Serge, for example, is called 'The Chrono Trigger' (a being that can alter time) by Lynx relatively early in the story, and the two games end up forming a deep, interconnected story by the end of Cross. One of the things that rarely occurred in Chrono Trigger was potential ramifications of the heroes' actions- they fought to alter history to save the planet, but what happened to the future that would never come to be? Chrono Cross dives headlong into these darker themes that were only hinted at in its predecessor, depicting the grim fate of potential futures with startling and haunting clarity. There are points where the story can grow a bit confusing due to the cryptic nature of the events at the middle of the game, but everything is eventually explained near the end.
Trigger's highlight was its cast of colorful characters. Cross has an incredibly large cast of more than forty potential party members. Many join your party automatically, but the majority of them you'll need to work for to recruit by doing a sidequest or two. Surprisingly, despite the sheer largeness of the cast, the individual characters hold up surprisingly well, and many of them (not all, unfortunately) have a decent amount of character development or provide a unique take on events if they are in your party. The main characters receive the most development, particularly after a mid-game plot twist that I don't dare spoil.
Chrono Cross tells a more complicated story than Chrono Trigger, and while the depth of the story may seem confounding at first, overall the game provides a dramatic and epic second half to the Chrono saga.
As mentioned earlier, Chrono Cross has an absolutely massive cast of playable characters. Not a single one of those characters could ever be deemed 'useless'- with the right equipment and some training, any character in Chrono Cross can become a stalwart ally. There are also several wacky additions to your party, continuing the tradition from Trigger- a voodoo doll, an alien, and a sentient mushroom all serve as potential allies in your quest.
Chrono Cross's central feature is the Element system. Unlike it's predecessor, Cross' combat system is a pure turn-based affair (rather than active-time), but enemies are still seen in the field and can be avoided. When a character attacks an enemy, they can select from multiple levels of normal attack- Weak, Strong, and Fierce. Each attack depletes a characters Stamina, and when their Stamina depletes, their turn is over. Stamina is regenerated turn-by-turn, as well as when fellow party members attack.
As characters attack, each successful hit builds up their Elements, which are Chrono Cross's system for magic and special abilities. There are six 'colors' of Element- Yellow, Red, Green, Blue, Black, and White, as well as 8 'levels' of Element strength. Elements are slotted into a grid for each character, and cost a considerable amount of stamina. Once an Element has been used, the level of that Element is deducted from your overall Element level for that battle, and it cannot be used for the remainder of the battle, with the exception of Consumable Elements (essentially items). Elements serve as your most powerful assets in Chrono Cross- because all characters (both your party and all enemies) have an Innate Element, attacking with an element opposite to your foe's Innate Element plays a large role in your battle strategy, as well as defending against your own weakness. Yellow is opposite to Red, Green is opposite to Blue, and Black is opposite to White. Having a variable selection of Elements is key, because many bosses are elementally based, and you don't want to be caught without the proper colors.
Chrono Cross's method of leveling up your characters is also unique. Characters do not have a set level- instead, each boss fight in Chrono Cross earns the party a Star. Each Star gives your characters a bonus to their stats, and usually a new Element Slot. After earning a Star, characters will gain additional smaller stat bonuses after normal battles for a short while, culminating in another large stat bonus, after which characters won't grow in strength until another Star is earned. Because of this system, it is almost impossible to 'Level Grind' in Chrono Cross, but the game is balanced very fairly- you'll always be strong enough to progress through the game if you simply use your Elements properly. Speaking of which, Chrono Cross also has the Tech abilities from Chrono Trigger, which appear in a character's element grid at levels 3, 5, and 7. Every character has their own unique Techs, some of which are earned naturally, while others have to be found. Chrono Cross also has Dual and Triple Techs which allow multiple characters to join in a powerful attack, but unfortunately there aren't nearly as many of these as in Trigger.
The only problem I have with Chrono Cross's otherwise superb gameplay is that, on rare occasions, it is difficult to figure out where to go. This doesn't happen often, but on occasion the game won't give enough hints about where to go to progress, which can be frustrating. The game's true ending, as well, requires a specific item (the titular Chrono Cross) and a specific sequence of Elements that must be performed, and while there are numerous hints concerning how to go about this, it can still be confusing if you don't know what you're doing. This minor problem aside, Chrono Cross's gameplay is top-notch.
Without a doubt, Chrono Cross is one of the most gorgeous games to ever be made for the original Playstation. Squaresoft came a long way since the blocky polygons of Final Fantasy VII, and Chrono Cross's wonderfully detailed backgrounds and superbly animated 3D character models are incredible. The numerous FMV sequences look even better, highlighting the game's most dramatic moments with an amount of graphical fidelity on par to some Playstation 2 titles. Yasunori Mitsuda returned to do the soundtrack for Chrono Cross, and the end result is astounding. Chrono Cross features one of the best soundtracks I've ever heard, easily equaling the music of the best Final Fantasy game. The many remixes or clever nods to classic Chrono Trigger songs are nice, but the vast majority of the original music is wonderful as well.
For all the dreamers: Our planet's dream is not over yet...
Chrono Cross is a game that will forever be compared to it's beloved predecessor, enjoyed by some but derided by many. This, I feel, is a shame, because Chrono Cross is a surprisingly innovative game that does a lot to carve out it's own identity. It isn't perfect, but it's just shy of being so- it's a beautiful game with an epic and deep story and some very well-designed gameplay. Chrono Cross is a fantastic RPG, and, for me personally, stands alongside Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, and other classics as one of the greatest video games ever made.
Chrono Cross is now available on Playstation Network for $9.99.
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