Reviews: Chrono Cross
What do you mean Fin?!
Be aware: this troper sees the Chrono duology as some of the best things to ever happen to video games and will include some spoilers. Where Chrono Trigger rounded out the SNES's life span with a satisfying bang, Chrono Cross puts the Playstation to bed screaming. The game has multiple endings, as did its predecessor, but the canonical ending simply leaves you wondering what will happen next. By that point, you'll have poured hours into the excellent combat system and learning about your giant and well developed cast of party members only to pull a plot 360 without a revealing of what your actions have changed. This and some inadequately expained plot threads can be attributed to the game's premature release. If the legendary development staff had been given the time neccesary to apply the finishing touches, we would have received an even greater experience. To summarize, my only problem with Chrono Cross is that it ended. It's great Serge managed to save time itself, but I want to see him reunite with Kid; I want to see how merging the two worlds affected the new world and my party members; and lastly, I want to know what happened to the original characters of Chrono Trigger. At various points you are given indications of what might have happened to some (Luca's kidnapping, Robo aka Prometheus in FATE, Magus looking for Schala) but the only physical appearances we get are the ghost kids from the time crash. All negativity aside, this is one hell of a ride that most people can appreciate. There are detractors, mainly Trigger purists, who will call the game out on breaking some JRPG conventions, but the intuitive lack of experience and skill points are part of what make it so great. The writing is easily some of the best in the virtual medium and easily surpasses the average novel. Completing Chrono Trigger will make the experience more cohesive so long as it is with an understanding that some parts just aren't complete. This is Squaresoft's grand eloquent love letter to its longtime lover, RPG Nerds, that was delivered too early.
Pass the bong
It goes without saying, CC is one of those titles that everyone ought to play or have played. I've heard testimony from people who found Trigger pretty hard going, either because of the antiquated story (they relied more on style back then), the grinding, or just plain hype aversion. But I've rarely heard a harsh word toward Cross. In fact, it equals if not surpasses the first game's popularity. Myself, I think CC a splendid game on an artistic and musical level, but the plot gets out of hand by the second disc, and the cast is needlessly large. I say needless because this is the Evangelion of video gaming; its creator was intent on tackling some pretty esoteric issues, here. I'm not even sure what Chrono Cross is about, frankly. This isn't window dressing symbolism, of the type found in most Final Fantasies (the Star Wars of video gaming). Kato is obviously a writer more than a game developer; thinking deeply about the nature of self, reality, human folly, racism, environmentalism, existentialism, the cosmos (every NPC breaks into a poem or soliloquy when you speak with them). But I'm a believer that less is more, and any one of these concepts could support its own game. CC is so intent on asking questions that the story falls by the wayside. This point is definitely debatable, but I think we were given a handful of interesting, fully-fleshed out characters in disc one, and then the author lost interest in them. We're talking about the potential for man to destroy the Earth, and meanwhile I'm in a canoe powered by a little blue alien's UFO. My point is that the skeleton of a great story was there. These weren't half-formed ideas, rather they were buried under a morass of more plot. If not for the schedule slip, there'd be even more plot, God help us. Now, from a meat and potatoes perspective, the game is perfectly sound. While not especially challenging (give or take a Miguel), combat is made interesting with hit accuracy (borrowed from Final Fantasy Tactics) and field effects. I especially liked forging new equipment, even though it's prohibitively expensive. Enough good things can't be said about the presentation. Gameplay is less important in an era where it's basically accepted that, yeah, turn-based combat is a chore and people only slog through it for the story.
A great game that craps in the hearts of Chrono Trigger fans.
Let me just say right now that, in terms of gameplay and presentation, Chrono Cross is absolutely amazing. Great gameplay with novel concepts, graphics that push the Playstation to its limit, and an absolutely incredible soundtrack. (Seriously, this game's soundtrack is just as good, if not better than Chrono Trigger's. Given that Chrono Trigger is often said to have one of the best video game soundtracks ever, that is saying something.) And then there's the story... Hoo boy, where do we even begin? First off, the game's storyline is convoluted enough to make the entire Kingdom Hearts series envious. You're caught in a mess involving parallel timelines, an ancient artifact called the Frozen Flame, a villain name Lynx who you swap bodies with, an advanced, time-displaced society called Chronopolis, the powerful supercomputer FATE, the Dragon God, Schala merging with Lavos to become the Time Devourer and oh my God I've gone cross-eyed. The biggest problem with the story, however, is not in its ludicrous complexity. The problem is that it goes out of its way to slap fans of Chrono Trigger in the face. The latter parts of the game emphasize that everything bad that's happened happened because the characters of Chrono Trigger defeated Lavos. Chrono Trigger's story was a story of hope, about the characters openly defying the end of the world, and taking fate into their own hands. It was a story about how you shouldn't be afraid to create a better future, even if it means challenging a seemingly unavoidable destiny. But no, instead we get Chrono Chross telling us that everything that the characters of Chrono Trigger did was wrong. And then we see the game brutally destroy every single one of the characters we'd grown to love in Chrono Trigger. The kingdom of Guardia has fallen, and Crono and Marle are presumed dead. Lucca is killed by the main villain of the game, Lynx. This is despite the fact that they killed a monster capable of single-handedly ending the world, and yet they somehow couldn't defend themselves. And then there's Robo, who dies only moments after he's re-introduced. The only consolation is that the events of the game are erased from history in the end, but we don't get to see what the consequences of that are.
Chrono Cross is very much hit-and-miss. In technical terms, it's excellent. Environments are vivid and gorgeous or suitably dramatic, the special effects are the best the PS 1 can offer, and the soundtrack is one of the greatest ever, video game or no. Combat uses an interesting weak/medium/strong attack system that builds up your characters' ability to use magical Elements, which can be swapped out or even purchased. And instead of level grinding, each boss fight levels you up so you stand a chance against the next one. Cross's biggest problem is its plot, even ignoring how it deals with Chrono Trigger. For the first few hours of gameplay the story seems understandable enough, even if it involves hopping between timelines. But as the game progresses, more and more bosses seem to come out of nowhere, the rate of info dumps increases exponentially, and all of the scheming and backstabbing becomes bewildering, until you find yourself being shuttled from location to location and fight to fight without knowing why. It's as if there's two games' worth of story being crammed into one-and-a-half discs of gametime, like the developers had a ton of neat ideas they wanted to show you all at once. The game's other problem is its characters, all 45 of them. Whereas Trigger gave us a core cast of seven to know and love, it seems like every other person you meet in Cross winds up in your party. And we must ask: why was the Mexican wrestler/medium included? The bubble-helmeted alien? The sentient turnip? Maybe a quarter of the cast are PC potential, with half at most usable as supporting NP Cs. The rest serve no purpose plot-wise, often feel completely out of place, and keeps the game from focusing on relevant characters. The fact that Guile's story was thrown out to make room for the talking dog and mushroom man is particularly baffling. If Cross was just another RPG, it would be mediocre, as its merits and problems roughly balance out. But as the sequel to Chrono Trigger, it's infuriating for learning nothing from its predecessor. Chrono Cross has its enjoyable moments, but ends up feeling rushed and unsatisfying.
Ambitious But Hollow
Masato Kato said of Chrono Cross: "Cross is undoubtedly the highest quality Chrono that we can create right now. I won't say the 'best' Chrono." I think he was right. It's a high quality product, but it might not be a great game. In 2000, Chrono Cross was universally praised for it's soundtrack, and then mostly praised for its graphics. Unfortunately, Technology Marches On and once the beauty of the graphics has worn off, you have gameplay and story to look at - and those are the two that have not aged as well as the music or scenery. Don't get me wrong, Chrono Cross is a beautiful game with excellent visual designs and one of the best soundtracks in all of gaming. And in that, Cross works. Gameplay was mostly a nice change from the usual menu driven system, though not quite as fun or engaging as its predecessor. Few Dual Techs and even Fewer Triple Techs, etc. The Final Boss? The "proper" way to beat the final boss is simply to hit certain colors in a particular pattern. It's different, which is good, but something of a anticlimax as far as Ending Bosses are concerned. But story? Too many characters with very little to zero character development. Not enough compelling story. Serge and Kid are the only two characters who people will walk away remembering, with maybe a smattering of side characters like Lynx or Harle, let alone superficial "gimmick" characters like the Voodoo doll or the Mushroom. The story tries to be different, and being written by a former Gainax employee, it -is- different. It attempts to deconstruct the story of it's predecessor, but it's own story is not very compelling and can come across as simply being pretentious. Others will simply find the story confusing, even with the manual - Serge's life being saved by the sister-clone of a temporal monster's prisoner because only she heard him crying on a boat in a different dimension is just one of many pills the player will have to swallow and digest. There's a lot of ambitions there, but the execution can leave a lot people confused or just let down. In the end, Chrono Cross is a beautiful game and a textbook in music and scenery design. But once you are past the facade, there's just something of a let down.