Review by superzapper
"Quite overrated, tedious experience."
Allow me to open by stating that although I had previously played and enjoyed Chrono Trigger, the major differences between the two games doesn't bother me about Cross at all. I actually feel it ties the plot into the first game very well, and find that it manages to be neurotic entirely on its own merits.
As Chrono Trigger had you play the game through 4 places in time, Chrono Cross has you play across 2 different dimensions. The protagonist of the game, Serge falls into the other dimension and finds that he died there 10 years ago. But that's not all that's different, political control, climate, and the people living in that dimension have all taken a different course than those in his home dimension. A thief named Kid helps Serge out of a minor scrape, and then adventure ensues to figure out exactly what's going on.
The story is quite involving and epic, although at times very oddly placed. You'll be over half way through the first disc before you even have a clue as to what's going on, and you'll spend about a third of the game in the body of one of its main villains. In the latter half of the game, it deals with heavy philosophical issues regarding existence, the morality of time travel, genocide, and other things that make the player feel a bit less than heroic. It's a much darker game than Chrono Trigger, and winds up pointing that the events of that game have disrupted time in such a way as to threaten all of existence with a much worse fate. This will aggravate some purist fans, but really excite some others.
I'd call the battle system the single biggest point about this game. Its very unique, and quite fun to play with, but has a bit of a learning curve, and the difficulty fluctuates like mad. Instead of having magic abilities that consume a certain amount of magic points, it utilizes a card-like system called elements. Your characters have grids that they can set elements to, which are usually familiar rpg magic techniques of opposing elemental properties, and they can use each one once per round. Each attack strike against an enemy adds an element level, so if you want to use an element that's on level 4 of your grid, you must attack until your 4 grid column lights up, and then you may use it. This keeps you attacking and speeds up gameplay, and the conventional time counter has simply been replaced by a stamina bar that you deplete as you use your attacks and elements, and slowly regenerates itself. At the end of the battle, any remaining level points your characters have can be used to run the healing elements, which very conveniently restores your party's health. This isn't a complete cop out of walking around damaged, as you would sometimes have to plan to have points left over at the end of the match to actually utilize this.
There are however quirks to this. Earlier in the game, your grid is very small, and you have a terrible lack of healing elements. This puts some pressure on you to pummel your enemies as quickly as possible. But somewhere a few hours down the line, you get ahead of yourself and just start whipping through battles without any difficulty. This gets annoying fast, as you notice the difficulty level of the game fluctuating dramatically every few hours. You also don't really level up in this game. You have something called a Star Level that you're awarded at bosses, and individual stats updates during battles. However, you don't really get much of anything except at bosses, so if the difficulty seems dramatic, running off and leveling up for a while isn't going to be an option. Also, if a character dies during a battle and isn't revived before the end, they don't get any upgrades. There's also not a whole lot of weapon upgrades, so when dealing with the difficulty curve of bosses, you're left swapping characters around (there are 40 playable characters in the game, and a lot of them are worthless) and juggling their elements and equipment, trying to match colors and load up things that will bombard the boss best.
Another aggravating thing about this game is that it pretends to be non-linear, when it for the most part is and uses this as an excuse for being terribly vague. The lack of hints about what to do next would be excused if the world were actually fun to explore, but the 2 worlds of Chrono Cross don't add up to one world of Zelda. Instead, you're left boating around the map, stopping at random islands, realizing you're in the wrong dimension, and finally throwing the controller down and pulling up a strategy guide (thank you for these fine services). Some of the tasks in the game will require that you go to an unmarked place on the map, guess that it actually is something, and click on it. In this case, you hopefully have the right key characters in your party so that when examining, they can tell you what to do.
The game continues Chrono Trigger's multiple ending feature. There are two standard endings, the other ones are accessible in New Game+ mode, where you get to restart with your equipment and items from your previous session of the game (also true to Chrono Trigger). Of the standard endings, it depends on how you beat the boss, and people who told me about the game initially just referred to these as the good ending and the bad ending, saying the good ending was nearly impossible to get. Well, the bad ending is basically where you don't beat the game right and the credits roll. The good ending, which I got my first try oddly enough, is quite anti-climatic in itself. I wont spoil it, but I will say that it didn't dazzle me enough to make up for 30 hours of driving my boat in circles and inconsistent bosses.
One more major plus to this game: the score is bloody amazing. Yasunori Mitsuda who did the music for Chrono Trigger also worked here, and it's gorgeous. Traces of Indian and middle-eastern folk music blend into the classical compositions at points, while other pieces may be quirky, romantic, or simply melancholic chamber music. Each piece of music in the game sounds completely different and expresses the place and time that it's placed wonderfully.
And finally, I must compliment this game for being devoid of terribly whiny characters. The typical pacifist, mysterious and magical bimbo who poisons your stereotype role playing game, has been replaced by a hardcore, mouthy heroine who will get in the face of anyone who crosses her or the main character. The characters in that game that you will more frequently deal with are usually strong minded and focused on the tasks at hand, which makes them a lot more friendly to the adult gamer.
In closing, this game is okay. Towards the last few hours of the game, I was groaning for it to be over. The tedious, neurotic gameplay, odd pacing, and almost random trials, really weighed down the otherwise good story and interesting battle system. If you really liked Chrono Trigger and feel like you have to complete the series, go for it, but I can't really recommend this game otherwise.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 11/06/07
Game Release: Chrono Cross (US, 08/15/00)
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