Review by Shotgunnova
Beaten down by the hammers of its critics, moreso than most sequels, Chrono Cross has managed to maintain a respectable following among the Chrono community. Its standing is always debatable, but compared to its predecessor, the glorified SNES RPG 'Chrono Trigger', it may be on equal footing as far as complexity and likability.
As non-traditional as they come, Cross jumps from the CT image in leaps and bounds, continuing little of the storyline (at least superficially), keeping none of the original seven characters, and ditching the previous worldly environment for an archipelago in the same setting (a world-within-a-world). To boot, staff members that had collaborated on Trigger had left and been reassigned, and the game definitely feels like a different game, not a mere extension of the previous outing. But, the changes don't make the game a stinted half-finished mess -- it's a terrific game in its own right.
Throwing tradition to the wind, the starts with the main character Serge being fetched to find a girl some lizard scales for a necklace down on a southern peninsula. He completes his task and meets up with her (Leena) on a nearby beach, but when the boy hero gazes out to sea, that's where the game fragments off in two wildly different directions. Although not as heavily factored into the game as in Trigger, roaming through the fabric of time still plays its part when Serge finds himself in a veritable limbo, stuck in a world that's an offshoot of choices -- that is, the ones not chosen in the previous world. It's not long before some "ghost-hunters" show up to do away with Serge, and that's when it becomes abundantly clear that this isn't the same world he was born into. After meeting a sunny-haired lass (Kid) who aids in driving the crew off, and heading northbound to visit a mansion, the main character comes upon a conduit that allows for travel back and forth from home world and the "another" world.
This is where the disparity between the worlds becomes clear, and the time taken to show that the choices not taken not only echo through the silent protagonist, but in even the most casual NPC. The writer in Arni Village has given up her dream, while she pursues it in another; a man living vicariously in one version of Termina is dirt-poor in the other, and has even taken up his "other" son's painting hobby from which is destitution stems from; one village is completely devoid of life in one world, while brimming with denizens in the other.
Because of the vast amount of choices, characters, and different personalities to keep track of, the plot seems entirely convoluted past the point of no return; but, it is because of this depth that Cross really reaps the seeds its sown, weaving a colorful tapestry as rich in life, success, and emotion that rivals even Trigger's.
But, when taken as a game that cannot stand alone, a simple "comparison game," the polished finish on the game dulls, and that really takes the enjoyment out of seeing the interaction. The game does indeed do the Serge's web of contact with both worlds well. I compare it to jumping into a mud puddle, splashing everywhere: the puddle is Serge's presence, in both places, and the droplets are his touches of influence, minor and great.
That's not to say that Serge is the only character whose actions instigate other actions in the population, but the others don't have as much pull in said area. Usually, while some of the main characters are involved in scenes whether one wants them to be or not, many characters are just there for customization purposes, although playing parts themselves. Truly, this aspect is the root of much criticism, but it's easily overcome if one realizes that these people are plucked right out of their own lives and aren't really associated with anything except Serge's goals. They can talk to their "other" selves, play minor roles in events, but beyond that, they're just their occupations (although with special battle skills and techs), whether it be a mother, a dog, a cavegirl, or a handful of others. They may be characters, true, but elevating them to the status of the main characters is just a wasteful comparison that works only when you have a single-digit amount of characters. By fitting forty-four different lives, all intertwining, into a two-disc game, it creates a near-incomparable masterwork of a structure.
Forty-four characters amass in the game's context, optional and imperative alike, which give the player the unmitigated right to pick the cream of the crop when forming parties. There are techs, there are regular attacks, and there are elements, the latter being a wholly new addition to the series.
Elements work like this: each time you level up (by fighting storyline bosses instead of regular enemies), you get another slot to put an element in. These slots start out few in number and gradually "expand" to where the more powerful elements can be allocated. Elements themselves have an assigned placement in the element grid (as it's called), and can be moved left for lesser, but quicker effect, and right, for more power but can be reached slower. Each element (which themselves are elemental!) has to be rationed, too, since they have a limit of one use per battle.
Being a new factor in the series, this is also a source of confusion and outcry, since Trigger's battle and skill-learning systems were incredibly navigable and rather simple. But, the element system is not entirely deserving of its hate. While being rather annoying early on when elements are needed the most, as the game progresses and the customization of the grids allows for more versatility, things on the homefront become less a factor while strategy becomes more of a factor in order to survive.
As I said previously, battles don't solely involve using elements: before one can even use elements, they need to power up their grid by using differently-powered attacks, in ranks of three, two, and one, from greatest to weakest, respectively. In short, to power up the grid to the sixth level, you need to make connect with attacks that use up six of the maximum seven allowed.
Techs are part of the element category which follow the same stipulations of usage. However, these cannot be switched around and are character-specific, and have special properties in mind. Serge's second tech hits everyone on the battlefield; Kid's first tech steals from the enemy; Sprigg's only tech doppelgangs a previously defeated enemy. There are a handful of others, some with simple straight-out attacks and those that fall in line with the examples mentioned in terms of uniqueness, but some techs can also be combined to form a third attack when two people have reached the required attack in their grids. This adds in a bit of Trigger's inventive flavor, but the specialty combination attacks don't appear with enough frequency to say that the aspect's just been ported over: this game is different, after all.
Gameplay differs from the mounds of characters who can be brought in, selected from all over. This gives a bit of creativity on how battles throughout the game are fought because, while one blind attacking strategy on one boss, recruiting a character of a certain element may be the ticket to victory elsewhere; likewise, bringing in a character of a certain element may get him/her killed easier (basic RPG damage laws: opposing elements do more damage). There are heaps of strategy that can be taken in battle, and though later on one can probably get by through using third-level techs, it shouldn't be overlooked in any amount.
Lovable and melodic, Chrono Cross's music fits in perfectly with the sunny islands that makeup the atmosphere. Yasunori Mitsuda (with musical work on Trigger and Xenogears under his belt) composed many of the tracks on Cross, many of the tracks keeping a healthy, attuned vibe to the paradisal setting. Wonderful light-hearted tunes spring up in seaside villages ("Home Village Arni," "Another Marbule"), quaint underwater bonanzas bubble with serenity ("Jellyfish Sea"); down-and-out, hard-luck music beleaguers many of the sadder moments of the game, which doesn't necessarily mean the tracks are bass-driven and simplistic. Great tracks spring in these conditions ("Ghost's Island," "Death Sea," "Grief") and just etch into the player's mind that there is very much a rounded orchestration to be found here. Some tracks don't fit in completely or are reprisals of previous tracks, but the game's soundtrack is very ethnic-oriented, so even when some of the tracks falter ("Death Volcano"), they are easily erased from your mind by the next wondrous track. Speaking of which, the title track ("Scar of Time") and the penultimate boss track ("Dragon God") are some of the best you'll hear on any soundtrack, and are well worth the trouble. Some soundtracks give you a listener gooseflesh when the tracks that have had the most time spent on them come up, usually at vital points in the game. Many of the tracks in the soundtrack replicate this feeling and at a ratio that's sure to keep that tingling feeling on for quite awhile. Calling the soundtrack amazing would be a harsh understatement, as it outshines many other RPGs' musical efforts by tenfold. One of the highest high points in the game.
As stated here (and by word of mouth, as well, I'm sure), the forty-four characters can really make things a hassle or a blessing, depending on how much interest can be placed on their individual efforts. Chrono Cross has given life to an amazing amount of characters, gives them backgrounds (if not weak, in some cases) and personalities (if not limited to speech variations, at times), and purpose in battle. Some are only picked up and brought along for the ride, but many have actual purpose and are related to many of the major players in the game (see: Divas). The game continues like the characters have purpose, and it very well should. Anyone who critiques this game for having weak character depth is looking from the standpoint that each character should be as fleshed out as a game with minimal characters explored. As it stands, Cross picks the amount and plays that amount to a very high potential, and this does give replay value a gigantic boost.
Speaking of a gigantic boost, the New Game Plus option allows Serge to replay his adventure after the game's finished, with the items he bought (save some storyline items) or found and new "given" items, such as a machine that can fast forward time or slow it down and one that allows Serge to be "swapped out" in battle, letting a third character fight in his stead. While not all of these features are exemplary, the ability to fast forward through long scenes (see: Marbule concert) does make the second run a bit better than the first. Not all characters can be gotten on the first way through, also, and fast forwarding through the parts one's deemed boring to get new characters is always a welcome way to brush off the annoyance of the uneventful.
A Time Egg also comes as a "gift" to New Game Plus-ers, which allows the final boss to be fought whenever the player decides to. This can have a bearing on the game, which is a bonus as well (a throwback to Trigger, of course). The replay value is undeniably there, but if one hasn't had a fun time figuring out the ins and outs of the system, a second try might just be out of the question. Then again, if one can get through the first time, the second time is incredibly easier.
Also, if I can just throw this in here, characters may come large in number, but no one person plans on using forty-four characters per game, as that can't be done in the first place (at least on the first playthrough) and it's not necessary. Most people find their own niches with characters who just link up with their personae (Mine's Poshul; see review title!) and they can have fun with them time and time again. I, for one, don't get tired of hearing funny dialogue from my pink dog-friend, and when Poshul's not in my party, I don't imagine it being less effective when someone else says a near-exact line (script = rehashed, for the most part). The characters' personalities make the game interesting, and while I can't fault every critic for picking the scab that is CC character development, I find it unfair to pigeonhole the entire cast as vapid or shallow, since they definitely aren't. They are the soul of the game, and they make replays (at least mine) enlivening each time I pick up the controller.
Pros / Cons
+ Storyline played out flawlessly
+ 44 characters to choose from
+ Musical score is mind-blowing in terms of effectiveness
+ Replay value exceedingly high
+ Graphics up to par with the PSX!
+ Element system is a twist to battling, and fun, too!
+ Game is cheeeeeeap! Buy it! Now!
- 44 characters to choose from
- Game script doesn't really differ per character
The Verdict: A diamond that stuck in every critic's side.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/23/06
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