Review by Gbness
"Is it truly possible for something to appeal to everyone?"
Satisfying the masses is one of the most difficult things in the world to do. There are a lot of people in the world who make an effort to try and please everyone, not realizing that it is one of the most difficult things in the world to do. And thus they end up pleasing no one... this is a prevalent theme in politics, but that's irrelevant. As for satisfying the masses in video gaming, it's an extremely difficult task, especially when it comes to making sequels to very popular games. It's very difficult to make a game an absolute classic, which is true within this game's prequel, Chrono Trigger. But as for making a sequel to a game that's an absolute classic, and having it appeal to everyone, that's a different things altogether. It can be easy or hard, it just depends on how much you try to experiment with things.
Buying Chrono Cross with the instinct that it'll be exactly the same as Chrono Trigger, is one of the more pointless things that the world will permit you to do. There are just so many different things in Chrono Cross than Chrono Trigger -- the number of characters, the battle system, the plot, the overall atmosphere, the time travel -- everything about this game is entirely different from Chrono Trigger. And that's not necessarily a bad thing -- as a stand alone game, Chrono Cross can be seen as one of the finer pieces of gaming ever devised. But is it really that? Read on and see.
The game's plot is, in my opinion, one of the more beautiful ever constructed. It takes place in 1020 AD, twenty years after the events in Chrono Trigger. You are Serge, an everyday boy living in Arni Village. And the game opens with cutscenes of a fort in the midst of the mountains. It is seen for the beauty that it is, and then Serge embarks into this fort with a girl named Kid, and another adventurer. And thus they get through the puzzles and the overall dungeon that this fort provides, until they reach a skywalk. And inside the room on the other side of the skywalk, flash outs are shown. A bloody dagger is being held, the girl named Kid has been wounded, and Serge is standing there as if he had no idea what he was doing. Did he do this, or did he have some motive? The plot thickens.
One of the things about Chrono Cross, however, is that things like this DO happen, and it might take a while to discover what they truly mean. You don't discover what this really means until about ten hours in, but hey, you've got the suspense of the matter. But anyway, Serge continues on in his day until he ends up in Opassa Beach, the spot Where Angels Lose Their Way, and he stumbles into a vortex that takes him into another world. This is the form of time travel within Chrono Cross -- you won't go back and forth between several time periods, it's only two separate dimensions. And they really ARE separate -- it's the same world, but fate itself has destined everyone to take different paths. Everyone is different, scenery is different (for example, in the Home World, Water Dragon Isle is pretty much a lake whereas in Another World it's all dried up), and people are doing different things. And Serge gets involved in everything that's happening.
Another thing in favor of the game's plot, is an absolutely fantastic plot twist that occurs ten, twelve, or so hours into the game. It's totally original and I've never seen anything even CLOSE to it being tried before. Not saying it's bad at all, in fact, it's one of the best and most well executed that I've ever seen. And that also brings me to the point that Chrono Cross has one of the better villains ever seen in a game, even if he has a cat's face and semi cat's name. His name is Lynx, and he's dark, cunning, and malicious. Truly one of the more awesome villains ever seen in a game, and he certainly makes up for a single fact which plagues this game's story to a certain extent.
A commonly stated problem with this game is its characters, and its number of characters. Chrono Cross has no less than 44 playable characters... no joke, exaggeration, or figment of my imagination, Chrono Cross has 44 characters. And obviously, the game focuses on characters like Serge, Kid, Harle, Karsh, Glenn, and a whole lot of interesting NPCs to focus character development, as well as overall personality on. A lot of the characters here just exist to be characters in the game, and the game would certainly have been better without them. And it becomes increasingly obvious that they just exist to copy each other's scripts, since a lot of them have accents. Kid has a very distinct Australian accent, and Harle is incredibly French. And as for Serge himself, he never talks. He's a silent protagonist, much like Crono from CT, but as that's becoming very common nowadays, I can't really complain about that. But I will issue a complaint, that while they are plenty of extremely interesting NPCs, the main cast of characters suffers, and that's this game's main weak point.
As for the gameplay itself, the main gameplay outside of battles is really no different from any other RPG. Chrono Cross is a relatively fun game compared to a whole lot of RPGs out there, so it's very easy to have a good time with it. However, the battle system is something similar to Xenogears, but still overall not what you see everyday. First of all, three characters are allowed in battle, as is commonplace with RPGs. Magic is in the form of "Elements", which can be allocated on characters for use. However, magic revolves around the six colors: yellow, red, green, blue, black, and white, with the colors obviously matching what the element is. You know, red is fire, white is light/holy, blue is water/ice, blah blah blah. And each and every single character or enemy in the game has an "innate" color of one of those six, so elements of the opposite color (red to blue, green to yellow, black to white), will cause more damage, or those of the same color will heal them or do less damage.
There are eight levels of elements, with lvs. 1 through 4 being fairly basic, and after lv. 5 pretty much every element hits whole enemy parties from massive damage, although from lv. 6 onward elements can only be used by characters of their respective innate colors. And lv. 7 and lv. 8 are summons, which can only be used when what is called the "field effect" is that respective color. As for this field effect, it can be turned a certain color after that color's elements have been used three times. So you have to use three elements of one color, and then that summon to really use it, and although the summons deal massive damage, it can usually be accomplished more quickly by simple physical attacks, which bring me to another point...
Based on the similarity to Xenogears, Chrono Cross is not your dad's battle system. First of all, each character has seven stamina points, and a certain number of power levels. As they level up (which I will get to later), they can gain up to eight power levels, although they only start with three. As for stamina, characters have three kinds of attacks: Weak attacks, Strong attacks, and Fierce attacks. Weak attacks take one stamina point, strong takes two, and fierce takes three, but it's not recommended to use fierce attacks immediately, since they have lower chances of hitting, which increase as more attacks are done. As for these power levels, they're built up one point for weak attacks, two for strong, and three for fierce, and you can use an element of the corresponding level when it gets there. I might have made this sound very complicated, but really it isn't. In fact, after a couple battles the entire system becomes second nature.
Adding on to that, there aren't any random encounters in this game, and in fact there is no one non-boss battle that you HAVE to fight in this game, because you can run away from anything. There are two or three areas in the game in which you need to defeat all enemies in a certain place, but from most boss fights, you can even run away when you're losing and then heal yourself after that and fight it again! And since the most useful elements aren't consummable or anything, there isn't even any downside to that! Isn't that awesome... however, that does make Chrono Cross exceptionally easy. It's one of the easiest RPGs I've ever played, and I almost never had to run away from battles. I can think of only three boss fights in the game that are really very challenging, and one of those is optional. So if you want a challenge, you've come to the wrong place.
And another commonly pointed out flaw with the game is the level up system. This is just very difficult to get used to, and hard to ignore. Chrono Cross runs on "Star Levels", and after boss battles, you'll get these. They randomly level up stats, and that's really it. For a few battles after Star Levels you can fight battles to gain a few more random stat gains, but that's the only point of fighting battles. You can always fight them to get money and stuff, but there is no EXP in this game. The level up system in this game is REALLY messed up, in my opinion, and that's another reason people tend to have issues with this game. Another issue is the system of equipment; you don't buy weapons, you go to smithies and forge them with items, much like in Final Fantasy VIII. This isn't a huge issue, though, but just another thing out of the ordinary about this game.
So as a quick summary about the gameplay, if you're a classic RPG gamer who can't put up with stuff like forging weapons out of items instead of buying them, having stats level up randomly after battles, and a lack of character development, which are really the only flaws to be found in this game, then this is not the game for you. However, visually and musically, Chrono Cross is a pure and complete masterpiece.
I'm hard pressed to think of a single game on the PSX (and a lot of games on the PS2 for that matter) with better graphics than Chrono Cross. Everything is sharp, clear, and detailed, with the colors flowing exactly right, perhaps in a way even more artistic than Chrono Trigger. FMVs are amazing, with sharp attention to detail, an excellent frame rate, and an overall mind-blowing appearance. If there is a SINGLE thing done better on the entire system, it's Final Fantasy IX and its awesome looking attacks, but Chrono Cross is no slouch in that either. Water, fire, wind, and leaves... it's all animated perfectly, so there's not really much to say here. Although a few character models could have been improved slightly, that's not much of an issue. Chrono Cross has the best graphics of any game on the PSX, bar none.
And as for music, it's a love it or hate it. Many people, including myself, believe it to be the best soundtrack in any game ever, period. There's just one thing that I do have to ramble about, however: that is the horrendous battle theme. It's basically just a violin going off in repeated beats which makes for a sound you get sick of after several battles. However, there's a ton to make up for that. The opening theme to the game, Time's Scar, is a fantastic opener which set the stage in the feeling for the entire game, plus the boss theme is awesome too. And one of my favorite game tracks that I have heard in any game ever, period, is a guitar piece offered during a certain, fairly emotional scene in the game and the battles that ensue. I'm always a sucker for themes that play in battles, so that is something to love. So while there IS some stuff to hate, the majority is there for the loving.
Chrono Cross, as I have already stated, is not your dad's RPG, and it isn't for everyone. It has its flaws; the battle system is not something you see everyday, there's a little bad music here and there, there are far too many characters to be developed, and there is no EXP and thus reason to level up. Still, it contains the best soundtrack I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing, the best graphics on the PSX, some fantastic dungeons, and also the story at the heart of it, ignoring the playable characters themselves, is really something. But just don't expect a Chrono Trigger equal anywhere here.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/31/06
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