Review by Kane

"Hype: excessive publicity and the ensuing commotion (the hype surrounding Chrono Cross)"

Chrono Cross doesn’t live up to the hype.

Very much like one of the main characters it gives life to –namely Kid- it’s a charming game with a few glaring flaws that prevent it from belonging to the elite. Sequel of the critically acclaimed Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross bears a heavy past and has the arid work of introducing a mythical ambience to a generally fresh audience. So much anticipation by Square fans, so much mindless hype, and so much undeserved praise contributed to an odd atmosphere at this title's release: best game ever or huge disappointment?

Neither.

THESIS

Chrono Cross is a good game.

After watching the awesome introduction, I was already conquered. The subtle choice of cut-scenes works perfectly, making a collection of old clichés –the elemental dragons, the beast-man archenemy and the travel through the oceans- seem entirely original. Nonetheless, it’s quite possibly the best expression of Square’s mastery in cinematographic effects and wouldn’t be unworthy of the title of best introduction ever. Yes.

Similarly, the first hours of play are a memorable experience, and seem to indicate that Square has finally managed to recreate an rpg with an interesting mix of story and gameplay highly reminiscent of its predecessor. Without exaggeration, CC immediately immerses you into a refreshing world full of detail and poetry. The beginning of the game has a hypnotic force that plays on your feelings and fills you with intense joy as you start playing the part of Serge, a young resident of the El Nido Archipelago who finds himself caught in a parallel world in which he has already passed away, and forced into a fateful journey by Kid the lovely pirate.

The brilliant battle system, intelligent mix of Xenogears’s combos and Final Fantasy’s dynamic pace, is years ahead of most recent rpgs. Each one of your characters is allowed a certain number of stamina points that can be used to strike your opponent with attacks from different strengths. Having low stamina means that you’ll take more damage, so the battles are mainly based on the idea of risk-taking. Other elements such as special attacks and magic spells can be used, but you’ll have to do a complex work of customization beforehand. The fact that you can see your enemies on the map, like in Chrono Trigger or Grandia, is a welcome relief for those tired of incessant random battles.

Chrono Cross has some of the best visuals ever, combining a sharp sense of variety and a sumptuous overall aesthetic. Oh, the Playstation has surely gone a long way since the days Resident Evil! The pre-rendered backgrounds are almost flawless and display a festival of colors that always seem appropriate to express the different stages of the story. Serge’s journey will lead him through the seas and on a number of islands whose surroundings, strange mix of natural and man-made elements, are extremely evocative, almost mind-blowing.

Not only are the backgrounds fantastic, but the in-game characters also look incredible, pushing the PlayStation to its last resources. A great effort has been made since Final Fantasy 8 to make the models look more natural and lifelike, and Chrono Cross appears to be the result. The monsters, particularly the bosses, look quite impressive partly thanks to a surprisingly convincing work on textures. Rarely a videogame has more deserved to be considered as a work of art than Chrono Cross.

The music is a joy for the player’s ears, really. The remix of the original Chrono Trigger theme is simply fabulous, and the rest of the soundtrack is terrific. Although its peculiarity doesn't necessarily net an outstanding effect at first, there's no doubt that some of the tunes (particularly the one that accompanies the introductions) are among the best ever composed for a videogame. It just might take a few listens to overcome the initial reaction to its odd, unique nature. Violin notes, fast-paced basses and various exotic instruments are often intertwined to reinforce the atmosphere of the title. Breathtaking.

ANTITHESIS

But Chrono Cross is by no means a great game.

Yes indeed, it’s far from perfect. Predominant element in a game belonging to this genre, the story is not particularly brilliant: it feels rushed and nonsensical, and yet at the same time leads to a somewhat predictable outcome –and the multiple endings hardly make up for it-. The plot heavily relies on the theme of surprise, and although at times it seems to reach the high spheres of metaphysical dialog, most of the lines are far too bland –partly ruined by the characters’ annoying accents- to generate any passion. It ultimately makes the whole game look bad, since the gigantic work Square put on the rest of the game serves no purpose: it’s like a splendid but desperately empty bottle of alcohol.

That’s not to say that Chrono Cross doesn’t tell the player a beautiful story, but it’s just that it’s awfully told, as its main elements are hidden from the player until the last two hours of the game. This greediness of the developers ruins the pace of the game, annihilating the interest of the player as time goes by. This is precisely where Chrono Trigger is much superior to its successor, for the sole reason that its main strength was that it gave the player epic bits of story at regular intervals, keeping his attention while at the same time not giving him the impression of watching a movie.

Another major flaw concerns characterization. Actually, there’s none. The characters are frustratingly static, perhaps in consequence of their oddly great number. Only Serge, Kid, Harle and Lynx play an important role in the development of the story, which is a shame because they far from being the most interesting ones. The others have been thrown in there without purpose, just to form a numerous cast that could come close to the concurrence –Konami’s Suikoden series in particular-. It’s sad to say, but Chrono Trigger’s six straightforward personalities were much more vivid and fascinating.

As one can see when he reaches the beginning of the second CD, Chrono Cross’ map is disappointingly small, especially when compared to the one of its older brother. Contrary to what its introduction seems to imply, there’s absolutely no trace of any kind of time travel in the game, limiting the exploration to the two (similar) parallel worlds.

As a logical consequence, the game is rather short. Don’t count more than approximately thirty hours to complete it once, and although you’ll be missing tons of stuff and characters the first time, playing through it again isn’t exactly my idea of fun, especially since the side quests are rather easy and change very little to the story. Bar a few battles, it’s also pretty easy, following the recent trend in rpgs. While these are great news for the casual gamers, the same can’t be said for hardcore fans.

PARENTHESIS

Chrono Cross is the sequel of Chrono Trigger.

Chrono Cross is definitely more enjoyable for the players familiar with its predecessor because of all the references to it. But Chrono Trigger’s legions of fans might be left wanting for more, since CC isn’t a real sequel and almost ignores the whole world and characters created by the SNES episode. Chrono, Marle and Lucca make a very short apparition, and the game will take you to a place you’ve visited in the aforementioned game, but apart from that the rest is just tiny references. That’s too bad, because the box case refers to the game as: “The long-awaited sequel to one of history’s favorite adventures”. All hail perfect Square!

SYNTHESIS

Chrono Cross is an above average game.

While it might seem unfair to judge a game by comparing it to its predecessors, one could say that this is precisely what reviewing is about: to bring to the fore a game’s strong and weak points by comparing it to the rest of the production. Keeping this idea in mind, it’s hard to define exactly what makes this game inferior to the first installment of the series: it’s a combination of story issues and a difference in context. Chrono Cross certainly is a fairly decent game, and naturally belongs to the cream of the crop of the rpgs on this system, but it’s definitely not the savior it was hailed to be.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 12/01/01, Updated 02/02/03


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