Review by UltimaterializerX
"One of the worst games you'll ever play, but at least it has nice music and pretty graphics."
Chrono Cross is without question one of the most convoluted and awful games you will ever force your way to play through, assuming you have the fortitude to play all the way through the game at all. Playing Chrono Cross is like ingesting nuclear waste in that even if you somehow have the stomach to go through with it, you may very well end up mentally and emotionally scarred for the rest of your natural life.
The game starts out well enough. As you watch its introduction, you will see a beautiful opening cinema that is not only a visual masterpiece, but a musical masterpiece as well. At first you will see a book's pages flipping on a simply lit desk as a prologue scrolls across the screen, but you are eventually drawn into a world of men and dragons, of good and evil, and of light and dark all while being accompanied by the immortal title track of Chrono Cross, "Scars of Time". But enjoy this opening cinema to the best of your senses, for the music and graphical beauty is about the only good thing that this game has to offer; its quality goes down at an absolutely alarming rate from this point forward.
The basic outline of Chrono Cross is to explain what happens to Schala of Chrono Trigger after the events of Chrono Trigger are complete, not to mention the important cliffhangers that you saw if you happened to play Chrono Trigger before ever testing Chrono Cross. This seems like a brilliant idea considering how beloved and heroic Schala's actions were in Chrono Trigger, but you don't even know that this is the main focal point of Chrono Cross until very late in the game. And this is arguably the biggest issue with Chrono Cross's storyline. Far too many things are thrown at you at the end of the game, and it's not done correctly. It's okay to have a "not everything is what it seems" storyline, but Chrono Cross actively mocks the player. Not cool.
Unfortunately for you, getting to the anticlimax that are the explanations of Chrono Trigger's concluding events means that you have to play nearly all the way through Chrono Cross's horrendous storyline beforehand. You begin the game as Serge, a mute protagonist who is infiltrating Lynx's (Chrono Cross's main villain) castle with a small party. After some shocking events, you awaken in a small town along the coast and realize that the events within Lynx's castle were but a dream. Because bad events ending in "it was just a dream" is such an original concept, you decide to get out of bed and go on with your life.
Thus, the manifestation of superfluous that is this game's storyline begins. Nearly every event in this game is presented in short, staccato format that is so horribly linked together that you will oftentimes wonder where this game's story even is. One second you'll be trying to save a party member from disaster, and the next second you'll be hit with a plot twist so awful that you'll wonder if you're playing out a farce. The entire plot, or lack thereof, comes off as a mess of rushed, unexplained events that are linked together in ways that make the game feel more like a Super Metroid-esque abstract puzzle than a role playing game. If you do not play close attention to every tiny detail that is mentioned through the game, you may find yourself doing little more than going from town to town mindlessly until you're lucky enough to trigger the next plot sequence. And even when you do pay close attention to everything, you may still find yourself mindlessly going from place to place until something new comes up due to the game giving few if any hints about what to do next. The quest in which you must find six dragons at the end of the game is the best example of this. Even better is the fact that you're stuck doing this in a parallel universe --- that is, you have two worlds to meticulously explore until figuring out what is going on! Chrono Cross's storyline is like trying to achieve a drunken orgasm; it takes far too much effort to pull off, and because nothing good will come of it anyway you're better off not trying to do it in the first place.
The worst part of all of this is that you know practically nothing of Chrono Cross's true focal point until very late in the game, and it is explained in such a way that tries to explain all of Chrono Cross and Chrono Trigger all at one; in the end, you're left with a gigantic, unfulfilling mess that can leave many a fan dazed and confused. Even the players who have the open mind necessary to not let a love of Chrono Trigger cloud their judgment of Chrono Cross may have this problem, simply because the game does such a bad job of putting everything together. Though in the game's defense, a very good story is taking place for the majority of the game. Unfortunately, the designers weren't able to squeeze everything in before the deadline and were forced to explain everything all at once rather than having the story reach its climax by more standard means. This essentially turns a fairly deep story into a confusing mess, which is unacceptable in an RPG of Square's caliber.
But aside from story, an RPG's core lies within its characters and its battle system. Chrono Cross manages to fail with flying colors in these areas as well. This game has forty four playable characters. Forty four playable characters. With all of these characters, one would assume that a company as brilliant as Squaresoft --- creators of legendary storytelling such as Final Fantasy 6, Final Fantasy 7, Chrono Trigger, Xenogears and others --- would be able to tie these characters together in such a way that would leave players of Chrono Cross in shock at its marvelous beauty.
On the contrary, most of the characters in Chrono Cross are given little to no character development whatsoever, and wind up being script clones of one another that are simply given different accents to feign the impression of being different. To anyone with half a brain (which is all that you may be left with if you make the mistake of playing this game past the opening cinema) however, the characters are nothing but lame script clones with different accents. If one did not look at this game's cover and see Squaresoft on the title, one would assume that monkeys wrote this game's story and designed its characters.
In the end, you're left with the hope that the battle system, another essential piece to any RPG's core, will help this game save face. Unfortunately, it only helps prove that Chrono Cross is damn near unplayable.
In the menu screen, you allocate Elements, Chrono Cross's version of a spell, to your characters. Your characters can only equip a few Elements to start, but as they grow stronger they will not only be able to equip more Elements, but they will be able to increase their level of Element allocation as well. The Elements are positioned in a series of vertical columns; the left column is the weakest, and the right column is the strongest. Nearly any Element can be allocated to any position on a character's respective Element Grid, but the Element's strength will vary depending on where it is equipped.
Consequently, Elements are assigned values. If an Element's value is three for example, the best column to equip said Element would be the third. You can equip Elements outside of a respective Element value, but underpowering an Element makes it weaker, while overpowering one will only get in the way of the allocation of your more potent Elements. Elements can only be used once in battle, but because many Elements can be equipped upon your characters, running out of Elements oftentimes never happens even in the most difficult of fights. Lastly, Elements, as well as characters, take on six different colors that represent a value innate within nature. Black and White, Red and Blue, and Green and Yellow are all polar opposites and therefore strong/weak against one another, while most other combinations of these elements yield neutral damage.
Confused yet? It gets worse.
In battle, your characters have a choice between three different attacks: Weak, Strong, and Fierce. Weak attacks do the least amount of damage but are the most accurate, and vice versa for Fierce attacks. But regardless of what physical attack you use, physical attacks don't do much damage until very late in the game; their true purpose is to unlock your Elements for use within battle. If you successfully connect with a Weak attack, the character who does so will be able to use any and all Elements allocated to Level 1. A Strong attack will unlock two Element levels, and a Fierce attack will unlock three. From this point, you can either use any Elements that your physical attacks have unlocked for you, or you can continue to physically assault the enemy until you unlock higher Element allocation levels.
This battle system may seem innovative, but by the end of the game it serves no other purpose than to drag out every battle in the game to incessant levels of monotonous boredom. Until very late in the game when your party has an arsenal of items that allow them to become superpowered, every single battle is a drawn-out chore and the initial novelty wears off within a few hours. Part of this is because battles are so long and monotonous, and part of this is because random battles serve next to no purpose whatsoever. The only way to level up in the game is to defeat certain bosses; random battles triggered by running into enemies in the field serves no purpose in terms of strengthening your party, and because the battles themselves take so damned long they're essentially useless from the start. You'll learn very fast to just avoid everything, which kills half the fun of any RPG -- figuring out the battle system. A battle system that guarantees every boss fight in the game being difficult seems like a good concept, but doing this while having useless battles with basic enemies is pointless. The game tries to get the best of two worlds, but in the end it will leave you either praying for the game to end out of sheer boredom, or not finishing the game at all.
In the end, the only good things to be said about Chrono Cross are that it has excellent graphics and music. Aside from that, this game isn't worth playing at all. The storyline is bad; the characters are bad; the battle system is bad. In fact this game is so disappointing on an overall scale that even some of the best graphics on the PSX and arguably the greatest soundtrack in any video game of all time cannot begin to cancel out how poorly done everything else is. When a game can be summed up by "The story, characters and gameplay are all horrendous, but on the bright side, at least the music and graphics are nice", it's a safe bet that you're looking at a game not worth playing. Just buy the soundtrack, because it will allow you to listen to the music without having to deal with the annoyance of actually having to play the game to enjoy it.
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 12/14/04, Updated 09/27/10
Game Release: Chrono Cross (US, 08/15/00)
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