Review by serados

"A fitting continuation of one of the best RPGs ever"

Chrono Cross.

The hyped sequel to the 1996 SNES classic Chrono Trigger, which till now remains one of Square's greatest achievements. Chrono Cross definitely had a lot to live up to, and fans wanted more Crono and gang on their consoles. However, when Square decided to scrap the original cast completely, it came as a shock to fans. Worse still, the announcement that there was going to be over 40 playable characters in Chrono Cross turned some people off completely. However, Chrono Cross is one of the best sequels made, and a very good game in its right.

Chrono Cross starts off with a beautiful FMV of a structure, and thrusts you in the middle of a break-in at the building. You are placed in control of a blue-haired boy that looks like the original Crono, which you can name – the default is Serge. The first thing you will notice is the beautiful pre-rendered CG environments the game has. Backgrounds are made similarly to the Playstation Final Fantasy games, by placing characters in a 2D background and making the camera non-rotatable. Chrono Cross has possibly the most well-done CG backgrounds I've seen in a Playstation game, full of lush details where you can see every curve of the corals, every crack in the tiles and every line in pieces of wood.

Another striking thing you will soon notice is that enemies are on screen and you can dodge them. Enemies are 3D models, moving creatures that are every bit as well-rendered as our protagonists. Enemies also look exactly the same in battle, giving the entire game graphical continuity, and showing off the true power the Playstation can produce.

Battles now take place in a separate map, unlike Chrono Trigger. This change is not a good one in my opinion, as one of the distinguishing features of Chrono Trigger was its Active Time Battle (Final Fantasy-style) battles that were carried out without transition. In Chrono Cross, Battles start off very beautifully, similar to the Final Fantasy style yet so different. Upon touching an enemy, the screen will blur, a large blue circle appears on your characters' and the enemy's meeting point and elliptical particles are ‘sucked' towards the centre of the circle, as the screen mosaic-blurs into the battlefield.

Battlefields are fully-3D, almost identical versions of the field maps. The sheer amounts of detail in the battlefields are astounding, and they are faithfully reproduced from the field maps.

Fights are now carried out in modified turn-based style, with each character having 7 points of stamina that the character can expend on attacks, or usage of Elements. A normal attack will cause you to select a target, after which your character will run towards the monster and the menu will be replaced by another showing the 3 attacks of varying power, and consequently stamina consumption, and their hit rates. Heavy attacks deal the most damage but take up 3 points of stamina and have low hit rates, while light attacks deal minimal damage but take up only 1 point of stamina and have the highest hit rates. Medium attacks are somewhere in between the Light and Heavy attacks. With each successful attack, hit rates increase overall (with light attacks adding the least hit percentage, and heavy attacks adding the most), similar to building up fighting momentum. Thus, the system causes you to carry out some light attacks first to build up heavy attack hit rates, before you use the heavy attack so it has a higher chance of connecting.

Light attacks' damage is usually a lot lesser than heavy attacks', often as low as 15% of heavy attack damage. Thus, a player cannot carry out purely light attacks as they will never be able to do the damage a single heavy attack can deal. This system makes battles exciting and dynamic, though it becomes a chore as you begin to stick to one attack pattern. Monsters also utilize this stamina-based system, which is evident when they start attacking as they can hit you multiple times.

Spells in this game are called Elements, which can be purchased at Element shops. You can also trade excess Elements for more powerful Elements, which is a nice feature as sometimes you just don't need that many Tablets (the weakest, and most common consumable healing Element). “Items” in Chrono Cross are consumable Elements, making their usage highly limited, but consumable elements make good trading objects.

Element Grid slots are unlocked as characters become stronger. These slots allow you to allocate Elements in them, making Elements usable in battle. Stronger Elements naturally can only be allocated in higher-level slots, but the Element system allows you to place a strong Element in a low-level slot, and vice versa, at the cost of spell effectiveness and power. This is indicated in the Element itself. An Element that says 5+/-3 can be allocated anywhere between Element Grid levels 2 (5-3) to 8 (5+3) with the appropriate addition or reduction in strength.

A twist in Chrono Cross is that each element can only be used once per battle, with the exception of consumable elements which can be used as many times as the quantity indicates. This creates an element of strategy (pardon the pun), as you need to weigh the importance of the situation, whether or not that character is at a health level low enough for you to risk that Cure Element. Element usage, however, is further discouraged (albeit unintentionally) as each Element usage reduces the stamina bar by a whopping 7 points. This kills the system, as many offensive Elements are overshadowed in terms of damage by just running up to the opponent and kicking their butts with regular attacks.

A throwback to Chrono Trigger is the inclusion of personal Techs. Each character has 3 levels of techs, which are some of the flashiest and most powerful moves in the game. Unfortunately, techs are like Elements, one-use and takes off 7 points of stamina. However, techs are stronger than Elements of that level (usually), and are invaluable assets early on in one of the many tough battles you will be facing throughout the game.

Character growth is also carried out in a unique way. After every boss battle, your character gains large amounts of stat growth and a “Growth Star”. Also, immediately after acquiring a Growth Star, stats go up randomly after battles then stop growing, after which battles have no meaning whatsoever other than for money (which is a good point, I might add, as battles take quite some time to resolve early on and are rather difficult). This is Chrono Cross' way of regulating growth, causing your characters to be just at the right level when facing enemies, ensuring the right amount of challenge the developers want. Growth regulation alone makes the game moderately tough at times with no way to “powerlevel” your characters to breeze through the game, making Chrono Cross a game that requires a fair bit of thinking – or a handy walkthrough – to complete.

Growth Stars are used to summon beasts, very high level elements that must be “trapped” with a Trap Element from certain enemies – there is no other way of attaining them. These summoned beasts' usage is highly limited but this difficulty in casting them is indicative of their immense power. The catch when using these beasts is that the Field Effect must be entirely of one colour, and that colour must match the Element colour of the summoned creature. This in itself makes it extremely tough to summon monsters, and it is irritating to the point of nearly defeating the purpose of summoned monsters. The few times you manage to cast these elements though, you will marvel at the graphical beauty of each unique beast, from the tornadoes of the Genie to the intense heat produced by Salamander. Chrono Cross does have incentives for you to cast summoned beasts, but these incentives appear rarely.

The plot of Chrono Cross is detached from Chrono Trigger's, and takes place in a new region in the same world. The opening scene foreshadows things to come, and there is a large cast of over 40 characters to play with. Serge, our silent protagonist, has supposedly drowned, yet he is still alive, in a world which is the same yet completely different from his own world. This new world is referred to as Another World, while the “real” world where you drowned is referred to as Home World. World map navigation is similar to that in Chrono Trigger, and there are no monsters on the battlefield. You can navigate around the island easily, and any enterable place, once touched, will have its name displayed on the screen.

You find out that with an Astral Amulet, our party is able to transverse between the two worlds. This allows some potentially humourous exchanges between people in Another World and “themselves” in Home World, and vice versa. Many members save for some central characters are merely supporting acts and their inclusion in the party is up to your preference. Those that truly play a major role in the story are Serge and Kid (a blonde girl with an Australian accent full of “bloody”s).

Kid is trying to get the Frozen Flame, a relic said to grant absolute power to whoever is in possession of it. They start off by breaking into Viper Manor, where our antagonists Lynx and Harle are revealed, and give you a sound thrashing. The story itself is told relatively well, and everything is revealed at the end. However, the game does not tell you what to do and many of the sidequests and non-compulsory characters are missed during the first, unassisted run. Thus, it is advisable to use a walkthrough to take you through this exciting adventure.

The music of Chrono Cross is a joy to listen to. In such a large soundtrack, there are bound to be some flawed themes, and one theme which I find a mess is the battle theme itself. However, once you step onto Another World's world map, you will be greeted by a wondrous piece of music that is definitely one of the best video game compositions I have ever heard. Yasunori Mitsuda seems to have had heavy Celtic and Scottish influences while composing the scores for Chrono Cross. “Scars of Time” is another amazing piece found in Chrono Cross, and the ending vocalised theme “Radical Dreamers” is another masterpiece.

Chrono Cross has 9 endings, similar to Chrono Trigger's 12 endings, and obtaining it all takes a fair bit of time. Chrono Cross also needs 3 playthroughs to recruit all the playable characters in the game, which should add a fair bit of replayability if you are so inclined. Of course, there is also the New Game + option where you start a new game with all items, stats and elements except for key plot items. An additional tidbit in New Game + is the Time Shifter, which allows you to speed up or slow down gameplay speed.

Pros
- Best graphics I've seen on the Playstation
- Soundtrack is a masterpiece
- Battle system is very innovative
- Touching story and finale
- Ability to see enemies unlike many RPGs is a boon

Cons
- Story is hard to follow without a walkthrough
- Battles can become a chore

Overall
Story: 10/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Sound/Music: 10/10
Graphics: 10/10

Final Score: 10/10

Chrono Cross is an excellent game. It is a very polished experience and its heartrending storyline makes Chrono Cross a worthy sequel to one of the best games ever made.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/28/06


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