Review by Yamo
"A truly regretable disappointment for Chrono fans..."
Chrono Cross. For those of you who've spent the last five years dwelling in plywood shacks deep in the Montana wilderness, Chrono Cross is the long-awaited sequel to Square's legendary 16-bit classic RPG Chrono Trigger. A very vocal and devoted segment of the gaming community, among which I myself am included, considered Chrono Trigger to be Square's finest work, dwarfing its inexplicably more popular Final Fantasy series and ranking as perhaps the greatest console RPG of all time.
Chrono Cross was promised to be the sequel that Chrono Trigger waited five long years for. Now that it's finally arrived, the only question on the true Chrono Trigger fanatic's mind is: How does it stack up to the original?
Thus, I present this, the very first Chrono Cross review by and for die-hard Chrono Trigger devotees. Did Square manage to exceed the standards they set back in 1995, or did Chrono Cross fall victim to its own hype and the pressure of having to live up to a legend? Read on to find out.
While conventional wisdom holds that graphics just aren't as important to an RPG as to games of other genres, the graphics and sound still serve to convey the very important first impression. Fortunately, Chrono Cross truly shines in the graphics department. The lush 3-D battlefields abound with color and life and the animation on the remarkably well-rendered characters and enemies is truly a sight to behold. All in all, it's nothing short of a miracle to me that the Chrono Cross combat engine is able to run at more than 7-10 frames per second. It truly takes the aging Playtstation hardware to its limits, and perhaps even a bit beyond.
Outside of combat, the game world is defined by the same sort of pre-rendered 2-D backdrops pioneered by such other Playstation mainstays as the Resident Evil series and the previous two Final Fantasy games. While some of these backdrops are beautiful, they do contribute to a somewhat static and detached atmosphere. They also suffer somewhat from the slightly grainy, low-res look that veterans of Final Fantasy VII and VIII and Resident Evil can no doubt relate to, as well.
Overall, Chrono Cross more than holds its own graphically, thanks much more to its spectacular battle engine than its bland, yet servicable pre-rendered backgrounds.
Chrono Cross' sound is strong overall, with some notable exceptions. The music, composed once again by Chrono Trigger veteran Yasunori Mitsuda, is effective, but, overall, very different from Chrono Trigger's. The overall range of moods and styles invoked seems much more limited. While Trigger's soundtrack incorporated everything from the primitive beats of Ayla's theme to Robo's futuristic musical signature, and just about everything else in-between, Cross' soundtrack just seems so much more conservative and, well, mellow by comparison. The background music is sometimes so subtle as so seem like little more than ambient noise. Instruments seem to be limited mostly to some acoustic guitar, a few flutes, and some light strings. Overall, it almost has something of an ''easy listening'' feel.
There are some very outstanding tracks. The main theme played over the introductory movie, Scars of Time, is one example, but overall, Chrono Cross' soundtrack doesn't seem nearly as lively or diverse as Chrono Trigger's. Also, the music is sadly made less memorable by typically not being associated with particular characters. While every Chrono Trigger character had a distinctive musical theme, this idea was sadly left by the wayside in Chrono Cross. Would Magus' theme be so popular or memorable were it not so closely-associated with his character? Almost certainly not.
Finally, I should caution you, some of Chrono Cross' music is so gratingly annoying as to reduce strong men to tears. These tracks are few and far between, but just try listening to the S.S. Zelbess theme, or Nikki the ''rockin''' bard's guitar tune for more than a few minutes at a time. Pure pain. And rest assured, the game does expect you to listen to both these tracks for quite a few minutes at a stretch.
Not much to say here. Moving your character, conducting combat, and manipulating menus is a breeze.
Here's where the going gets rough. Chrono Trigger's pseudo-real-time battle system resolved combats right where you stood without the load times and the wasted time of moving the action to a Final Fantasy-esque battle mode. The basics of the Trigger battle system involved combined attacks involving multiple characters. This helped the game tremendously by fostering the idea that the characters were a real team, friends even, not just three random guys who happen to walk around together and get attacked a lot. The characters actually had chemestry together in battle. In Cross, this element is virtually eliminated. Only ten combined attacks exist, and most characters can't even participate in one at all. This is quite a shift from Trigger, where many individual characters could participate in more than ten combined attacks. Arguably, Square made a huge mistake by eliminating perhaps the most fun and unique RPG combat system in their history and replacing it with a tepid, uninspired Final Fantasy VII-VIII/Xenogears knock-off.
Magic and character skills are handled differently, as well. Unlike in Chrono Trigger, where characters were alotted a set number of Magic Points to power their unique spells and special attacks, Chrono Cross chooses to follow in the footsteps of the later Final Fantasy games by essentially making magic spells, called Elements here, a series of items that your character must equip in a fixed number of subscreen slots to use. This, I feel takes away far, far more from the characters and the overall experience than it adds. The brilliant thing about Chrono Trigger's magic system is that some characters were good at certain things and poor at others. Lucca, for example, could deal tremendous amounts of damage with her fire spells, but could simply never serve as a healer the way a character such as Frog or Marle could. Each character had distinct strengths and weaknesses. Reasons to use them over anyone else. Even with some characters being slightly better at using certain colors of Elements, the very fact that any character can cast any spell levels the playing field to a ridiculous extreme.
Overall, it's just another retread of the tired old Espers, Guardian Forces, or whatever you want to call them. Call me a cranky old-timer, but who's idea was making something as cool as magic just another item you equip, anyway? Again, the Chrono feel is totally abandoned, and for no noticable gain aside from some pretty 3-D graphics. Pity. It just isn't the same. Or as good.
Another source of concern is that characters are not even permited to use items without first equipping them as Elements. This is a very confusing and silly touch. Why should the ability to consume a healing capsule or container of poison antidote cost you one of your magic slots? It boggles the mind that this idea actually made it into the final game.
Overall, one word describes Chrono Cross' gameplay, and that word is ''generic.'' If only Square had realized that nothing in the Chrono Trigger formula was broken before then went to ''fix'' it.
3!? Ouch! Well, let me explain. First of all, no time travel. This is a big one. Time travel was the entire focus of the first Chrono Trigger. It can easily be argued that Chrono Cross didn't deserve the Chrono name for this reason alone. Chrono literally means time, in other words. Instead we have cross-dimensional travel. This, potentially, has a great deal of promise, as well. Ever see Sliders? Unfortunately, while Trigger gave us five distinct time periods to explore, ranging from prehistoric to futuristic, it essentially had five very disinct game worlds to explore, Cross, on the other hand, gives us only one alternate dimension. Cross' twin dimensions are also remarkably similar. Perhaps a bit too similar. Nobody ever confused 65,000,000 B.C. with 2300 A.D., after all. Sure, a certain place might be slightly different-looking, a few characters have different personalities, and so on, but for the most part, the alternate dimension idea is virtually squandered. Moreover, the two dimensions are so similar, that the player may easily confuse them at times. This is a sure sign that the concept was far from fully realized. Moreover, the game world is painfully small, representing a tiny series of islands and taking up only a few screens. Compared to Trigger, Cross' setting seems cramped and monotonous.
Regarding the characters themselves: It's hard to argue that any are as well-developed or used as their Trigger counterparts. There's a point where quality and quantity diverge and you have to bite the bullet and choose one or the other. Trigger chose quality. Cross chose quantity, and it shows. Each of Chrono Trigger's seven playable characters had a distinct musical theme, personality, and place in the long-term story. Crono, Marle, Lucca, Robo, Frog, Ayla, Magus. Any CT player thinks of them almost as friends. They are Chrono Trigger. With the 45 playable characters of Chrono Cross, simple logic and common sense indicates that each one can be expected to be around, oh, let's say 1/6 as well-developed and interesting. Many characters have a story that runs a few sentences or a ''personality'' that can be summed up in one. For example, here's Zoah's storyline and personality in one sentence: '''SPEAKS IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.'' That's it. That's all. No history, personality, or development whatsoever is even attempted. This is the case for easily two-thirds of Cross' characters. Frog or Magus these guys are just not. They're shallow and many join you seemingly on a whim after little introduction and never influence the plot in a meaningful way at all, simply serving as extra character portraits on your menu screen. Trigger = quality. Cross = quantity. The choices were just made that way. Even the ''main'' characters end up losing out for every second devoted to the other 35 or so. In the end, even potentially great characters like Kid, Karsh, and Glenn seem tragically underused and underdeveloped when compared with the Trigger crew. I'd rather have seven friends and fellow adventurers along than 45 bland cardboard placeholders. Let's just say that I don't see dozens of Internet sites crowded with Chrono Cross fanfiction anytime soon. Again, the Chrono spirit was ignored or betrayed.
Then, we have the plot. This is another problem. It's barely Chrono at all. A few brief mentions of the old characters and a few cameos from the supporting cast aside, it just seems so wrong to take the easy Final Fantasy route and ditch the majority of the previous game. It seems so lazy and arbitrary. The problem is especially bad in a Chrono sequel, as Trigger did have some of the best character interaction in and out of battle of any RPG ever made. Like I said before, the Trigger characters pretty much defined the game, not the other way around. The least Square could have done was take the route George Lucas did with his Star Wars sequel/prequels and including at least one old main character for ever new one introduced. Then, maybe Cross could have been the game that Trigger fans waited five long years for, instead of a virtually unrelated story with a few cheap cameos. In many ways, the Trigger cameos and plot elements seem almost like a weakness. Near the end of the game especially, the long, only semi-coherent dialogs that supporting characters are compelled to give to explain the supposed connection between the games seems forced, unconvincing, and often confusing. It seems almost like many of the ''revelations'' were crammed into the plot at the last minute and still don't fully mesh right with the other elements. In other words, most of the attempts to exploit Trigger characters and settings for nostalgia seem to fall flat or stick out like the proverbial sore thumbs. All they ever make me want to do is go back and play Chrono Trigger again!
Another small caution for Chrono Trigger fans: You may be quite upset at the way the game's designers attempt to resolve the fates of some of the original game's characters. In fact, you may be downright angry or just plain confused. I won't go into detail here, but anyone who enjoyed the first game is going to feel very cheated in this regard.
In conclusion, while Chrono Cross is a worthwhile RPG in its own right, it loses out on virtually all of the qualities that make its prequel a legend. The result is a game that is mediocre at best. Maybe next time, Square will regain their senses and remember how to make a truly great RPG again. Then, they'll go back to the Chrono Trigger core gameplay ideas and characters and give us the true sequel we've waited so long for and richly deserve.
Hey, I can dream, can't I?
Overall rating: 6
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 09/26/00, Updated 09/26/00
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