Review by Looneymaster
"An ambitious experiment at the very least"
Considered one of the greatest RPGs of all time, Chrono Trigger was a time-traveling adventure that has enthralled many a gamer, even today. Thus, the announcement of a sequel was a cause of both excitement and apprehension at the time. Even now, Chrono Cross is debated--some enjoy the game, while some absolutely loathe it. How does this controversial sequel stand out?
Chrono Cross begins 20 years after Trigger, in a sleepy little fishing village on the separate continent of El Nido. The game's protagonist, Serge, has nothing more to do then gather scales to make a necklace for his girlfriend--when all of a sudden, he finds himself in an entirely different world. As he finds out, it connects to a life-threatening danger he experienced as a child--in this world, he did indeed die from the experience, causing this world to be similar to his own world, yet containing key differences. Gathering together friends, foremost the rambunctious lady thief Kid, he begins a journey to find out the reason behind this split...
Chrono Cross's gameplay is similar to Chrono Trigger, with some key differences. The player, forming a party of up to three members, travels through both safe villages and enemy-infested areas. It is the battle system that is Cross' key difference and its largest feature.
Like Trigger, battles with enemies are not random, and are triggered via contact. In battle, instead of the standard ATB system, actions are determined by stamina. A character has three different attacks--weak, medium, and strong, each using up a different amount of stamina. A character may act as long as they have any stamina, which is recovered over time and through others attacking. Replacing magic is the concept of "elements." There are six categories of elements--yellow, green, red, blue, white, and black--of levels 1 through 8, that can be allocated to a character's element grid.
Each use of an element affects the field and turns it a different color. For example, a field can be all blue, or partly blue and partly red, or partly red, blue, and yellow. The more color in a field, the stronger an element's effects are. Each character also has an "innate" of one of those colors (ex: Serge is White, and Kid is Red) allowing them better use of that element. It also makes them both stronger and weaker against an opposite innate-foe--allowing them to inflict more damage, but receiving more damage in turn.
If that all sounds confusing, rest assured that Cross' battle system is very intuitive. It is easily the game's best feature, making a player think of what to do next in almost any action. Do you unleash all your attacks on an enemy? Or do you attack just enough to replenish a character's stamina? Adding to all those are different types of elements--elements that change a character's innate, inflict status ailments, or Summon a powerful creature when the one color covers the entire field. There are even trap Elements that allow you to steal what enemies cast. This expansive system makes sure that combat is never boring, especially since there are is no real leveling--certain boss fights will give the party a big stat increase.
Graphically, Chrono Cross is a very good looking PS1 game. The characters are well-defined (if blocky-looking by today's standards), areas are creative goldmines with good uses of color, and the FMVs are gorgeous. The music is one thing that even detractors of the game cannot decry--it is amazing. A vast array of tunes, from the pumping boss theme, to cheerful bagpipe music in Termina, to ominous dungeon music, to beautiful tunes that are deeply emotional. Standouts include Kid's theme, Marbule's song, and the utterly moving Reminiscence (played during emotional, introspective moments, of which there are plenty).
All these elements should make Chrono Cross a masterpiece, right? Welllll...
The one thing holding back Cross from greatness is its story--and unfortunately, for an RPG, that's a big issue. Cross' main concept (that of the fate of many "what ifs" that was briefly mentioned in Trigger) is a very interesting concept, but it serves more as a fun and interesting gameplay feature then as a satisfying story-telling device. Characters will stop to wax philosophic psychobabble, some of which is interesting (pay special attention to Harle during the Dimensional Vortex), some of which is meaningless, and some which is just irritating (the game's constant bombardment of how evil and filthy humanity is). And by the game's second disc, the plot becomes a complete mess, full of rushed events and huge series of exposition and saying what the game's moral is--if it has one.
Another commonly cited complaint about Cross is the huge array of characters, which number at 45 total. Kid is the biggest of them, but being a big part of the plot, her development and resolution is half poignant, and half a muddled waste. The characters function more as a way to introduced different innates, and as a sort of "collect-em-all", particularly since it's impossible to get them all on a single playthrough (thank goodness of New Game +). It is kind of fun recruiting them and looking for their techs, but there are simply too many characters. The game does its best, giving the majority of them at least one poignant scene (mostly involving their level 7 techs), but Trigger's smaller cast was simply more memorable and likable.
Chrono Cross is, if nothing else, an ambitious experiment. It has such a fun and unique battle system that it almost makes up for its plot mess. The game would have been a classic if more care had been given to the plot, but this experiment is still worth a try.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 10/13/11
Game Release: Chrono Cross (US, 08/15/00)
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