Review by Myzery_Clown

"A "cross" between tradition and innovation, but some may not prefer the mixture."

When the name Squaresoft is thrown around, 99.9% of the time the first topic of discussion will be somehow linked with the Final Fantasy series of role playing games. Rightfully so, as Square has made a massive franchise that stretches over numerous platforms and has to this day at least eleven titles and counting in its main series of games alone. However, after all the talk of the intricate plot of Final Fantasy VII, the controversial junction system of Final Fantasy VIII, or the utter greatness of Final Fantasy VI, the topic of discussion switches branches. In 1995, Square released Chrono Trigger on the SNES. Needless to say, Chrono Trigger was nearly infinitely successful, grasping players in a fun, direct story, easy but addicting gameplay, and other facets that made Chrono Trigger something that almost any preference of role player could appreciate. So, without question, a sequel was in the works, and thus Chrono Cross is born.

As many of you more familiar with the RPG genre are already aware of, Square's Final Fantasies have nothing more than subtle references linking them one to another. The Chrono games took a slightly different approach to this tradition. While Chrono Cross dove headlong into a complex, unpredictable tale of its own, it makes the game tie in with Chrono Trigger in ways that have an affect on the game more than one FF would to its sequel, but still manages to be understood by one who was unfortunate enough not to be able to experience Chrono Trigger. You, Serge, a youth from Arni Village, are suddenly transported to a parallel dimension. In this parallel dimension, Serge had died ten years ago as a boy. The quest originally starts out as you simply trying to figure out who, where, when, and what you are, and fix whatever changes were made when the dimensions crossed. However, as the game progresses, you will find yourself tying more into Chrono Trigger, particularly in the respect that Chrono Cross ties a few knots that Chrono Trigger left unfinished.

However, calling Chrono Cross's story a complex one would be an almost ludicrous understatement. While some of the obvious mysteries left behind by Chrono Trigger are solved through the twists and turns of Chrono Cross's plot, the subtle and minute references made to the game open up a new corridor of unanswered questions. On top of that, Chrono Cross throws in some unique twists to a confusing tale that go unsolved at the end of the game, and you are given a package that will still send questions racing through the fabrics of your mind even after the final credits have faded from sight. Some of Square's more recent Final fantasy's have left you wondering about specific things, yes, but no game will make a player come up with more questions and come up with more conflicting theories about just what fills in the holes in the story more than Chrono Cross. I find this to be an excellent aspect of a game, because if a story is told straight out with a conclusive ending, it leaves no room for your imagination to make the story what you as the player want to perceive it as. This is the reason why MMORPG's are so successful. They always have ''What if''
's. In the online role playing world, it's because the titles are constantly added to and changed. In Chrono Cross's case though, it is simply a perfect example of a complex story that can be seen a number of ways, thus leaving the epic open for theories, questions, and mysteries that will only help draw attention to a potential third installment.

Another key aspect in Chrono Cross is the 44 playable characters it boasts. Like many things in life, quality is what was needed in this instance rather than quantity. Most of the characters are simply backdrops to see a few more faces and names, and although some of them talk differently, their roles in a story are the same…Not much. For the most part, the same set of characters are the ones that you will be with during any major advancements in the plotline, and Square would probably have been better advised to simply take out the unimportant characters and spend more time developing those who meant something vital to the game's story itself.

When it comes to core gameplay, Chrono Cross also takes a much different approach than its older sibling. Instead of relatively pick up and play RPG elements, Chrono Cross tries one of the more innovative systems that has been featured in RPG's. The element system, as it Is popularly referred to, works in some ways like FFVII's materia system, but in other ways, it is completely different and individual. As you progress through Chrono Cross, you will come across items called elements. These elements are the core of the game, and without them, you will find yourself in a pickle early on in your adventure. Not only are these elements crucially important on their own, but they have all but replaced standard items as we know them. You have a massive collection of elements. These elements go in an element grid that each character has. As you gain stars, (obtainable through defeating bosses), your grid grows to allow for more slots. Each element is assigned a level ranging from one to eight, with lower elements dealing with standard magic like curing, support, and attacking, and the final two levels acting as summons. You place these elements in your grid to use them, and while you don't necessarily have to equip an element in its identical level on the grid, putting a level four element in a level five slot could change the effect the element will have.

On top of worrying over which level of elements you have, and contemplating which would work better for that last level six slot, Ultranova or Freefall, you must also consider element and character colors. Each element has a specific color, be it red, blue, yellow, green, black, or white. Each of these element colors has a basic theme, with red being fire and magma based elements, yellow being lightning and earth based elements, and so on. Each element also has a reverse element, which is where the characters come in. Each character in the game also has an assigned color. When the character uses an element that matches color with said character, the effects of the element are greatly strengthened. Serge, a white element character, would do more damage with Ultranova, a white based element, than a black elemental. In the same respect, that black elemental casting freefall, a black element spell, would prove to be more damaging than if Serge were to cast it. Moreover, when reversed elements are used against each other, the consequences are also greatly magnified. This means that when going up against a boss that is of a black element, you would be advised to bring white element based characters and a number of white elements. However, this tactic could prove to be risky, as the boss's black elemental attacks will greatly enlarge the damage done to those reversed, white element characters. This even spreads to physical attacks, as Serge will do a lot more damage to a black elemental character rather than a red elemental, and his attacks will do little to another white based character.

Most of the level five, six, and seven elements are also obtained in a rather innovative manner. The trap system, a system of capturing elements, is tested in Chrono Cross, and unfortunately, it doesn't pass with honors. You must buy or find elements called trap elements from a few locations or treasure chests along your quest. These are elements such as inferno trap, iceberg trap, and mother ship trap, with inferno, iceberg, and mother ship being desired elements you wish to add to your collection. You then must seek out an enemy who has said element and set a trap on them. If they use that element the trap refers to during the duration of the fight, you will trap the element and it will be added to your inventory. However, if not, you will not get the element, and you will lose the trap as well. This can prove to be both costly and time consuming, as you must buy each trap individually if you do not wish to spend extra money, and if you do buy a massive set of one trap to prepare for the trapping system, then you will lose some money even when you sell the unused traps. The other problem is that you have very little help verifying what enemies carry what elements to trap, which adds to the cost factor when it comes to traps. Without the aid of a strategy guide or someone who has already found the trap, you may find yourself using traps blindly on enemies hoping they use the attack. On top of all this, being that they are high level spells, the enemies will rarely use them, thus making a lot of the traps useless nine out of ten times.

However, surely you can't just sit back and crush opponents with Serge's Ultranova. That just wouldn't be right. No such luck, my friends. In battle, you will have a statistic referred to as stamina. This stamina determines what you can use in battle. If you use Ultranova, a level six element, six points will be taken off your stamina. Your stamina doesn't have to stay above zero, but if it does dip into negative numbers, you have no choice but to use stamina raising tactics before any more elements can be used. These stamina raising tactics very from attacking enemies physically to having your character defend when his/her turn comes around. As I said, not a pick up and play RPG, as trying to explain the full intricacies of the stamina system would make this review too long and dull for those of you who don't have more than a half hour spare time. Couple the stamina system with certain rules about the elements, including certain elements that can only be used once, and all elements can only be used once per battle, and Chrono Cross finds itself more strategic than one would think when exploring the surface of its mechanics. This does, in fact, prove to be a help to the game, as it makes learning the confusing areas of Chrono Cross's gameplay more rewarding and an enjoyable experience in the end. Patience is the key here, and it will save those who have it and slay those who don't.

Someone must've been in training to become a blacksmith at the offices of Square, because Chrono Cross also strays from the conventional buy and sell new weapons and armor system in favor of a remodeling system similar to that in Final Fantasy VIII. You find yourself raw materials through defeating enemies and then take them to a smith shop to have those materials modeled in to weapons, armor, and accessories…… For a price, of course. The only difference between Chrono Cross and Final fantasy VIII's weapon remodeling is that you can disassemble your weapons, armors, and accessories and put those now raw materials into upgraded items. Aside from that, it's very straightforward, with the only other curve being that if you kill enemies certain ways later in the game, you can find newer and more valuable items, mostly for making the game's final weapons, armor, and accessories.

In many ways, Chrono Cross's gameplay is very unique in the respect that it blends practiced methods and innovative concepts to make a truly different gameplay experience. Some things, like the trap system, didn't work out so well, whereas others, the element system (in most other situations) were definitely a nice change and were fun to play through this RPG with. In the end, it all depends on whether you are a fan of tradition or innovation, but even if there are aspects you frown upon, you will probably find one of Chrono Cross's many aspects that will appeal to you enough to keep playing, be it the story, characters, elements, or just the fun of the rather nonlinear exploration.

Chrono Cross's graphics are, as with most of Square's titles, a visual masterpiece for other games to learn from. The character designs are well done for the most part, with all of the game's important and playable characters created well, using realistic proportions to make their characters seem believable. The true designing joy comes in the enemies though, particularly the stronger enemies and bosses. Some well executed texture work has done a lot for Chrono Cross, making all of the bosses look either creepy, disgusting, or just plain intimidating. The spell graphics are also very well done, portraying imaginative animations and vibrant, bright effects that make all of the respective spells and attacks stand out brilliantly.

Perhaps Chrono Cross's true eye candy lies in two different areas though. First, the FMV's. These are beyond any doubt some of the Playstation's best FMV performances. What else is there to say? These FMV's are simply beautiful, and the way that they come at just the right times is also a testament to the genius behind these graphics. They aren't every five minutes or so like in other games, but instead will come at very important parts of the game where their true glory can be respected and appreciated by anyone who beholds them.

Chrono Cross's other visually stunning area is its environments. There isn't a dark nor lush feeling to the game, as it does a nice job of varying from place to place. Chrono Cross seems to have a tropical display to it, so a lot of the time, weather effects are nice and pleasant, but if you are in a situation that calls for a dark, dreary setting, the graphical presentation of that respective area will rise to the occasion excellently, displaying a dark and dreary setting, just as was requested. The attention to detail in these environments is brilliant, from the distant details in open grasslands to breathtaking lighting effects such as sunlight pouring through windows or credible reflection graphics in more closed in areas. These truly are the sparkling plume in Chrono Cross's graphical crown.

Chrono Cross's soundtrack is definitely one of the best I've ever heard, but for very different reasons then the ear pleasing scores of games like Xenogears or FFVII. Chrono Cross's soundtrack undoubtedly has deep roots in its prequel, which is unmistakably another outlet through which that desired nostalgia can flow freely. That being said, Chrono Cross does a fantastic job of coming up with many memorable and original tunes that are also very respectable in their own right, including ''Time's Scar'', the game's opener and one of my favorite songs in an RPG to this day, and the theme to Fort Dragonia, which is a long, and sometimes tedious dungeon. The fact that Chrono Cross was able to come up with music that didn't get stale or boring halfway through the dungeon is remarkable to say the least, and although not the entire soundtrack can match some of the more notable songs, it does a marvelous job in holding its own as well as remixing some Chrono Trigger favorites for the Chrono series's cult followers. One thing that must be considered when analyzing Chrono Cross's music is that its setting and use is a good deal of why it is excellent. The 68 song soundtrack, which I do own and enjoy frequently, isn't filled with track after track of moving or heart pounding pieces. Some songs on their own are quite bland actually. However, it is the role the music is put in during certain points in the story that makes it what it truly is. In short, Chrono Cross's true musical glory must be seen as the story also unfolds, as they go hand in hand for a truly moving package.

Chrono Cross's sound effects are admirable, although they take a backseat to the game's music. As is the case with most RPG's at this point, all the dialogue is read rather than spoken, but the other sound effects do a nice job of keeping substance in the audio category. The sound of Serge's swallow tearing relentlessly into enemy flesh is a sickening pleasurable one, as well as the ominous sound of raging fire eating up opposition, not to mention as well most of the other battle sounds. The spell sounds, I'm afraid to say though, begin to sound generic after a while, with a standard mix of low booms and crashes accompanying some of the less important spells. Whereas I can recognize some spells by sound alone, not very many of Chrono Cross's are memorable in the sound category. The out of battle sound also is rather dry and bland, with very little sound outside of battle. The standard dings and dongs that accomplice receiving items and navigating menus mostly fade into the background, and what little sound there is to match the game's out of battle events is not bad, just forgettable.

Chrono Cross isn't by any means a difficult game. The only swerve thrown in is that there will come a time and place where you will come across the occasional boss that is way ahead of the standard day at the office at that day. One particular boss was so difficult to me leading up to him for about the past hour that it almost made me give up. The game intentionally threw them in to keep the game's challenge up without requiring a whole lot of leveling, because do to the addition of gaining stars when you defeat bosses, there really isn't much of a way to enhance your characters in random battles. If you somehow are inadequately prepared when you come to a boss, unfortunately for you, there isn't a whole lot you can do. Thankfully, the game does a nice job in making sure that you shouldn't ever find yourself in that sort of situation.

The New Game+ mode adds literally hours of gameplay to Chrono Cross. With over ten endings in all, Chrono Cross always seems to have something new. However, you must take into account that these are a few new twists and endings, not a new story, and thus the story will begin to get very bland the second or third time through. Finding someone who actually played through the game ten times or more to see all the endings is almost critically insane, as no game ever will probably be fun enough to play through ten times.

In closing, the fact that Chrono Cross mixes a lot of tradition with innovation is one that a potential consumer must be aware of. For those who just can't decide what game to get, Chrono Cross should be a fitting choice. Any RPG fans definitely apply, and any who just like the occasional role player, you're in for a treat as well. However, you must be informed that Chrono Cross is a game that'll require your undivided attention in places when it comes to both story and gameplay, and you may not like all its new ideas. It's a ''cross'' between tradition and innovation, yes, but many would rather have one or the other as opposed to a blend of both. However, when you look past that, Chrono Cross, while not being the successor to Chrono Trigger it was claimed to be, is an advisable gaming experience that you shouldn't miss out on.
Final Score: 8.7/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/15/02, Updated 06/23/02

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