Review by Happy Matt
"Let's begin our journey through two parallel worlds!"
Chrono Cross is the second game in Square's highly successful Chrono Series. The development team of this series is the same people who also developed the best-selling game Xenogears. Chrono Cross is a Japanese styled console RPG, developed for Sony's PlayStation. It is compatible to the dual shock analogue controller and requires a single block of memory for saving the game.
The event in Chrono Cross occurs in the same world as Chrono Trigger, at around the same time period as the main time period in Chrono Trigger. You control Serge, a youth born in a village located in one of the largest islands in the South Sea. Early in the game, Serge would get sucked into a dimensional vortex and would arrived to a parallel world that is similar, but yet different to his home world. He is supposed to be dead in the parallel world. In the parallel world, our hero will meet a mysterious girl called Kid. Seeing her in that indecent costume, Serge turned all red and... just kidding. Together, they began a journey to uncover the mystery behind the two parallel worlds.
Chrono Cross features some of the best graphics in modern games. In fact, the graphics are so good that it is very difficult to imagine that they are actually generated by the old PlayStation. While high quality CG FMVs are also featured in this game, they are not what impressed me (unlike Final Fantasy VIII). In Chrono Cross, the most impressive graphics are the ones that are featured in the game itself.
The world map and the field maps are drawn in colourful pre-rendered polygons and / or carefully layered texture backgrounds. The standards of these pre-rendered backgrounds are of the highest quality. While they are drawn in the greatest details, lighting and shadowing are also done properly. The use of bright colours enhances the mood of the game, giving it the ultimate fantasy look.
Characters and battle backgrounds are drawn in fully renderable polygons. (Unlike Chrono Trigger, battles are fought in a separate screen in Chrono Cross.) While the PlayStation has usually been associated with blocky polygonal graphics, the ones featured in Chrono Cross are surprisingly smooth. In fact, it is so good that even the facial features of the characters are smooth and properly animated. All 3D graphics in Chrono Cross are drawn in much detail with properly modelled lighting and complete with good animations.
And it is fast as well. While the graphics in this game is arguably more beautiful than the ones featured in, say, Final Fantasy VIII, the loading time is nearly non-existence. In any case, the loading time is so much better than most RPGs we see recently. Such beautiful graphics, combined with a fast loading time, I can only say that the graphics engine in Chrono Cross is of the highest quality.
Music is excellently composed in this game. Like Final Fantasy VIII, the number of tracks in this game is huge. The tunes are different everywhere. And I can only say that the music is as ''colourful'' as the graphics - and the tunes are so carefully composed that each will blend into its colourful background. Other sound effects are also nicely implemented. Sound of footsteps, background sounds of a forest, sound of magic spells, etc are all well presented.
However, the game would have been much better if the characters are not completely muted. It would have been nice if the characters talk in the FMVs. It would have been nicer if the characters would make some sound or say something when they are in battle. For example, they could have said something when they attack, miss an attack, get hit or when using a particular skill / magic. In my opinion, the voices of the characters can make a difference - you can grow to love / hate a character simply because you (dis)like his / her voice. But no, characters in Chrono Cross don't say anything, even if they have received a mortal blow. They have included voices in Xenogears. Why didn't they do the same in Chrono Cross?
Like any other RPG, the game is divided into exploration and battle.
As in other console RPG, one can probably divide exploration into world map and field map levels. As in Chrono Trigger, the world in Chrono Cross is still a pretty safe place to travel. So you will not encounter any enemies on the world map while you travel through the world to different locations. Field maps can either be towns or dungeons. In towns you will find the usual places - inns, shops and bars and in dungeon you will find monsters and treasure chests lying around. As in Chrono Trigger, you do not encounter random fights. You will only be engaged in a fight if you touch the monsters that are roaming around while you are exploring the dungeons. Most events will occur while you are exploring in field map level. As usual, you will gather information to open up more areas and you will get to know more about the plot. You will also be able to recruit many characters during your explorations. There are over 40 player characters in Chrono Cross. (You can have 3 active members in your party at any time.) You will not be able to recruit all the characters in a single game, because the game branches according to the choices you make. Fortunately, you can start a New Game+ after you have completed the game once.
You have access to the main menu during exploration. In a sense, the main menu looks pretty like the one in Xenogears, with the commands arranged in an arc. The available commands are Status, Element, Equip, Item, Config and File. In the Status sub-menu, you will see the statistics of each party member, as well as his / her polygonal figure. (It is the same one in battle.) I think it is quite well presented and it is definitely better than seeing just a 2D portrait of each of the characters. Element and Equip are for equipping Elements and Equipment respectively. Item is a sub-menu for viewing key items and their descriptions. Like Xenogears, you can load saved files at any time, but you can only save at the world map or at save points.
Of course, console RPG is usually about its battle system. In this sense, Chrono Cross is totally unique. The game features a new battle system known as the ''Cross Sequence System''. Unlike Chrono Trigger, the system in Chrono Cross is not an active time system. Cross Sequence is essentially a more advanced turn-based system.
Each character has a ''Stamina Point'' counter as well as a ''Power Level''. At the beginning of a battle, each character will always start with 7 Stamina Points and his / her Power Level will be at zero. When you have control of your characters, you can choose to attack, defend or escape. The ''Element'' command will also be available when the character's Power Level is raised. You can use any character you like, provided that he / she has a positive Stamina. (Obviously, you won't be able to use a character who is paralysed or dead.)
When you attack, you will have a choice of weak, medium or heavy. This is rather like Xenogears. A weak attack does little damage, but it only consumes a single Stamina Point and usually has the highest hit rate. A successful weak attack will raise the character's Power Level by 1. Medium and strong attacks do more damage, but usually have lower hit rates. A medium attack consumes 2 Stamina Points while a strong attack consumes 3. A successful attack will raise the Power Level by 2 (medium) or 3 (strong). When the Power Level is raised, the Element command will open up, and the hit rates will usually increase. (Maximum hit rate is 99%, and you can still miss... The hit rates will go back to normal when the character loses his concentration on the attack.)
An interesting thing to note is that you will need at least a Stamina Point to defend. But the character will usually recover his / her Stamina more quickly while defending, and he / she will receive only a fraction of any damage done to him / her. Another interesting fact is that it is incredibly easy to escape in Chrono Cross. In fact, it almost always works. You can even escape from boss fights! So you can just run away and regroup yourself if you are facing a really difficult boss while your characters are dying.
Once a character has acquired some Power Level, he / she will be able to use the equipped Elements. The Element system is Chrono Cross's equivalence for magic, items and special skills. Each Element has a level, and you equip them before battle using the main menu. Using an Element in battle consumes 7 Stamina Points and a number of Power Levels according to the level of the Element. Each element is equipped in a slot. The number / level of slots depend on the character. Each spell / special skill can only be used once in each battle, but a ''consumable'' Element can be used more until it runs out. (You can have 5 in a slot.) Most Elements can be obtained from shops. Most can be obtained from enemies. But some higher level ones can only be obtained from bosses / treasure chests. In addition, each character has 3 special Element, one at level 3, one at level 5 and one at level 7. (Some of these special skills can be combined between characters like in Chrono Trigger. But sadly the combo system in Chrono Cross does not seem to have as important a role as in Chrono Trigger.) The Element system is quite good as it gives you much freedom in customising the characters. You can even equip Elements at ''wrong'' slots. For example, Fireball is a level 1 Element. But you can put it in a level 3 slot. Your Fireball will become Fireball+2 and it is now a level 3 Element for all intends and purposes.
Each character, enemy, or Element belongs to a particular ''elemental nature''. They are Black, White, Red, Blue, Yellow and Green where Black is against White, Red is against Blue and Yellow is against Green. Obviously, a character will be better at Elements that belong to his / her own nature. A target will suffer more damage from attacks of the opposing elemental nature, but will suffer less from attacks of the same elemental nature. (Unlike, say Xenogears, all enemies have their own elemental natures, and so you will never be in a situation where all your magic attacks will get absorbed.)
Unlike Chrono Trigger, your characters do not have levels. After battle, you characters will occasionally get a boost in their individual statistics. (This includes the number of Element Slots.) In other words, characters will advance individually. You will normally get much increase in characters' attributes after boss fights. With the exception of Serge, all the other characters will have to depend heavily on weapon, armours and accessories.
The blacksmith system for equipment in Chrono Cross is a very advanced version of the weapon upgrade system of Final Fantasy VIII. While the system in Final Fantasy VIII was quite limited, it has been extended very much in Chrono Cross. As in Final Fantasy VIII, you will be able to gather ingredients from fighting enemies or from treasure chests. However, the knowledge about the new equipment is not gathered from the magazines, but are dependent on your progress through the game. Once you have the required ingredients, you will be able to make new equipment by going to the blacksmiths in the various towns. Unlike Final Fantasy VIII, you will not lose your old equipment. In fact, your characters will not equip the new equipment until you do so in the main menu. Better still, your old and unused equipment can then be dissolved back into ingredients at the same blacksmith.
I think the game is built solidly in nearly every aspect. But I do have a few complaints. I do not like the large number of player characters. In my opinion, it is unnecessary. I simply cannot handle all of them - many will end up in my character list but never in my active party. For a game that can only have 3 party members, I think 12 - 18 player characters (three for each element) will probably be more sensible if they want to feature a large cast.
Another thing I don't like is the character advancement system. I still am not sure whether the statistics are increased by random or by an internal experience system. If it is a random system, then I think it is simply bad. But if it uses internal experience, then I think the statistics should have been more transparent - so that I can have a better idea if I want to train my characters properly.
In conclusion, the game is excellent in most aspects. It does have some flaws, but nothing major to reduce the fun. In fact, I think it is what makes the game stand out as a unique experience and it leaves room for improvements for the next game. So I give the game these scores: Story 9/10, Graphics and Loading Time 10/10, Music and Sound 7/10, Game-play 9/10, and Overall 9/10.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/30/00, Updated 01/30/00
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