Radical dreams come true.
My review begins with a story. Last semester I decided to borrow Chrono Cross from a friend. I'd owned it at one point but had only gotten through about 3/4 of the game before distraction set it and I moved on. As an avowed fan of Chrono Trigger, however, I knew I had to go back and play through it at least once. I decided to start playing through it again a few weekends before finals week, with mounds of papers waiting to be finished. "Oh, I'll just start playing for a little while." After a few hours, coming up for air and a little food, perhaps, I had a D'oh moment and realized I had no PS1 memory card to save with. Oh. I was faced with a dilemma -- stop playing and wait 'til I could grab a memory card from home, OR keep playing and risk losing all my work in one mishandled boss fight.
15 hours later I saved for the first time. I've never been stuck so hard on everything about a game, unable to put the controller down, and I have to say that Chrono Cross, to me, has to be one of the best sorta-sequels out there. Because that's the thing -- it's not exactly a sequel to Chrono Trigger. There's no continued storyline and little but hints and winking references to old characters to link the two games. As opposed to untangling the web created in the original, Chrono Cross simply pulls back and shows us a different portion of the web, a new set of characters and plotlines with some intriguing connections to the old world we know and love. But I'll try to explain my love for the game by addressing four main points: story, gameplay, visuals and audio.
Chrono Cross presents a deep story riddled with lovable characters and references that will inspire a few "oh shit" moments for fans of Chrono Trigger. The triangle created by the three main characters -- Serge, Kid and Lynx -- only deepens as the story progresses, offering a complex view of personalities and multiple identities that can even be a little overwhelming at times. The mutiple timelines offer a fascinating view of reactions to the adventure found in Chrono Trigger while building a world that can exist entirely on its own.
One of the ways in which Cross succeeds most brilliantly is in the use of supporting characters. With a possible playable cast of 44+ party members, it's easy to imagine that the game could quickly be bogged down in throwaway characters with little to offer in depth (and, undeniably, there are a few that toe the line). Square manages to avoid this by offering the player the opportunity to explore the worlds of characters like Fargo or the Acacia Dragoons and provides an intriguing look at personality development through the use of the alternate dimension. If you want to find all the characters you can and flesh out the world a little bit, the opportunity is there; and if you just want to stick to the main storyline, hey, that's fine too. There's plenty there to keep you occupied. The game keeps you guessing about the main threat throughout the story, and the way the mythos from Chrono Trigger is interwoven provides plenty to digest.
In a sort of pseudo-take a turn based battle system, Chrono Cross gives us two exciting developments -- the stamina gauge and the element grid. The stamina gauge depletes as you take actions, divided between three levels of physical attacks and elemental abilities, and forces you to manage the limitied elements that each charcater has available. Building up power through physical attacks allows you to use higher and higher levels of abilities that you've assigned to the element grid, and the complete control over the grid's construction offers awesome levels of character customization and development.
Though Chrono Cross does feature a few Double and Triple-Tech abilities like in Trigger, they are sadly few in number. Perhaps the number of possible character combinations was intimdating to Square, but it is one way in which the original performs far better. This game makes up for it in the sheer number of strategies available to the player through the use of different characters and elements, however, providing a rich combat experience that stays entertaining. Perhaps most enjoyable is the "Star" system that replaces levels and mostly eliminates the idea of grinding. Characters only gain stars through boss fights, and while there are a certain number of stat bonuses that can be achieved outside of boss combat, the game never makes it necessary to repetitively kill mosters in the same area simply to progress.
The world map and alternate dimension system provide a great way to keep game content fresh through the exploration of new possibilities. It's truly a joy to be able to explore two sides of the same world and the game keeps it a fairly simple process.
This section will be short. Chrono Cross is an original Playstation game, and as such it really can't be argued that the graphics stand up against the newer games on the market. However, they are far from unbearable, and the fresh and unique monster and character designs combined with beautiful background settings do make it a visually pleasing game. I would kill for an update of this on 360, but the graphics certainly aren't abd enough to turn anyone away. The cinema scenes are also very well-done, some of my favorites from the game world.
I've never been a huge game music buff, but there's something about the music in this game that's irresistible. Mutiple overworld themes and a sometimes-cheery, sometimes-surprisingly-moody soundtrack draw you right into the world. Time's Scar is one of the themes I can throw on repeat and listen to for hours, and the majority of the game's songs are paired very well with content. Arni Village sounds like light, a-little-tribal village music, and the skipping, mysterious tones in Fort Draconia nail the feeling of exploration and mystery.
Overall, Chrono Cross is easily one of my favorite games of all-time. With a rich supporting cast of characters and a plot that weaves itself in and out of the Chrono Trigger mythos, the story will get you hooked. The possibilities inherent in character combinations and the element grid will keep you playing. Visuals have aged surprisingly well, and the soundtrack will complete your immersion and throw you right down into Serge's shoes. It's a great package and an RPG experience that stands up with anything in this generation. Here's to hoping the franchise will someday be revived by Square.