- Get Chrono Crossed: Part #1: Ten Out Of Ten? Review It Again!
- Get Chrono Crossed: Part #2: This Game Might Be The Weirdest Sequel To A Beloved Video Game Ever Made
- Get Chrono Crossed: Part #3: This Game Was Kingdom Hearts Before Kingdom Hearts!
Part 21: Why Do So Many Characters Get Long-Winded Story Arcs?
I have not spent as much time with Chrono Cross's optional characters and story arcs throughout this series as I probably should have. One difficulty in covering these storylines is that it is impossible to see all of them in a single playthrough. Chrono Cross prompts you to decide on diverging story branches throughout the first half of the game, and your choices can have massive implications. For example, I never had Glenn but instead had Razzly the Green Fairy. The second and more problematic issue is the sheer breadth of quality with Chrono Cross's optional characters. I have a real hard time mustering the energy to provide an introspective look at a character like Skelly, considering all his final character arc culminates in is him crying over a potential lost love interest while eating spaghetti. I also got Draggy and watched him cry over the skeletal remains of his mother. These are scenes I saw, and I cannot unsee them. Nonetheless, I struggle to get passionate about either because the one-off nature of the characters makes it impossible to get fully invested in anything the game does with them.
There were, however, a handful of exceptions worth commending. The party members that stuck out to me the most were Karsh and Riddel. Both had interconnected backgrounds, which culminated in a rather spectacular final scene involving the Masamune. In both cases, the game even involves their diverging fates between the two dimensions. In the case of Karsh, his Home World counterpart is dead, which makes reconnecting him with Zappa, his father, in the Home World a poignant moment. The more critical aspect of Karsh's character development comes when you re-explore the Isle of the Damned. Once there, Solt and Peppor accuse Karsh of murdering the last owner of the Einlanzer, Dario. You discover Dario, Glen, and Karsh all trained together to become Acacia Dragoons when they were children. Also, in a continuation of that flashback, Karsh is heartbroken when Riddel and Dario announce their desire to marry as he had unfulfilled feelings for Riddel.
Because everything ties back to the Masamune, there's a stable pace with Karsh's past. We discover Dario attempted to wield the cursed sword, but it quickly corrupted him. Karsh defends himself against an enraged Dario, and depending on the dimension, he either slays Dario or injures him. Then we have Riddel, Dario's fated lover. Riddel spends the better part of ten hours arising to nothing more than the usual damsel in distress archetype. When we first encounter her, Kid holds a knife to her throat. Our second meeting involves the player rescuing her from Norris. However, when Riddel finally joins your party, she shows a side to herself you have yet to see. Riddel is independent and can hold her own in conversations as well as combat. More importantly, she implores Karsh to follow up on a rumor that Dario might still be alive. I have been told the final battle against the Masamune is better if you have Glenn, but alas, I had Razzly. I do know that Karsh and Riddel have unique lines of dialogue should they be with you as you attempt to excise the evil spirit in the Masamune.
After you jog Dario's memory and defeat him, the Chrono Trigger characters Masa and Mune chime in and surmise how they went from being Frog's best weapon to an evil devil sword. And before you ask, they admit this happened because the two of them were "sleeping on the job." Their older sister appears, out of nowhere by the way, and fuses the Masamune with Serge's original weapon, the Sea Swallow, to create the "Mastermune." Then, Riddel professes her love for Dario once more, who responds by promising to rebuild Viper Manor. Should you reconnect with Dario before reaching the game's "point of no return," you discover he plans to convert the villa into an orphanage. It's a fun storyline to explore, and I strongly recommend it should you personally take the time to play Chrono Cross. However, and I hate to repeat this gimmick once again, but this might have worked better as part of a self-contained story in a different game.
Part 22: Disc Two Is Fucking WILD!
Throughout this series, I have warned you. I have warned you that you are not ready to learn how Chrono Cross "bridges the gap" between itself and its predecessor, Chrono Trigger. One cannot prepare themselves for this, and even Chrono Cross veterans can be forgiven for either blacking out this part of the game's story or forgetting it entirely. All I can say is that the moment you pop in disc two of Chrono Cross, . If you enjoy the character recruitment mechanic, dialogue choices, or light-hearted adventuring in Chrono Cross, don't play Disc Two. All of that shit completely ceases to exist, and the game even hard pivots its tone and style to match the wild direction it is going towards by the time you reach its ending. That said, things start relatively straightforward. When Serge and company enter the Sea of Eden, they find a massive triangular water monument jutting from the landscape with shrines on each corner. Each shrine contains a boss you need to defeat before continuing with the next part of the level.
Eventually, your troupe of characters finds themselves in the "Chronopolis Military Research Center." Beyond the facility's robotic defensive measures, you can interact with the ghosts that inhabit the institute. Many of these apparitions spew incomprehensible technobabble, whereas others reveal how Chrono Cross connects to Chrono Trigger. It is worth mentioning how much of this dialogue is entirely skippable as a majority of the ghosts do not need to be interacted with to continue the story. However, many of you are here to learn how the fuck these two worlds interact, and I'm going to try my best to explain everything, but there are parts of this lore that make no sense whatsoever. First, let's start with why the characters of Chrono Trigger never mentioned El Nido or the world of Chrono Cross at any point. Well, it turns out that 10,000 years ago, El Nido did not exist. However, an artificial being, known as FATE, willed it into existence after gaining control over the elemental powers of the universe. Yup, this game gets metaphysical!
What does that have to do with the research facility? According to the game, the original inhabitants of the Chronopolis Military Research Center were a collection of people who lived in the timeline where Crono successfully defeated Lavos. Following the destruction of Lavos, these people worked on making a new continent for a technological super lord named "FATE." FATE is or was powered by the Frozen Flame, and its functions were at one point disturbed fourteen years ago when "a boy came into contact with the Flame on the night of the storm," which we can safely assume is when Serge's father attempted to heal Serge after being poisoned by a panther. Now, I know what some of you might be asking right now. What about those weird dragons? Well, those dragons are descendants of the Reptites that Ayala defeated in the main timeline of Chrono Trigger. It turns out that the Reptites exist in an alternate timeline and have to be kept at bay by FATE because they are super angry that they were made extinct in the main Chrono Trigger-Chrono Cross timeline. The Reptites cannot beat FATE but can create an alternate dimension where dragons control the continent of El Nido. We also discover that the timeline/dimension in which Chrono Trigger exists is called the "Keystone Dimension."
Are you confused? Well, get ready for even MORE convoluted nonsense because we need to talk about the "Counter-Time Experiment." According to a random ghost, there's a reason why the Chronopolis Military Research Center currently exists during Serge's time when it should exist 10,000 years in the future. Many years ago, there was an experiment where the people of the future, who created El Nido with the help of FATE, attempted to use the Frozen Flame to control time. Their experiment failed and set off a chain of events known as the "Time Crash," where the future people are flung into the past. After accepting their place in the past, the facility's inhabitants began reseeding the continent of El Nido with the support of FATE. Speaking of FATE, upon interacting with a random computer terminal, you discover that FATE designed the "Records of Fate" (i.e., the save crystals) as an instrument of mind control. That's right, I wish I were kidding.
Part 23: Don't Tempt FATE!
But who created FATE or even this military research facility? It turns out this facility was founded by Belthasar, the motherfucking "Guru of Reason" for the Kingdom of Zeal! Using advanced technology, Belthasar detected the two dimensions in which El Nido exists and used both to reestablish humanity. However, Belthasar disappeared at some point, leaving FATE and the rest of the research team to their own devices. Around this point, FATE is revealed to be a supercomputer whose purpose is to prevent humanity from experiencing any catastrophic outcomes as it repopulates El Nido. Unfortunately, FATE lost complete control over the Home World with the formation of the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is an alternate timeline where Lavos is successful in destroying the universe of Chrono Trigger. This becomes a possible outcome for humanity because of a storm that temporarily disturbed the functions of FATE and also sent Serge's father to Chronopolis, which is why Miguel ends up in the Dead Sea as FATE tasks him with protecting the Frozen Flame. Does any of this make sense? If not, too bad, because there's more lore to digest!
And that's just the first part of the research facility! Eventually, you find a massive capsule that suspiciously looks like the device that contained Jenova's head in Final Fantasy VII, but this time with the words "PROJECT KID" emblazoned on top of it. Upon entering the building, Serge finds Lynx presiding over an unconscious Kid. Lynx then explains that when Serge's father brought Serge to Chronopolis, the Frozen Flame found him and became attached to his soul. As a result, the research facility was thrown into the past, and FATE began to malfunction. FATE's technical issues also come from a circuit board that contains Robo's soul, who, by the way, was destroyed to make the FATE supercomputer. Robo ensured that only Serge would be able to attune to the Frozen Flame, hence why Lynx needs to assume Serge's form. So, Robo is dead, but in a final display of rebellion, fucked over the computer controlling humanity, which in turn, was trying to ensure humans wouldn't wage wars or start global warming. So yeah, Chrono Cross brings back Robo for a whole ten seconds so is that he can tell Serge to kill FATE. That's right,
But what about Lynx? Well, it turns out Lynx is an organic extension of FATE. After Lynx lays out his master plan and returns the Frozen Flame to FATE, he merges with the computer and becomes a SHODAN-looking super boss. I will say, the FATE boss model is AMAZING! It is one of the most well-detailed 3D models I have ever seen in a PS1 game, and it is also one of the best-animated bosses I have ever seen from this era. It fully reacts to taking damage in real-time and has distinct animations for its attacks and special abilities. After defeating the abominable Lynx x FATE hybrid, Kid awakens and jumps on top of the receptacle that once held the Frozen Flame. And before you ask, the story is content with not addressing the whole "Project Kid" shit for another five hours. She is confronted by Harle, who fucked off for a while but is here to set off the story's next series of events. Harle stops Kid from destroying the Frozen Flame and commands the elemental dragons of El Nido to reawaken. Seeing an opportunity to regain control of the continent following the defeat of FATE, they fuse with Harle, who is dramatically revealed to be a dragon in hiding. Does the game hint or foreshadow at any point that Harle is a dragon? NOPE! It drops this plot twist on you with little to no pretense.
This fusion act summons the "Terra Tower," which bulges out from the ocean. Terra Tower is a relic from Dinopolis and from the dimension in which Ayala did not defeat the Reptites. The Reptites in this alternate timeline evolved into dragons which mastered the ability to travel across dimensions and time. However, before that evolution takes place, the Reptites declared war on Chronopolis. Terra Tower was sent by these "Dragonians" to house and assist the Dragon God in its fight against the humans that arrived in El Nido via Chronopolis. Chronopolis won the war against the dragons and Reptites, and FATE separated the Dagon God into six parts. With the defeat of FATE, the dragons attempt to use the Frozen Flame to destroy humanity and make the timeline in which the Reptites defeat humanity the reality for the Keystone Dimension. Now, all of this might sound absurd, but the craziest part is that this is a sub-plot. All of this dragon-based drama on Terra Tower is
Part 24: Lucca's Orphanage Is The Best Part Of This Game (And It's Not Even Required)
The rest of your party takes the whole "Harle was a dragon all along" news rather well. Whoever your supporting party members might be, they surmise aboard the S.S. Invincible that Serge likely needs to deal with the dragons on Terra Tower. The tower is where the Frozen Flame currently resides, but what the long-term goal is on what Serge is expected to do with the Frozen Flame is anyone's guess. Chrono Cross has previously been guilty of what I like to call a "jingling toy key act." It only knows how to string together its disparate and tonally inconsistent set pieces using MacGuffins and nothing else. The writing is behaving no different to a mother trying to stop a crying baby by jingling neon-colored plastic keys. The issue here is that the story has used the Frozen Flame as a plot device for over ten hours, and we are none the closer to understanding why it needs to be used in the first place. Yes, Serge is prophesized to bring forth the Apocalypse should he not capture the legendary item in question. But we still have no clue as to what malevolent evil is behind all of the various schemes seeking to thwart Serge's efforts or even what level of agency Serge's quest needs to have.
One person, however, is notably absent on the S.S. Invincible: Kid. You eventually discover Kid has lapsed into a coma, with Radius attempting to resuscitate her at Hermit's Hideaway. If you complete the side quest involving the Masamune, Masa and Mune return and reveal Kid is subconsciously stuck in the past. They offer to send Serge to deal with whatever is causing Kid to remain in her stupor. Upon entering Kid's dreams, you witness the trauma of her watching her orphanage be burned to the ground by Lynx. I get why this might sound hokey on paper. Chrono Cross's central theme involves traveling dimensions rather than Chrono Trigger's motif involving time travel. It also does not help this moment is an obscure callback to Radical Dreamers, a game that most people who play Chrono Cross are likely not to know even exists. Likewise, it is another example of Chrono Cross withholding a significant character moment behind a poorly communicated set of criteria. But, fuck it.
The level starts during the middle of Lynx's massacre. The orphanage is on fire, with only a handful of its residents still alive. However, upon reviewing a handful of notes and some furniture, you discover Lucca was the owner of this establishment. Gato's dying words are a plea for Serge to do whatever he can to stop the slaughter. As you frantically try to save the survivors, you look over heart-wrenching drawings and love letters to Lucca by the orphans she cared for, a younger version of Kid included. Then, to your horror, you learn you are too late to save Lucca from being murdered by Lynx, but Serge still has a chance to save Kid. As you snatch Kid in the nick of time, she weeps in Serge's clutches and begs him to explain why this has happened. It is one of the few times when the game takes advantage of Serge being a mute protagonist, as his silence is the only logical answer to such a question. When Serge returns to the present time, Kid reawakens and, if allowed to interact with Luccia, gains a final letter from Lucca. It's a poignant moment and somewhat frustrating, as it is the only bit of foreshadowing the game does regarding Kid's heritage. Lucca's letter explains to Kid that she has yet to learn her "true name," and someone extraordinary is connected to her past.
Here, you get an idea of what Chrono Cross should have been in the first place. Much like Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross provides its best storytelling moments when characters that feel deeply connected to a shared storyline convey a tragedy or trauma that echos tragedies or traumas found in other party members. If anything, it makes the connection between Kid and Lucca even stronger as watching the destruction of Kid's orphanage strikes the same emotional tone as your attempt to save Lucca's mother in Chrono Trigger. Watching Kid weep over the remnants of her childhood home as well as the murder of her most vital parental figure hits harder than any of the shit involving FATE or the dragons. And for the most part, this is one of the few times when the dimensional shifting mechanic works in service of the story. What we learn about Kid's past is likely something she would never share with Serge through the ordinary course of the story. That aside, the work done with Kid highlights to me how little Chrono Cross benefits from its Suikoden-styled party system. Other than Kid, there aren't many opportunities for Chrono Cross to weave its characters, even the required party members, to its central narrative.
Finally, it's night and day when you compare how Chrono Cross uses Robo versus Lucca. With Robo, Chrono Cross has him speak a few lines to tie an element of Chrono Trigger to itself. As a creator, I respect the brass balls needed to off a beloved character for the sake of the story at hand. However, Robo's death left a bad taste in my mouth, whereas Lucca's sacrifice felt warranted. The events surrounding Lucca's death helped us better understand one of the key characters in Chrono Cross. Again, the only criticism I have is how the orphanage and letter scenes are optional. If you missed my earlier hints, knowing what the fuck is up with Kid is what Chrono Cross is all about! There are only two scenes in the entire game that remind you of this fact, and both are entirely missable. The first takes place after dealing with the Dwarves at the fairy forest but ONLY if you did not collect the Hydra Humor. What ensues there is a quiet campfire between Serge and Kid in which Kid talks about why she wishes to kill Lynx in the first place. The second is this scene involving the orphanage. Who the FUCK thought it was a good idea to leave necessary foreshadowing and character development behind side quests?!
Part 25: Getting The Good Ending Is Complete Bullshit!
It's hard to imagine, but entering Terra Tower represents Chrono Cross's proverbial point of no return. Once you enter it, there's no going back to tie up loose ends. If any character moments have not yet expired, now is the time to do them. For me, I completed a handful more than the ones I have already hinted at before making a final push to be done with the game. I made no effort to collect the final tech abilities for any characters unless completing their character arcs was the last part of the process. The word "nice" perfectly conveys my overall feelings about what I witnessed. Characters like Nio-Fio, Funguy, and Skelly have silly capstone scenes that do nothing to impact the overall story adversely unless the prospect of ridiculous fanservice makes your skin crawl. Other characters like Steen or Orlha are introduced so late in the game it is impossible to feel invested in what the game conveys. While on the subject of Orlha, I was shocked to see how much effort was put into her final character moment. After she demos her kung-fu skills, you discover her sister has terminal cancer, and upon her passing, her ghost sends Orlha a final parting message about how to live her best life. I was astounded at how coherently and earnestly the game tells this entire subplot. Where was this creative self-discipline when it came to the main storyline?
What kills me, and I discussed this briefly in the first episode, are the characters you think should get their due but do not. For one thing, any character that could shed more light on Serge's life gets shafted. Serge's mother, on paper, should relay more information about his father or the events leading to his fateful journey to Chronopolis. Unfortunately, that never happens. The same could be said about Leena, Serge's childhood friend. If she's in your party, you fuck off to a beach and croon about the good old days. I know the standard excuse for characters like Leena coming across as underbaked is to point out how they are optional. Many of the characters I previously highlighted as being the game's better ones are required. That said, there are plenty of cases where the game spends countless hours contextualizing missable party members or NPCs, so I don't buy that excuse at all. Look at Glenn and think about how much time the game spends building up his backstory! Simply put, the developers bit off more than they could chew with the massive cast of characters they put in Chrono Cross, and that leads to an incredibly uneven experience depending on your early to mid-game choices. As someone who killed the Hydra to save Kid, I honestly feel like I got an inferior story.
However, there is one remaining nitpick to share before we end this episode, and it involves the subject of this mini-chapter. Upon the erecting of Terra Tower, you might think Serge's first course of action is to storm the building and lay waste to all of its residents. That is partially the case, but only upon entering the monolithic structure. The game fails to mention the two errands you need to complete before any dragon-based genocide can occur. The first of these, which involves collecting the Chrono Cross item, is contrived bullshit, and the same can be said about jerry-rigging Starky's spaceship. I'm saving Starky's garbage for the next and final episode, but your first exposure to the actual Chrono Cross deserves a fair thrashing. For one thing, you need to have Steena in your party to merge two previously collected story items to form the Chrono Cross. The game never warns you of this fact, so it is very much possible to find yourself at the correct location in the game with the right items in tow, and nothing happens. That, at least in my humble and very smug opinion, is complete horseshit.
It does not help the level you pick up the item is a one-off tucked-away waterfall that is impossible to find without consulting a guide. Likewise, arriving at the wrong dimension can also fuck you over! Some of you are bound to chime in saying the Chrono Cross item is only required for the "good ending," and you would be correct. However, if I am going to provide a proper retrospective of this game, I want as much of this game's convoluted bullshit as possible, and you bet that involves getting the "True Ending." Getting the best conclusion consists in using the Chrono Cross element, but you wouldn't know that from playing the game. Even if you miraculously pick up the item through sheer brute force of logic, even Steena, your helpful mystic guide up to this point, offers no advice on how to use it.
For those that have already played the game, I dare you to go back and replay Terra Tower. The ONE TIME when the game plays a song synched to flashing differing colored crystals, it's not the "correct" order! When the game bothers to hint at the solution to the final boss, the game doesn't set the song in Terra Tower to the proper tune or correct sequence of colors! Seriously, what in the actual fuck? All of this, at least in my mind, makes the actual process and steps involved in correctly beating the final boss utterly unacceptable, and it's the cherry on top of the tire fire the game becomes as it winds down. What the fuck happened to this game when its development team reached its conclusion? The world will never know.