Chrono Trigger is one of the most highly regarded RPGs ever released. It’s not because the storyline is original. In fact, the storyline is awfully clichéd. Squaresoft uses all the clichés (a noble warrior, a silent protagonist and a feisty princess) to forge something of a parody of the RPG genre. The parody was a subtle one, but the graphics, music and gameplay all mixed splendidly to create a humorous and unforgettable adventure. All of the fans expected the sequel to be one of God’s gifts to mankind, so of course many were disappointed. While perusing other reviews I noticed some unfairly low scores, and also some unreasonably high scores. So is this game good or not? I, Anthony Karge, will inform you once and for all!
Chrono Trigger involved jumping from one place in time to another and changing history. Chrono Cross on the other hand, deals with the much more complex situation of traveling to an alternate dimension. Imagine your town is a happy, peaceful place. Now imagine that in another dimension the same town has been conquered by a warring nation. An even more messed up situation would be if you were dead in another dimension when you visited it. These are just a sampling of the situations that Chrono Cross deals with.
Much like the first game’s protagonist, the hero in Chrono Cross is silent. Serge’s actions are defined by what other people say and occasionally from some choices you can decide to make. Serge lives in the tropical fishing village of Arni. While walking on the beach with some friends, he becomes transported to another dimension. This sounds cheesy at first, but as the game progresses you’re given plenty of profound reasons why it happened. The less I tell you about the plot, the better. There are some truly ingenious moments that break away from almost every RPG cliché there is.
Chrono Cross actually takes place in the same world as Chrono Trigger. After playing so many Final Fantasy titles, it is refreshing to see two games connect. Though at first it seems like the sequel has barely anything to do with it’s predecessor, but the more you progress the more connections you see. Also, if you read between the lines and pay attention to a few key events, you’ll be in awe at how they link the two games together. There are also a few secrets that should bring a rush of nostalgia to anyone who played the first game. And just like the fist game, Chrono Cross has multiple endings.
There are two enormous problems with the plot. The way the story is told is seriously flawed. Towards the end of the game there is a serious overload of plot information. Right before the last boss there is paragraphs upon paragraphs of text that explains a lot of loose ends. This reminded me of The Matrix Reloaded, in which the filmmakers were lazy and just incorporated one lengthy, boring scene to close up some plot holes. I can understand it happening in a movie because of time constraints, but it’s unacceptable in an RPG. Squaresoft had over 30 hours to explain everything, and they had to resort to summing everything at the last minute like a bunch of amateurs.
The other big fault is the character development. Wait, I mean the lack of character development. There are about forty different characters you can recruit, but less than 10 actually have some sort of personality. Even less characters then that have passable character development. Even Serge, the main character, doesn’t grow or expand emotionally one bit. A much more concentrated amount of characters, like ten, would have benefited the plot greatly.
There are two things that Chrono Cross gets right that most other RPGs do not. First of all, a lot of the game is nonlinear. You can choose where you want to go, and sometimes you can even choose from a couple ways to do it. Playing through multiple times is much more fun and rewarding than in most other games. Even better is the absolute lack of random battles. You can see the enemies and choose to avoid almost all the battles you want to. If only this feature was mandatory in all console role-playing games.
If those features weren’t enough, the battles are actually pretty well executed. If you played Xenogears then the battle system should look slightly familiar. You’re given a set amount of points for physical attacks. By using the points you can create a combo attack. Strong attacks use up more points that weak and medium ones, so picking the best sequence of attacks for each situation is a must. It definitely beats hitting one attack button throughout the whole game, ala Final Fantasy. That’s where the similarities between Xenogears and Chrono Cross end.
All items, spells and special moves are used by equipping elements. There are five different colors of elements, and each color creates a different field effect. Whenever a spell of one color is cast, a little bar on the top of the screen changes color. If you get three matching colors, then you can cast summons and other powerful moves. It can be challenging, but it makes more sense than being able to cast unfair spells whenever you want. The only downside is that you’ll always be rearranging and reequipping all of your elements. You can have them all equipped automatically, but you’ll always have to change it depending on the situation. It’s rather time consuming, but nowhere near as time consuming as the Junction System in Final Fantasy VIII.
While the gameplay and storyline isn’t perfect, the graphics are. Simply put, Chrono Cross is the best looking Playstation game ever released. The colorful and lively backgrounds are unparalleled. You actually feel like you’re on a beach, or in the beautiful village of Arni. All forty-something of the characters are intricately detailed and animated. I may sound like I’m kidding due to my formulaic description of graphics, but I assure you I am not. Chrono Cross is a visual orgy of greatness.
The music is almost as incredible as the graphics. Right from the hauntingly beautiful opening song, you know your ears are in for a treat. Almost all of the tracks are simply fantastic, with the exception of the battle theme. It’s too bad the worst song is the one you will end up hearing the most. That’s just one fault of an otherwise impeccable soundtrack.
So is Chrono Cross as good as the first game? Of course not, but it’s still a good game. The plot is deep and ambitious, but the lack of personality with most of the characters and the overload of plot info at the end game hampers the fun. While the plot isn’t done totally right, nearly everything else is. The lack of random battles, beautiful visual and incredible tunes come close to rectifying the other faults. Sadly, it isn’t enough to make the game truly great. If fans of Chrono Trigger come in with an open mind and realistic expectations, they should find this game reasonably entertaining.
Eight out of ten