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Scars Left by the Development Cycle
By: Michael Beckett
The price of being good at what you do, as Squaresoft well knows, is having to be consistently good at what you do. Chrono Trigger, the precursor to Chrono Cross, made a big impression on gamers when it was released in the last years of the Super Nintendo. For many, Chrono Trigger cemented Squaresoft’s position at the top of the RPG heap for years to come. It is therefore understandable that Chrono Cross, released in 2000, received the reception that it did; many people were unhappy not only with the drastic changes in graphic style and combat system, but also with the drop-off plot and nearly inexcusable lack of character development. Overall, Chrono Cross is far from horrible, but further still from being a worthy successor to Chrono Trigger.
Replacing the ATB and Tech system from Chrono Trigger is a system reminiscent of Xenogears or Xenosaga. Any move, from magic to basic attack, requires Stamina to execute. Basic attacks can be varied from weak to medium to strong, and become more damaging but less accurate the further along you go. This system requires a degree of tactical aptitude as it demands an awareness not only of resistances and current status, but also of the base rate of Stamina consumption versus what actions the game is likely to take and how that will affect Stamina recovery and therefore what moves are open to the player characters. Chrono Cross takes a big step away not only from Chrono Trigger, but also from RPGs in general, by abolishing EXP and Levels altogether; character growth is taken care of by set statistical bonuses at the end of fights. This setup means that the player’s characters abilities are set in stone for each section, creating a definite difficulty level for each section that can only be broken by attempting to collect Elements – CC’s answer to Materia – before the game is ready for them.
Chrono Cross features a soundtrack by Yasunori Mitsuda, one of the best loved video game music composers. Mr. Mitsuda’s work on Chrono Cross, especially when contrasted with his work on other more recent games, shows off how flexible he can be. Chrono Cross’ music is made up of mostly Caribbean-style themes that really enhance the island setting of the game. From the opening theme “Scars Left by Time” to the entrancing overworld themes, Chrono Cross’ music is by far it’s best aspect.
Chrono Cross’ plot features an alternate world as well as some other distinctly Sci-Fi themes, and is far from being unusual. It also carries the burden of being spectacularly poor in execution, as the plot drops off sharply in the second half of the game, leaving the player nearly directionless and utterly destroys any chance it had of being meaningful. A large number of questions are left unanswered, and while CC’s plethora of playable characters lends it significant replay value, the flaws in character development that it gets out of the trade just hobbles the story that much more. Chrono Cross does do a fair job with it’s theme of choice and alternate universes – it’s plot branches in two or three places, with each branch offering unique characters to collect. The translation is fair, overall, and credit must be given to Squaresoft for coming up with a ‘Dialectizer’ program to automatically edit text depending on who is doing the speaking. It’s unfortunate, then, that most of the dialects are either completely ridiculous or utterly obnoxious.
For the mid to late era of the PlayStation, Chrono Cross’s visuals are fairly unimpressive. Certainly the direction leaves something to be desired, and the character models are extremely jagged and polygonal. Design overall is decent, with the islander theme remaining strong throughout the game. Warm reds, blues and greens bring areas to life and make even the dungeons feel like living places.
Overall, Chrono Cross is neither difficult nor particularly long – it earns a Very Easy and 30-35 hrs. of gameplay, respectively. A huge number of playable characters and nearly as many ending sequences lends Chrono Cross a unique replay value, but this also means that it requires a significant degree of patience to get the full experience.
In the end, Chrono Cross is a hastily constructed and imperfect game that, while enjoyable, isn’t remotely the game Chrono Trigger was. It isn’t without it’s good points – interesting combat and character experience systems and a huge number of things to collect, all of which make it a great game for completists - but it’s lack of a meaningful plot and interesting characters makes painfully evident the problems inherent in pushing a game through the development cycle too fast.
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