Chrono Cross Review
Interdimensional Freak Show
When Chrono Trigger hit the shelves in 1995, fans started begging for a sequel. Now, five years later, their prayers have been answered. Chrono Cross ties up some loose ends from the original, while telling a new story full of plot twists and featuring one of the strangest casts ever assembled.
The combat system of Chrono Cross is a perfect example of Square’s habit to reinvent the wheel with each new game, lacking experience points, MP, or ATB gauges. However, everything comes together so smoothly that you barely even notice such staples of the genre are missing. In order to cast spells, you must first power up your element levels by attacking, similar to the Attack Levels in Xenogears. Additionally, each spell may only be cast once, and each character may only have a certain number of spells equipped (which increases after each boss), giving the magic system an overall feel reminiscent of Dungeons and Dragons. Rather than having rounds like a traditional RPG, or an ATB system like other Square games, Chrono Cross features a unique stamina system. Each character begins each fight with 7 points of stamina. Attacking and casting spells decrease stamina by varying degrees, and passes time, causing the other characters to recover stamina, and giving enemies a chance to attack. While one can simply go from character to character expending all stamina on attacks, this system also allows one to spend the same amount of time having each character attack once, or have each character cast a spell in succession, leaving all characters low on stamina and having to defend while it recovers. When all this is combined with three types of attack as in Xenogears, and a combo system like Chrono Trigger, it yields a large number of possible strategies unique to this game.
Surprising for a game from Square, Chrono Cross does not have particularly good controls. With over 40 characters, of whom you may only use 3 at a time, one would expect there to be a user friendly interface to manage them all. In practice, while one’s active three characters are easy enough to manage, the reserves are accessible only through an ugly list. Combined with the fact that configuring each character’s spells is a time consuming ordeal, players tend to go through most of the game changing their party as few times possible. This is something of a shame when one considers just how interesting the cast as a whole is. Exploration and battle controls however are both smooth and configurable, except for the extreme stubbornness of certain doors to open when not approached from just the right angle. All in all however, the interface does not interfere much with the overall enjoyability of the game.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Chrono Cross is it’s outstanding musical score. Nearly every track is an auditory feast, with plenty of variety throughout the game. Many pieces are also remixes of songs from Chrono Trigger, adding a nice amount of nostalgia to the mix. Sound effects receive a nice treatment as well, with clear differences in all the myriad slashing blades.
In terms of plot, Chrono Cross offers quite a few surprises. The main storyline is filled with shocking twists nobody would expect, many of which provoke genuine emotional responses from the player. Additionally, nearly every seemingly insignificant choice one makes branches the causes the plot to branch of in one of two directions, affecting which characters one acquires, as well as generate significant differences in how everything turns out. Speaking of characters, while most games with large casts supply generic dialog for non-essential characters, Chrono Cross gives each character their own unique dialog in each situation. While one could argue that not every character is developed to any real degree, such a thing is honestly an impossible goal in a game where the number of characters is greater than the number of hours it takes to complete the game.
As a refreshing change of pace from other recent games, the translation is not only clear, but somewhat entertaining. Nearly every character in the game has a unique dialog, ranging from annoying, to amusing, to thick and authentic. All in all, this adds a lot to the game, and helps to increase the replay value.
Speaking of replay value, Chrono Cross has it in spades. In order to see everything, one has to play through at least three times, which, with stats carrying over from the previous time through, is not so daunting a task. A true completest may even want to see what every character says in every situation, which would increase the play time to several months.
Graphically, Chrono Cross really shows what the PlayStation is capable of. The character models have a shiny vibrant look which is a wonderful breath of fresh air from the gritty pixilated look of most polygons on the system. Backgrounds are beautifully prerendered, and are highly varied despite the similarity of all the game’s locations. Load times are minimal at that. Most noteworthy however is the uniqueness of the games visual style. Almost any character from the cast would be considered freakish in any other RPG, yet somehow seem to fit here, for the most part at least.
While it has no experience system in the traditional sense, after each major boss, each character gains the ability to cast more spells, and an unseen limitation on the characters’ stats is raised. As you fight, each character’s stats slowly increase until they hit this ceiling, offering a means to character build, yet imposing limitations on just how good one can be at any given point. Not only does this give the game a very controlled amount of challenge, on subsequent plays through, it allows the characters’ stats to increase just as much as the first time. Whereas in the original Chrono Trigger, maxing out required a ludicrous number of plays through the game, as experience inflation grew more and more rampant. Hopefully others will try to emulate this concept in the future.
In summary, Chrono Cross is a feast for the senses with a wonderful plot, and enough replay value to keep you coming back for more. While it has its flaws, and can be frustrating at times, it is easily one of the best games of the year, and a real treat for those who have waited so long for it. Everyone should experience this game, if for the music alone.