Chrono Cross Review
Refining a Genre
In 1995, fresh off the success of Final Fantasy VI, Square unleashed Chrono Trigger upon the American gaming masses. Chrono Trigger was quite possibly the 2D RPG’s finest hour; it featured a small but lovable cast, an incredible storyline, an unforgettable soundtrack and impressive graphics, even by today’s standards. In short, it took everything available in the genre and put it together in a single, clean, buttkickin’ package. It’s no wonder people still talk about it half a decade later.
When Square announced there would be a sequel after years of speculation and rumors, the gaming community rejoiced. And with good reason — Chrono Cross is a fine game. While it doesn’t quite capture all the magic of its predecessor, it has some very large shoes to fill. Fortunately, it’s not a chip off the old block. What is here is one of the most refreshingly original games I’ve played in a while.
First off, Nobuteru Yuuki (anime fans know him from Escaflowne, the rest of you know him from SD3 and Legend of Mana) came up with some awesome character designs. With such a large cast, it’s surprising that there are so many very unique and different characters. Each character has a unique dialect, ranging from Scottish to Swedish to — well, some form of gobbledygook. The accents and regional mannerisms work surprisingly well, and they really give each character a unique personality.
Of course, all those accents must have been a mammoth translation job, and Square EA handled it with ease. Square’s translation quality has really improved since the joint venture with EA, and Chrono Cross is a fine example. I was particularly impressed because each character has unique dialog for every event in the game. Again, this adds color to the characters and makes each character seem less like another piece of the puzzle.
Chrono Cross has plenty of color — of the visual type that is. The graphics are some of the best I’ve seen in any PlayStation game. They don’t have much improvement over FF VIII, which makes me think that the PlayStation is reaching its potential, but the use of color and textures to simulate polygons are very good and much improved over FF VIII. The battle scene backgrounds can be breathtaking, with flowing waterfalls and lush greenery all around.
The enemy models are especially sweet. Some of the later boss battles have to be seen to be believed. The battle backgrounds are spectacular, and some of the spells are insanely cool. The element system, Chrono Cross‘s take on magic, is sort of a cross between the gear battles in Xenogears and the material system of FF7. Basically, each character has eight spell levels, and each spell corresponds to one of those levels. Depending on what level you actually put the spell, it can be stronger or weaker than originally intended.
Each character also has an innate color — for example, Serge is white and Kid is red. The most powerful spells can only be used by someone of the same innate color as the spell. This can get interesting as later in the game you have to take along the right characters depending on the innate color of the boss you are battling. As with most RPGs, the determine the damage done (i.e. red and blue are opposite colors and damage each other.) So when fighting a fire boss, you’ll want to take along at least one person of blue color to cast the best blue spells.
When you attack, there are three attack levels (cleverly named 1, 2 and 3.) You have 7 AP with which to attack. Each attack uses 1, 2 or 3 AP. If you use a 3 attack, your element level rises by 3. Basically, you attack until you run out of AP. Once your magic level is high enough, you can cast a spell. The spell then lowers your attack level by whatever level the spell was. Spells cost 7 AP, however, it is possible and very common to go into negative AP range.
The elements are laid out in a sort of triangular grid, with a greater number of weaker slots and decreasing so you only have one or two of the level 8 slots. It’s not that big a deal when you only have 3 or 4 levels, but late in the game this becomes a LOT of elements. One feature missing is an element transfer command. With over 40 characters, there’s no way you’re going to keep all the characters stocked with elements. It’s a pain to have to unequip the person you just switched out and then re-equip the person you just added to your party. Because of this, you’ll find yourself using the same three characters as much as possible.
Another interesting omission (though not necessarily a bad one) is the experience system. Yes, you heard me, Chrono Cross doesn’t use experience points. Your stats increase between boss battles up to a certain point, until you have to defeat the boss to progress further. While this does eliminate pesky leveling up, it also lowers the difficulty. Because of this, the game rarely throws an extremely hard boss at you in almost 40 hours (there are maybe 2 really difficult fights in the whole game.) This makes the battles seem a bit pointless and sometimes boring after certain points. However, this is more player preference than an actual detrimental aspect of the game, because it also speeds up the progression of the story.
Story-wise, Chrono Cross makes an interesting addendum to the tale told in the original. While it doesn’t take place in the same world, the cast from Chrono Trigger does have a few cameos and are important to the story. As a whole, I liked it a lot. Though a bit confusing at times, the story comes together well and has some interesting undertones of ecological dogma.
The music, while short of memorable, isn’t all that bad. You’ll notice a few bars of music from other Square games if you have a well-tuned ear, and the music does an acceptable job of setting the mood of the game when needed. Still, it’s a bit unfair to compare within the series, as Chrono Trigger had one of, if not the best game soundtrack ever. The battle music can, naturally, get a bit repetitive. But then, what battle music doesn’t?
But, all in all, Chrono Cross is a good use of 40 hours that could be used for something like, say, passing calculus (innocent whistle). If you’re interested, it does have a “New Game +” feature, but in my opinion it’s not nearly as compelling as the original. Nevertheless, Chrono Cross should be an addition to any RPG fan’s shelf. Now, I know there are a lot of excellent games out around the same time, but Chrono Cross is really one of the best I’ve played on PlayStation. It’s not going to blow you away, but you will end up with a sense of satisfaction, knowing you have played one of the best of the original PlayStation RPGs.