Chrono Cross Review
Hindsight is 20/20
It is difficult in the heat of a RPG’s ending credits to maintain a sense of objectivity regarding the experience. After all, these are games in which thirty or more hours are invested into achieving such a goal. The problem arrises when one takes that momentary feeling and puts it to words in a recommendation which does not change even when the opinion which caused its creation does. Such is the case of Squaresoft’s Chrono Cross. Ironically, time has been cruel mistress to this erstwhile sequel to one of the more beloved RPGs of the SNES era. At least, cruel in the sense of a more honest view of the game’s unfortunate faults.
No game is created in a vacuum, and Squaresoft certainly could not avoid having comparisons drawn between their charming Chrono Trigger and its supposed heir, even if it were released five years apart. However, the immediate analysis reveals that Chrono Cross is different in almost every single way.
The revised combat system has done away the ATB gauge and instead adopts a turn-based stamina system. The attack options are divided into Weak/Strong/Fierce with each requiring a steadily increasing number of stamina points, of which each character receives seven. Magic is implemented, and automatically requires seven stamina points to use, which can result in characters having negative stamina. All characters, including enemies, regain one point of stamina each time a character performs an action. Basic strategy includes all the normal things you would expect, with the added element of needing to cast spells of a specific school in order to cast summon spells. The system is not that complex however, and summons are relatively useless in this extremely easy game. Part of this easiness is due to the fact that one can run from every battle with a 100% success rate (even from bosses), partly due to an arbitrary level cap, and partly due to misjudgments in AI and enemy design.
Quite frankly, the interface is also a disaster. Chrono Cross sports 44 playable characters, and that knowledge may lead one to believe special care would be provided in making sure such a large cast would be easy to manage. Nothing is further from the truth. Equipment cannot be sorted by any means, and each time one feels the need to switch characters, one has to unequip and re-equip the characters manually. This fact, along with knowing that almost none of the extra characters outside the core cast of protagonists receives additional development, leads to relying exclusively on 3-4 characters to complete the game. Since each character has his or her own unique translation and accent, one wonders why Squaresoft would design a game which expressly discourages employing a large number of different characters.
Fans of Chrono Trigger would be further disapointed to learn that Chrono Cross is a sequel in name only. Indeed, the background does include cameo appearances from the heroes of Chrono Trigger, but these brief insights only sever the ties between the games by killing just about everyone. In this respect, the plot would have flowed much better if Chrono Trigger was left out entirely, as the cameos only serve to anger fans of the original. On its own, Chrono Cross spins an adequate tale with some genuinely interesting turns of events, some of the more interesting requiring multiple play-throughs to encounter.
Speaking of playthroughs, Chrono Cross does bring back the legacy of multiple endings with nine total, some of which require the player to go through the game at least three times to see them. The New Game+ mode has also made a return, although it really only makes the game easier than it already is. One of the more innovative ideas however, is the Time Shifter. This item is received at the beginning of New Game+ mode and allows the player to press R2 to speed up or slow down all aspects of the game — walking, dialogue, and battle.
By far the two greatest strengths of this game though, stem from its graphics and musical score. Put simply, it was one of the most beautiful games ever released for the original Playstation. The CGI movies were understandably of high quality, but the in-game graphics raised the bar much in the same way that Chrono Trigger did with other SNES games of its time. Vibrant scenery combined with innovative character designs created a pleasing visual experience. Musically speaking, Yasunori Mitsuda forever raises the bar with a soundtrack of not only the highest caliber, but of the greatest variety. A wide number of differing musical instruments and styles weave an aurous tapestry which, combined with the exquisite visuals, almost drowns out the other flaws in the game. Almost.
At the end of the day, Chrono Cross proves to be a weak successor to the Chrono legacy. One can wonder if the game experience would have been better if it was not touted as a sequel, but rather as an entirely new game. It is this reviewer’s opinion that it would have been far better to cut the baggage of the past and trust in the development team’s ability to produce a quality product from scratch. As it stands, Chrono Cross is a mediocre experience at best, whose greatest saving grace can be purchased or downloaded online.