Chrono Cross

Moving forward across time, backwards from sideways into... um... doh.


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 9
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 9
   Originality 9
   Plot 10
   Localization 10
   Replay Value 10
   Visuals 10
   Difficulty Very Easy - Medium
   Time to Complete

30-50+ hrs.

I have my reasons. I stand by it. =P

Even the Title Screen kicks @$$!!! Watch it in motion.
Just wait until you watch the title screen in motion. Sweet...

   The RPG-giant known as SquareSoft was churning out RPG after RPG, with Final Fantasy VII and VIII reaching the masses and new games such as Xenogears and Parasite Eve bringing something more to the table. With the popularity of the RPG spreading like Smokey's dreaded forest fire, SquareSoft also continued old series perfected on the Super Nintendo/Famicom such as the Mana series and SaGa series. But where was the sequel to our beloved Chrono Trigger, a game that quite a few felt was the best RPG ever? Thankfully, Squaresoft answered many of our prayers. And fortunately, they decided to make a bang-up game to make up for Final Fantasy VIII, which a few people were disappointed with.

The first thing you'll notice (after the amazing intro, the beautiful title screen, and Kid's obnoxious accent) when you play the game is that it's a delight to control. When you actually start the game, you're thrust into gameplay right away. Like in FFVIII, the characters control like a dream with the analog stick. The menu screens load up quickly, and are actually cool in design -- the main menu choice layout looks like that of the time-travel menu in Chrono Trigger, and screen-height, beautifully drawn (albeit no DBZ style) character portraits grace the wallpaper. Saving and loading files were a breeze, with the load time very fast and the simplicity of the menus convenient. There are a few minor flaws with the game's interface, such as the inability to sort your weapons and armor, and the fact that "Items" refers to special items, not traditional items (it confused me for a good 2 hours... and even near the end of the games I found myself going to "Items" for curing a character). But in general, the menu interface was your usual, convenient Square fair with an even cooler look. There weren't many side-games to toy around with, but they were hardly missed; for some people this may be disappointing, but you'll most likely be immersed in the game itself that the issue won't even come up. Square stuck enough little puzzle rooms in there to keep your brain tingled -- some as dumb as Resident Evil puzzles (push statue in hole!), some quite a bit more challenging (Fort Dragonia... you'll see what I mean). All in all, the overall non-battle gameplay was quite satisfying.

The most intriguing aspect of the gameplay, however, was definitely the battles. With a new battle system, mixing a bit of Xenogears with Final Fantasy, fights were often a blast to play and also used a l'il brainpower. Each character starts the battle off with seven stamina points. You can attack until all of your stamina is depleted, or until the enemy decides to jump in and attack. The 3 attack choices given let you hit with a weak blow, with the highest hit percentage, a medium blow with medium hit percentage, and a powerful blow with the lower percentage. Each successful hit boosts up your hit percentage for all attacks, as well as your Element grid (more on that later). So ideally, to get good damage at a high hit rate, you'd hit with a weak-medium-powerful combo. Of course you could mix it up, at your discretion. Of course, you can stop attacking before your Stamina points run out, so that they might recharge quicker (when you attack, your other party members regain stamina according to the blow you execute). And you'll need seven stamina points to cast elements without knocking your character into the negative stamina range.

"But wait, so all I need to do is wait for my stamina to be at least 1 and I can cast spells forever?" No Timmy, it doesn't work that way. Square loves us, and instead of the heinous Draw system that had the player "downloading" spells off of, Chrono Cross is blessed with the Element system. Each character has an "Element Grid", which is a table of slots in which you can place "Elements". Columns determine the level of the element grid. So, the longer your element grid is, the more powerful your elements can be. The taller your element grid is (at a specific level), the more spells of that level you can stick in. (The grid gets taller as you progress, and gradually grows to the right, so most likely your grid will look like a triangle at most times.) Each element has a certain level of power, and if you stick an element of level 3 into a level 1 slot, its effectiveness is decreased. Some elements don't even offer that flexibility, so you have to choose which elements you want to take with you into battle. In battle, you "fill out" your element grid's availability by connecting with the enemy. So if you connect with a 1-hit and a 2-hit, the grid fills up 3 levels. This means you can use all the elements ranging from column 1 to column 3. Elements can only be used once -- and each time you use an element, not only does your stamina go down by 7, but your element grid empties according to the element used (i.e. if your grid is filled up 4 levels and you use a level 3 element, the available elements drops down to level 1 elements). Plus, each element has a color associated with it, as do all your characters. They create opposing pairs: black/white, blue/red, and green/yellow. In other words, try not to use a black element on an enemy whose innate color is black (duh). Each time you use your element, the "field effect" changes to the color of that element. The field effect has 3 layers that show the last 3 element colors used -- if you can successfully get all 3 layers to match one color, then the next element of that color used will be more powerful, *or* you can use a summon spell. Confusing? Yes. Fun? Once you get used to it, *very* fun.

However, part of Chrono Trigger that I didn't miss too much, but many will, wasn't in there nearly as much -- the multiple techs. Remember Marle and Lucca casting "Antipode"? You'll be hard pressed to find the same thing here. Out of the 40+ playable characters in the game, it's not that easy to find a combination of characters that can perform double techs. In fact, in my first play through, I never used any double techs. It's a feature that many people adored from Chrono Trigger and might expect in Chrono Cross, but sadly it is not nearly as prominent. But while making the multiple techs more widely available would have, in my opinion, made Chrono Cross much better, the game is far too enjoyable as it stands to fault it for degrading that element.

Uga chaka!
You fight... uh... onions. *sniffle*  

If you still need help forgetting about the multiple techs, then stop playing at some random point, close your eyes, and just listen. Better yet, hunt down a Chrono Cross soundtrack (original sound version, of course) and listen to it at leisure. Yasunori Mitsuda-sama truly outdid himself this time. Out of the 67 tracks, there was perhaps one bad track. Scratch that, one *horrid* track. The obnoxious battle music takes much getting used to, either that or the volume control will have to be taken advantage of. But you'll most likely be figuring out how to use your elements and stamina, right? Good, let's move on, because that's the only negative in the soundtrack. The rest is sheer genius. First of all, the sound quality itself is superb. Where many other games have this synthesized, sequenced feel to it, Chrono Cross's music sounds like true live instrumentation. Listen closely to the music from the opening movie, and you'll hear the flutist take short breaths in between phrases. Open your ears during tracks that focus heavily on guitar play, and you'll hear the slides up and down the fingerboard as the guitarist strums notes. Then, there are the actual themes. In one track, two themes are melted into one song ingeniously. Turn on the game, and don't press start for a while. Listen to the music playing during the demonstration montage, and you'll hear the violin's beautiful solo from the "Another World" map music followed by the all-too familiar glorious Chrono Trigger theme song. You'll also hear the same themes used throughout the game, but stretched out, shaken up, reshaped, and remixed to fit the scenario. Masterful composers don't simply make loads of great songs, they are also adept at taking one theme and transforming it, and Yasunori Mitsuda shows us -- with Chrono Cross -- that he is truly masterful. From the melodies composed, to the variation of meter in mid-song, to the instruments used, the intense counterpoint applied, Chrono Cross's soundtrack is bliss. It will have the most jaded musicians and those knowledgeable in music theory drooling in awe. It will have the same effect on those who consider themselves musical dummies, and it'll make those who never really cared about soundtracks care about this one. To add to that, the soundtrack is never marred by ugly, annoying, tinny sound effects. Water runs crystal clear, footsteps match the ground they tread on superbly, critical blows almost make us feel the enemy's pain, and explosive spell sound effects help make the battles dynamic. If it weren't for the dizzying battle music, the soundtrack could easily be marked as flawless.

I hope that, this far in my lavish praising of this wonderful game, you've already deduced how innovative I think this game is. "Quite" is inadequate, and "very" is an understatement. With its field effect, stamina points, element system, and innate attributes, the battle system is a nice mix of old and new -- it's refreshing and strategic while still managing to be tons of fun. The new level-up system shows how a game can work wonderfully without experience points. The element system shows the draw system how to be fun without magic points. Perhaps the only hit the battle system takes originality-wise is that its core is based on the tried-and-true turn-based engine, but hey -- we can't all be Star Oceans.

With all the detail I've gone into about the battles and the music et al, you're probably expecting a raving maniac's stream-of-thought butt kissing of Chrono Cross's plot. I'll spare you this time, and leave you only with this: experiencing Chrono Cross's plot without sustaining physical injuries is impossible. You'll most likely need a few trips to the hospital to have your jaw wired back onto your skull. The plot gets deeper with every hour, and answers a question which has been baffling Chrono Trigger fanatics:

"Just what [Hah! Like I'm going to spoil it.] anyway?"

The plot is confusing at times -- but it's definitely excellent. It's supposed to be confusing, anyhow; we're talking interdimensional time traveling here. Of course, you *know* the plot has to be well done if you can understand that confusing mess through a horrid translation. That's right, Chrono Cross's translation is ... ok, I lied. That was to wake up any of you getting sleepy from my incessant praise. But, again, Chrono Cross shines in this department. The translation itself is good, but what *really* shines is that the characters are given so much... "character." Harle's cute little French accent, Kid's obnoxious but funny Aussie accent, the Cha family's, er, "chas" ("Don'CHA go running off without me!" Korcha joined'CHA party!), and Solt and Peppor's bumbling antics make reading through the plot a delight. You'll thank Square's translation crew when buck-toothed magician Sneff responds to applause with, "Fank you!" Chrono Cross simply has a great translation bolstered by even better personalities.


All of these factors -- the originality, the plot, the music, the gameplay.... they all make the game worth playing through again. But again, Square loves us, and they slapped in the New Game+ feature from good old Chrono Trigger. Now it's time to hunt for your favorite endings! Similar to CT, once you beat the game you are given the option to restart the game at the status level you beat the game with. There are also optional characters that you can look for, and several things that you might not be able to do without a strategy guide (spare yourselves, at least play through it the first time without one). Must I bring in the stupid Pringles slogan -- "Once you pop, you can't stop..."?

Hold on!! I'm not done yet. If you're one of those people who loved FF8 for its looks, and you're worried that Square sacrificed Chrono Cross's looks for everything else, worry not. First of all, you most definitely should have seen screenshots of it by now. Second of all, if you play a game simply for its graphics, then... but anyway, the visuals are yet another positive for Chrono Cross. In architecture, they are the same as Final Fantasy 8 -- polygonal, normally proportional characters on rendered backdrops. The battles are in full 3D. However, they are much more colorful and more exciting to look at. As always, the CG for the movie portions is splendidly done. The rendered backdrops are full of life, and the character art is exquisite. No, it is NOT done by Akira Toriyama. And no, this is NOT a bad thing. The new artist's style is quite charming, and honestly, I could not imagine Serge looking like a Dragon Ball Z character and not becoming nauseous. Toriyama's style fit the first game perfectly, and this new artist's style fits *this* game just fine as well.

Unfortunately, Chrono Cross has a semi-glaring issue -- among all the glamour and glitz that every other aspect of the game has to offer, Chrono Cross isn't very difficult. Oh yes, there are a few moments where a boss will frustrate the hair off your head, or you may decide to tough it out with a nastily weak party to make the game a wee bit harder, but overall the game could be less forgiving. There are many moments where you'll be stuck without a Recover element to raise a fallen comrade, such as those boss headaches I just mentioned, but have you ever played an RPG where you could run away from bosses??? Fortunately, there is a solution for this 100% run rate -- don't use it. Most likely, you won't need to anyway.

I am feline. Hear me roar. *burp*
"Alright, human twerps, now YOU try eating dry food. Doesn't taste so good, now does it."  

But don't leave with the notion that Chrono Cross's relatively low challenge isn't worth your 40 bones (or cheaper if you wait, or are a smart shopper). The game can be short -- I've heard of 30-hour victories. But if you don't rush through the game, and you don't try to swerve around enemies on the map screen, Chrono Cross can take a healthy 40 hours to beat -- more if you look for every character and find every tech for each of them. Plus, you've got more endings to hike through after your victory, so saddle up -- the time you spend completing one full game is only part of how many hours you'll actually spend going back and digesting more of it.

Chrono Cross is an aesthetic masterpiece that boasts ingenious gameplay. We don't find that often enough anymore. Chrono Cross is a godly game, but the story and visuals are still good enough to make a multi-part anime movie out of. The soundtrack will put anyone who feels that "videogame music isn't real music" to shame, and the nostalgic references to its prequel, Chrono Trigger, shows that Square knows how to keep a story alive. Chrono Cross is also a relief -- it showed me that Square hasn't lost sight of how to make a good game. It whets my appetite for Final Fantasy IX and Vagrant Story, and not only did it make up for Final Fantasy 8, it almost made me forget that Junctioning ever existed. Go do Beeba a favor -- play Chrono Cross now.

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