Chrono Cross

  • Hi all,

    I just finished Chrono Cross and I have some thoughts to share with you all. So, so many thoughts... Spoilers below for both Chrono Cross AND Chrono Trigger. (TL;DR: don't play this game, especially if you love the original, but give the soundtrack a listen).

    Before I even get started with this rant: I consider Chrono Trigger the greatest game of all time. Maybe that should prime you to take everything else I say with a grain of salt (though I still think my criticisms are valid). I knew I was setting myself up for disappointment going into this game with any expectations, but I tried my best to limit them. Honestly, the only reason I was even interested in playing this game was because of the few tracks I'd heard on various youtube music playlists and thought they were great. Everything I'd read online led me to believe that this would be a solid/good game, though one with tenuous ties to the original. I tried so hard to keep my expectations in check. I was still let down.

    First, the positive: The music in this game is fantastic, with at least one track I'd rank among the best video game songs of all time. Seriously, it's incredible what they were able to do with the music on a PS1. Truly impressive stuff. I can also recognize that they were seriously pushing the limits of what the PS1 hardware could do, with some surprisingly good graphics and character animations. I'd argue that they were let down by the art direction, but I'll get to that later. I also respect that they tried to remove random encounters by placing enemies on the field, although I think that ultimately worked against them. Just in general, from a purely technical perspective, this is a solid game, and I understand why it reviewed so well back in the day. It's what people would want to see in a video game; everything bigger, more "complex," and with prettier graphics that just about anything that came before it. Bravo.

    Where the game starts to come apart is in the design. The combat, while interesting at first, grows increasingly simplistic over time. I beat every boss the same way I beat standard enemies: attack with level 1, 2, and 3 physical attacks, then hop back and use an element. It worked without fail. The attack animations are often impressive, but overly complex and seriously slow down battles. Even low level elements can take upwards of five seconds to finish casting, and mid level elements take about as long as a latter day Final Fantasy summon. I said that I respected the lack of random battles, but the loading in between screens is painfully slow. Every battle starts with a fade to black, a pan in on your main character, some crazy camera movements, a shot of your enemies loading in, and then finally a wide shot of the rest of your party loading in. It just takes way too long. Furthermore, the standard enemy fights are completely neutered by the leveling system: a'la dungeons and dragons (depending on your DM), you only gain levels when you beat certain milestone enemies. These result in large stat boosts, and are the primary way you'll raise your strength, defense, magic, etc. Between each level, you will gain random stat boosts from standard enemy encounters (usually +1 HP), but only for a few enemy encounters. They cap out your stat growth if you're fighting too much. These stat boosts also happen regardless of the enemy you're fighting: if you wanted, you could farm the lowest level enemies possible to grow your characters, and you'd e just as strong as if you tried grinding it out on late-game fights. This, combined with the fact that even simple battles take forever, made me want to skip just about every standard encounter that I could.

    The UI is also one of the worst I've ever seen. Hopefully this loads, but here's a screenshot I found online of the final battle:
    Whose turn is it right now? Couldn't tell you. There's just so much information on the screen that it's almost impossible to keep track of the important information. You see the tiny green rectangles above Serge and Kid's name plates? That means they have a status effect. Which one? Well, it's a green one, so it can be either "poison" or "afraid." Every color has two possible status effects associated with it, and it's impossible to know which is which until it's your turn. Even then the cue is either easily missable (e.g. you can't use a certain color element all of the sudden) or printed in big bold letters at the top of the screen, further cluttering the battle. It's a mess, and one that I never got used to after 30 hours of play. It feels like the world was demanding complexity, so they shoved as many unnecessary systems as they possibly could at the player at once. The game absolutely suffers for it.

    In my opinion, everything I've listed so far is objectively frustrating. That's not what killed this game for me, though. Somehow, the game I had heard was only a spiritual successor to Chrono Trigger, turned out to be a full blown sequel. And man, did they mess it up bad.

    There's the superficial stuff that I didn't like: I said I don't like the art direction of this game, and I stand by it. Here, look at how they animate Crono, Marle, and Lucca:


    They look terrible. Why is Marle, a tomboy, wearing a freaking ballerina dress? Okay, maybe not fair; sprites inherently age better than polygonal graphics. Let's look at something 2D to compare. Here's Leah, the caveman of this game, vs. Ayla, the caveman of Trigger:



    I don't care if it's unfair: the art of this game gives me a bad vibe. It's just... off. It trickles down into every character... Which ultimately kills the climax of the game.

    I wasn't hoping to top the story or characters of Chrono Trigger, but holy shit, this story is completely nonsensical. The last few hours of the game are people talking at you and giving you the clunkiest exposition I've read in a long time. Here's my best attempt at summarizing off the top of my head: Serge is the secret Chrono Trigger, a fuck-up in the timeline that was needed to access the FATE computer, who took the form of Lynx by transforming Serge's father, Wazuki. I'm sure I got that wrong, but let's keep going: the kindly librarian you meet once at the beginning is Balthasar, who is actually a survivor from Zeal (aka the homeland of Magus) and was sent spinning through time to the future, where he learned crazy technology and shit. Also, he to.d Schala to send a clone of herself to Lucca... But we'll come back to that. FATE is actually an evil supercomputer built in the Chronopolis (or something), which is actually a super advanced Reptite civilization. FATE is also at war with nature, and is wiping out the dragon gods (?), and Harle, Lynx's henchwoman, is actually the secret seventh dragon god, designed to destroy FATE. (Side note: Harle's arc is as follows: I'm a sexy french henchman, I'm in love with Serge, and oh by the way I guess I'm a dragon now). Blah Blah Blah more nonsense, hurry up and finish talking... wait. What did Lucca just say? Oh goddammit, Kid is the "daughter-clone" of Schala. Oh I get it! That's why they look the same!




    Maybe unfair: that top one's a pic of Kid, not Schala! Not all clones have to look the same, let's find Schala...



    Okay, I concede it's bullshit to call the game on the character art so much, but it ultimately comes down to this: this game feels like it was forced to use the Chrono IP, and I think it ultimately suffers for it. The game's story was thin, sure, but the second they started forcing in Chrono Trigger stuff, the plot became insanely convoluted and nonsensical. They didn't even try to sprinkle it in, they just shove it down your throat and hope it makes sense. I can't imaging trying to follow what's going on if you never played the original. By relying to heavily on the older game's characters, it muddies the waters of an otherwise decent game, and serves to highlight its numerous flaws. I genuinely can't tell if I was just teeing myself up for disappointment, but I do know I don't think this was all worth it. If there's something I gained from this, it's that I think I finally get why fandoms get so mad when people play with the original.

  • I haven't played Cross since it released, so it's honestly a little hard to defend it properly (I do remember liking it) but as someone who played Trigger for the first time about two years ago, I've felt pretty luke-warm towards the series as a whole. Some of the story elements you describe sound like they should be part of a Kingdom Hearts game, convoluted and messy (more on that later), but in comparing it to Trigger, I wouldn't have many praises to sing about that game's story either - stop big bad Lavos and that's about all there is to it. It could be argued that each time period you visit tells its own stories but I wouldn't say any of them are truly compelling, besides perhaps Frog. For me personally, I'll suffer through a mediocre RPG if the cast of characters is appealing but I find it significantly odd that these very forums placed Chrono Trigger as the 11th best game of all time, yet not a single character in it made the best characters list, which is filled with Persona/Final Fantasy characters. Anyway, that's probably off-topic.

    This video is from one of my absolute favorite content creators and dives really deep into the thought that went into Cross and how it ties into everything.

    Youtube Video

    It's pretty heady and maybe the game doesn't do a great job of conveying some of the ideas presented (I really need to replay it!) but all the planning that went behind that story? I respect it immensely.

    For anyone that is interested in Cross, I wouldn't discount it immediately just because it's different from Trigger. Same content creator as above, just going into a detailed review of Cross.

    Youtube Video

  • Cross is one of the biggest disappointments of my gaming life. Bad sequel, maybe an ok standalone RPG, but always going to be viewed through the lens of the followup of Trigger.

  • @sabotagethetruth I'd be curious to see how you'll feel about the game after a replay, especially given your interest in characters. I didn't find a single character to connect with. They all lacked agency; everything happens to them, and then they respond. Even Lynx, the main villain of the game, was being controlled by some greater force. On the other hand, Crono played an active role in his story because you played an active role in the story. One of my favorite sequences of the game is based around the idea that your actions mattered, even if you didn't think they did. And for the record, I think I put all of the main cast of Chrono Trigger in my version of the list :p

  • @naltmank I put Frog in my list because he's pretty great (Robo ain't half bad either), still a little shocked none of them showed up. As much as I'd love to dive into Cross sometime soon, I doubt it's in the cards. There's just too many good games to sort through right now.