Sometimes sequels just don’t compare to the original. In the case of Chrono Trigger, one of the greatest RPGs of all time, there was a lot riding on a follow-up game. Happily, Chrono Cross ended up being an amazing game with the same ground-breaking game play and story that we loved about Trigger. It continues to be one of my favorite games of all time.
Chrono Cross is an RPG developed and published by Square (now known as Square Enix) in 1999 for the PlayStation. It is the sequel to the critically acclaimed Chrono Trigger, which was released in 1995 for the SNES. It was developed by Masato Kato as well as others who worked on Chrono Trigger. Chrono Cross was released with critical acclaim and sold extremely well worldwide.
Chrono Cross follows the protagonist Serge on a gorgeous tropical archipelago named El Nido. The island and nautical theme runs throughout the game, including the enchantingly beautiful soundtrack. Serge is transported to an alternate dimension where he died ten years beforehand on a beach and sees how his life has impacted the world. He meets a thief named Kid and finds out that the universe split into two dimensions on that fateful day at the beach. He is able to go back and forth between the dimensions by using Kid’s Astral Amulet. There’s a lot more to the story, but I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t play it (seriously, if you haven’t, you need to).
Now, I know it doesn’t sound like the story of Chrono Cross has anything to do with Chrono Trigger, but it does. A few familiar characters make cameos, and the games are intricately linked together in ways that I’d rather not say in order not to give out a bunch of spoilers. Chrono Cross always felt to me like the sequel that you could play without the original and have a great time, but if you played Trigger, it would be even better. In fact, I played Cross before Trigger and didn’t have any issues following anything.
An interesting concept that was used for (possibly) the first time on this game was the idea of talking to villagers or characters, not to further the story, but to add depth to the setting and feel of the game. As players, we are so used to this now, but that was an unheard of concept back in the day. This really adds a cool twist to the game with the dimensional travel, since you can talk to the same character in both dimensions and see how Serge’s absence or presence has affected that person. It’s a really awesome story element.
One thing that people both love and hate about the game are the multitude of characters that you can have in your party. There are forty-five party members that you can have, although you cannot play them all in one game. But, just as there was in Trigger, you can do a New Game+ in order to have access to all of them. Some people hated having all of the characters because some of them weren’t developed very well. I personally loved it because I could find the exact party to fit my play-style. To each his own, I guess.
The game play is so much fun, and it’s probably one of my favorite old-school RPG systems ever. There are still a lot of traditional RPG elements to it: an overworld map to go between areas, places to explore, puzzles to solve, and enemies to encounter while going through. The enemies are completely visible, and there are no random encounters. Battles are turn-based, which was pretty standard for the time. This allows the player to take as much time as he or she wants when battling an enemy. And, of course, there are hit points for each character and enemy. One revolutionary concept that was added was the fact that you can run away from any battle, including all boss battles and the final battle as well.
Chrono Cross also deals with an elemental system (sort of similar to FF VII), where characters are best with a certain element while the opposite element really hurts them. Elements are reflected in colors: Red (fire) versus Blue (water), Green (plants) versus Yellow (earth), and White (light) versus Black (darkness). Red characters match up against Blue characters best, and so on and so forth. Characters also have Tech abilities like Chrono Trigger, which can be doubled or tripled as well. An interesting twist to the element-based battle system is the use of a field effect, where if the field is all one color, that color’s power will be enhanced and the opposite is weakened.
When characters are not using their Tech abilities, they can use standard attacks. Chrono Cross was also innovative in the fact that it has a stamina bar for attacks. That stamina can be raised or lowered, depending on whether the character uses a standard attack of an Element. Another interesting twist is that there are no experience points. Players level up by upgrading their stats a couple of times through regular battles but do not level up until there is a boss battle. This concept completely gets rid of the idea of grinding because you actually can’t. To me, it makes the game play more fun and the story feel more exciting because there are never any lulls.
The graphics for the time were amazing. The opening FMV (full motion video) sequence is probably one of my favorite game openings ever. It seriously gives me goosebumps every time I see it. Even the in-game graphics looked slick (again, for the time). The color-palate is bright and beautiful, which enhanced the overall feel of the game.
This review would not be complete without praise to the beautifully done and award-winning soundtrack. Yasunori Mitsuda, who did most of the soundtrack for Trigger, came back again and really outdid himself. It has elements of Caribbean, Fado (Portuguese), Celtic, and some African. The soundtrack is so good that was officially released in a three-disc set in Japan (one that I got my hands on through E-Bay many years ago). It is probably the best soundtrack that I have ever heard for a game, and I don’t say that lightly. In fact, you really haven’t experienced the soundtrack to its full extent until you’ve listened to it on the beach or on the deck of a cruise ship. The music is magical.
There aren’t many games that have brought me to tears, but Chrono Cross is one of them. It is an amazing masterpiece of a game, not just a sequel, but an amazing game just by itself. If you ever get the chance to play or replay it, I highly recommend it.