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Chrono Cross (PlayStation) artwork

Chrono Cross (PlayStation) review

"However, like I said, those incremental post-boss bonuses do add up over time. It benefits a player to pick a couple sidekicks they really like to keep with them as much as possible. Sorry, Kid, you might be a major player in the plot, but with all the story elements conspiring to keep you out of active duty for extended periods of time, I only used you if the game forced me to."

Perhaps the greatest sin of Chrono Cross is that it isn't Chrono Trigger. That SNES cartridge gained a diehard fan following due to its simple charm. That's right, I said "simple". You had a grand total of six (or seven, depending on a particular choice you'd make) characters traveling through five time periods of one world. Most of the game was linear, until the end, when you could explore all five time periods to find a slew of optional dungeons designed to prepare you for the final challenges. Battling was very intuitive, with characters having a limited number of attacks, which worked well with the game's active-time system. Balancing out the simplicity was great production values, as the game boasted some of the best graphics and sound that system had seen. I might not call Chrono Trigger the best of all time or anything like that, but it was a ton of fun.

I get the feeling that when it came time to make a PlayStation sequel, Square wanted to make the ultimate game. Something that improved on the original in every way. Bigger, more beautiful and better. And along the way, the simple charm was replaced with convoluted dialogue and clutter. Chrono Cross is playable. It's even fun. However, it's not a classic and I don't know if I'd even call it that much more than average.

With the exception of the production values, of course. We are talking about a game made by Square, you know? Nowadays, I often find the PlayStation to be hard to enjoy. Beforehand, you had simple sprite characters. Afterwards, you get smoothly-drawn characters that are looking more and more like real people as time goes on. Here…you have the first clumsy attempts to move into 3-D surroundings with polygonal characters. Jagged edges and crude designs are everywhere. Chrono Cross doesn't bother me in this way like so many other games for this system do. Monsters and backgrounds are colorful and detailed and most everything shows just how far designers had progressed from earlier RPGs like Wild Arms where, to be real, the average battle screen looks like it was drawn by a middle school art student. The soundtrack also is excellent. Take away the weak battle theme (which, since this is an RPG, you'll be hearing a lot) and it might be near-perfect.

And the game might have wound up the same way if not for some bizarre decisions to combine Suikoden's "find all the heroes" theme with Xenogears' "really deep story that collapses on itself during the second disc" style WHILE trying to force enough references to Chrono Trigger to keep fans happy. That's not a recipe for success.

You start out controlling Serge, a young man from a remote village with no concerns other than making a necklace for his love interest. Cue the tutorial dungeon (or second tutorial dungeon, as the game opens with a dream-sequence), where he kills lizards and stuff until he's gotten enough shells to make said gift. At this point, you've had enough sanity for one day, so while reclining on a beach, a time rift opens and Serge falls through into a parallel world where he died as a young boy. You'll spend much of the game bouncing between the two versions of the world trying to figure out just what's happening -- a task made more complicated by the strange girl who keeps popping up claiming some sort of spiritual bond to Serge. And then a second strange girl with a French accent does the same. And we're not even going into things like the cat-man general posing as your adversary, the body-swapping, the rock opera to save an island, the dragon gods, the computer that controls everything and the growing confusion as I slowly realized that I needed to shut my brain off and just try to enjoy the pretty pictures and music because everything else was giving me acid flashbacks.

Like wondering why Serge had about 40 teammates, many of whom are goofy chaps who are there just to give you more guys to play with. It just seems logical that if you have this complex, convoluted story, you might want to focus on a small handful of characters and build things around their interactions as they try to solve the game's mysteries -- you know, keeping things simple. Instead, Square created a cast of dozens. Sure, a number of these characters are integral to at least some part of the plot, as they help (or hinder) Serge at some point and time before joining him; but then you have the voodoo doll, the skeletal clown, the living turnip, the pro wrestling priest, the mushroom man and many others. To give all these characters personality in a world before virtually all dialogue became voice-acted, each one has an accent or quirk written into their lines. So, you'll have a chef punctuating words with "CHA" and a powerful soldier WHO SPEAKS IN ALL CAPS while standing next to a valley girl comrade. Creative padding at its best. To get all the characters you possibly can obtain during a playthrough, you'll have to search all over the world. To get all their most powerful attacks…you'll have to search it again.

Due to a quirk in the battle system, I don't know why a person would want to go through that effort, though. Chrono Cross does something neat that makes it fun to show off to others -- it eliminates level-grinding completely. Every time you beat one of the game's many, many bosses, all your characters gain a level. And then, the next handful of battles you fight will give your three active characters small stat boosts that add up over time. After that, you'll get nothing until your next boss fight. Since enemies appear on the screen, you won't be forced into nonstop random battles and will at least be able to attempt avoiding fights until you reach the next boss.

However, like I said, those incremental post-boss bonuses do add up over time. It benefits a player to pick a couple sidekicks they really like to keep with them as much as possible. Sorry, Kid, you might be a major player in the plot, but with all the story elements conspiring to keep you out of active duty for extended periods of time, I only used you if the game forced me to. The game does make you experiment with new members to a degree, as a mid-game event does cause you to temporarily lose your current party and start from scratch to build another one, but still, I found it wisest to pick a couple of good characters and stick with them as much as possible. By the end of the game, those guys will wind up with more health, as well as superior strength and magic numbers, just because of all those tiny stat boosts.

Then again, it's not like there's much purpose to experimenting with different characters unless you want to see the two or three unique attacks each one can gain. For the most part, you'll be using the same attacks no matter who's in your party. Characters alternate between weak, regular and strong attacks; as well as various spells and special attacks. Honestly, fighting makes me think the game is basically built around its many boss fights. Against most regular foes, all you have to do is spam regular attacks until they collapse. However, strategy is a necessity when taking on most bosses. You only get so many uses of your spells per battle, so you'll have to wisely use them against these durable foes or risk a situation where they're pounding you with tough attacks and you're out of healing spells or those attack spells it's weak against. I loved fighting bosses -- everything else just seemed to be wasting time in comparison.

That's the thing about Chrono Cross -- it alternates between great moments and mundane ones. At its best, it's memorable in all the right ways and hits all the right notes. Late in the game, you go to a place called Chronopolis, where ghosts of a bygone era roam the halls and rooms. As you explore, you get flashbacks of scientists talking about some huge plan that's about to go into effect. The haunting soundtrack and images of present desolation show you that whatever they were doing didn't work out so well, which gives this part of the game a beautifully melancholic vibe as you realize you might be watching these spirits reliving their final moments. It's the sort of thing I love seeing in my games and it's far superior to the forced "humans are evil world-killers" aesops periodically rammed down your throat; the ton of filler characters and the awkward moments when the designers remembered this is supposed to be a sequel, so they better find a way to insert characters and concepts of Chrono Trigger. This last one results in you finding a guy (Guile) who may or may not be based on Magus, a guy (Glenn) who may or may not be based on the human form of Frog and a prehistoric island complete with an expy of Ayla.

Chrono Cross is a solid game. I've beaten it three times on my own and because time-consuming things like level-grinding aren't necessary, I even beat it with a friend, with us trading the controls back-and-forth every boss fight or so. It's a great junk food game that goes by quickly. Other than the graphics and sound, it's just not a memorable one, though. And when you're the sequel to an extremely beloved game, "not memorable" just isn't good enough.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (March 03, 2012)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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zippdementia posted March 03, 2012:

This was like having a really good conversation about the downfalls of Chrono Cross with a good friend. One of those reviews of the game which makes me glad, because I don't have to write one, now. The only part I disagree with is "it's a great junk food game that goes by quickly." Chrono Cross does NOT go by quickly. It's frickin' 60 hours long.

Though I guess if you just spammed the enter button on all the dialog, you could get through in about half the time.

Anyway, great job, Suskie.
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overdrive posted March 03, 2012:

I guess by "junk food goes by quickly", I mean just the actual game without the padding. I did about everything until the second disc, when I stopped trying to get L7 powers for characters I didn't use, as well as additional characters you only can get really late in the game and it took about 50 hours to beat it. Take away the unnecessary optional stuff that I did and it'd probably be about 40-45 hours.

Which, by today's standards, is next to nothing. Took about 70-80 to play FF XIII and still haven't done all the postgame marks. Or a western game like Skyrim, where you can put 100 in and not feel like you've done nearly all you can do.

It's crazy how RPGs have become time-eaters over the years. A far cry from Dragon Warrior and its one continent.
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Suskie posted March 03, 2012:

Yeah, in every way, I feel Chrono Cross is an example of trying to have one's cake and eat it too. Like how they go through great lengths to tell this complex, dreamlike story in a potentially fascinating setting and then fill it with too many characters to ever really connect. Or how they give us this big, beautiful world to explore and then limit the experience system in such a way that every minor battle after the first five or six between story-related bosses yields virtually no reward. Your review communicated all of that, so well done. And thanks for the comments, Masters.
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EmP posted March 03, 2012:

Perhaps the greatest sin of Chrono Cross is that it isn't Chrono Trigger.

I disagree. I feel the greatest sin of Chrono Cross is that it is Chrono Cross.
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espiga posted March 03, 2012:

This was a great review, Suskie. Probably one of your best, and one that I agree with wholeheartedly.
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zippdementia posted March 03, 2012:

Don't forget, though, that Chrono Cross wants you to play it three frickin times in order to fully fill out your roster. There are three ways to approach Viper Manor the first time you go there and each bags you a different set of characters. Incidentally, that was one thing I did enjoy about the game, was how the branching paths really are different. The whole thing where you have to decide whether or not to save Kid leads to two entirely different games, which lasts a long while until the sections dovetail again.
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Genj posted March 03, 2012:

I vaguely remember some scene in Chrono Cross where the half naked rock star plays a concert and he flies around on stage with a bunch of faeries. Did that actually happen or am I making this up?
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SleazyBastard posted March 03, 2012:

Everybody is expecting to play Mass Effect 3, and not Chrono Cross.

Get on with time.
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Halon posted March 04, 2012:

I don't think I will like this game anymore :(

However I feel this has to do with the fact that JRPG's in general have not aged well at all (note: I haven't played one since around 2003 so things might've changed).
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zippdementia posted March 04, 2012:

It totally happens, Genj. There's also a scene where a hideously old man turns you into kittens and you play as kittens as a while, a scene that takes place in one of Dali's paintings, and a Catman who dramatically shouts at the screen (ALL CAPS): YOU ARE THE CHRONO TRIGGER1!!
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zippdementia posted March 16, 2012:

You know one thing that was really cool about Chrono Cross? That opening CGI movie that plays if you let the game sit too long at the intro scene. I think I've spent more time watching that intro than playing the game.

Okay, probably not, but I certainly enjoyed it more.
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zippdementia posted March 16, 2012:

Oh hey, you didn't mention the terrible battle music. I suddenly feel like this review is somehow incomplete.

EDIT: oh wait, nevermind. There it is. This is a Chrono Cross review after all.
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overdrive posted March 17, 2012:

That opening movie is awesome. In fact, as long as you only watch it, the entire game is awesome! It's just the whole dealing with characters while going through the same dungeons repeatedly part that gets a person down...

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