Chrono Cross (PlayStation) review
"The reason is simple: every place you visit in Chrono Cross feels right. When you leave your home village to gather some shells and make your sexy girlfriend a necklace, lizards scramble across mounds of pale sand while peaceful waves lap at the distant shore. When you sneak into a mansion at night, the moonlight bathes the lush foliage in its pale glow. Ghost ships emerge from foggy mists."
Iím about to shock some of you to your very core, but I have to say it: Chrono Cross is one of my favorite role-playing games. There, I said it. That wasnít so bad, was it? Sure, some of you are probably gagging, remembering how you didnít like the game or how many of your friends called it trash, but that doesnít keep it from being one of the absolute best the genre ever saw in its Playstation days. This is true for any number of reasons.
First, you have the visuals. I know itís not popular to start a review by talking about something like graphics, but the sheer beauty on display here is so integral to the gameís appeal that failure to put it on a pedestal would be a disservice to everyone. Simply put, I canít recall another game on the system that looked this amazing as a whole. Final Fantasy IX, with a fog-enshrouded world I absolutely adored, came closest. Even it faltered.
The reason is simple: every place you visit in Chrono Cross feels right. When you leave your home village to gather some shells and make your sexy girlfriend a necklace, lizards scramble across mounds of pale sand while peaceful waves lap at the distant shore. When you sneak into a mansion at night, the moonlight bathes the lush foliage in its pale glow. Ghost ships emerge from foggy mists. Molten lava belches beneath rocky outcroppings. Flamboyant banners crisscross a city square. A stream ripples as it catches light from the sun. Every single location you visit is a work of spectacular art, and it would take forever to mention them all here.
You might be asking yourself why you should care that everything looks so nice. Itís simple: good games grab you, drag you through their worlds and leave you wishing you could dwell there forever. Chrono Cross does precisely that, in large part because the visuals make everything so atmospheric. Consider it a vacation from the dreary castle parapets and slimy dungeons that fill other genre staples. Exploring every nook and cranny of this world is pure joy.
Youíre rewarded for your curiosity in a number of ways. The most obvious is the cast of characters youíll meet. You see, choices you make affect what parts of the game you experience. To be fair, there arenít a lot of forks in the road, but there are an important few. I went through it twice before I realized that instead of heading through the front gate of Lord Viperís manor (a tactic that leads to a humorous and dangerous exchange with some burly guards), I could have tried skirting its outer walls and making a stealth entry. The reason I didnít know this was simple: I talked to the wrong people.
Chrono Cross is full of the Ďwrongí people, but also the right ones. Any time you meet someone with a name, thereís a good chance he or she can join your party. Is that cook looking a bit dangerous the way he waves around that knife? Recruit him! Does the pirate look like heíd kick ass in a good duel? Get him to join your team and you can find out for yourself! Most of the characters are easily discovered, and not all of them add a lot to the experience, but itís always exciting when your crewís size increases again and you get to test out some new party members. Some of them are downright lethal! There are more than 40 characters in total. While some people complain that theyíre not all useful, a claim I canít entirely dismiss, I definitely appreciated the ten or so that were valuable additions. Besides, you can easily enough ignore those ones that prove themselves unimpressive.
Even if I werenít caught up in the characters, though, or finding the hidden island locations, the plot wouldíve been enough to keep me playing through the game at least twice. Though it starts out simple with a boy running around his village the morning after he suffers through a recurring nightmare, it quickly turns into an adventure that will take him throughout the world he knows, and an alternate dimension where he must come to grips with a darker side he never knew existed. Dragons, portals, elemental magic and more will make appearances, until everyone is caught up in a twisting tale of intrigue and menace that spans the ages. Itís everything I like in a good role-playing game, and it contains enough surprises to keep you on your toes.
Because the plot was so good, I never thought for a moment that I would stop playing the game. I rushed through it not once but twice, and I loved every minute. Certainly, that wouldnít have been the case if the battles sucked. Fortunately, they do not. Rather than follow its standard approach at the time, Square implemented an element-based structure similar to other genre greats such as Skies of Arcadia. Each character possesses an elemental affinity, and there is of course someone out there that has the exact opposite strength. That much is standard, but the grids you gather are not. Purchase skills, assign them to slots, then use them in battle to demolish your enemies while rousing guitar music keeps things tense. Then, when things wind down and you have some time to breathe, youíll probably find yourself smiling (as I did) while you rush to that next challenge.
But wait! Chrono Cross innovates again! How many times have you played through a game where you found that progression required level-building campaigns? Too many times to count, right? Here, thatís not a concern. The game is paced perfectly. This is true mostly because of its unique rewards system. Instead of regularly building levels and tracking pages of stats, you just keep moving in a natural progression. Defeating a boss grants you a boost in power, while fighting hordes of monsters in a dungeon does not. This helps to ensure that youíre always pushing forward. Boss battles are never too challenging, and are in some cases welcome because they mean youíll come out of them tougher than you were when you started.
With such innovations, with such a beautiful world to explore, with such an amazing plot, youíd think people throughout the world would be singing praises to Chrono Cross for years to come. They arenít. I can only suppose theyíre looking for something else in their role-playing games. If you want something different, though, something with amazing production values (donít even get me started on the stunning soundtrack, complete with enough stringed and wind instruments to fill a music hall) and a lot of heart, donít listen to the naysayers. Give this game a chance and youíll be thanking me tomorrow. Then youíll be playing through it again, and again, just because itís that much fun. If only every sequel could be this good!
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 13, 2005)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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