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Chrono Cross (PlayStation) artwork

Chrono Cross (PlayStation) review

"Chrono Cross is a terrible game. "

Chrono Cross is a terrible game.

I mean, it starts off well enough. You’re thrown right into the action: Serge, your run-of-the-mill silent protagonist, and Kid, the obligatory female lead who dresses like a cheap prostitute, engage in a brief [one-sided] conversation as they enter the top level of the villainous Lynx’s stronghold. The place is atmospheric, a maze of winding stone corridors lit by feebly flickering torches that do little to dispel the tower’s shadowy ambience. The small party makes its way through the reddish half-light, soon emerging on the tower’s roof. A teleporter transports them to a still higher level, this one also open-air, and before them stands an enormous door. Cryptic runes are emblazoned onto its surface. Serge slowly pushes it open…

…a surreal sequence of cryptic CGIs follows, and then –

He wakes up!?

Apparently untroubled by his odd dream, Serge goes about his painfully mundane daily business in his stereotypical backcountry village. That is to say, he’s strongarmed into hunting down numerous shinies for his domineering girlfriend, Leena, who decides she wants a new necklace.

Yeah. And the whole bloody storyline is like that. On the rare occasion the plot manages to do something interesting, it screws it up somehow, usually through the awful, awful pacing. The first disc is uneventful and dull, whereas in the second disc, the game starts piling meaningless plot twist on top of meaningless plot twist for the sake of making the plot as pseudointellectually convoluted as possible. But it’s complexity for the sake of complexity, which is just tacky and unnecessary – and most of it doesn’t even get enough development to make sense. Stuff just comes out of nowhere; on the rare (and quite random) occasions characters or story elements from Chrono Trigger resurface, their plotlines are not simply butchered, but butchered in a way that’s perplexing in the context of either game. Hell, the numerous gaping plot holes had to be hastily filled in by three toddlers before the final dungeon.

The first half of the game, on the other hand, consists mostly of Serge finding himself in an alternate dimension (that is coincidentally virtually identical to his own) and bumbling aimlessly around it for a while, doing what largely amounts to filler fluff. The main plot moves far too slowly to have any real impact. For example, by the time it finally answers the mystery of the opening, it’s the end of the disc, and you’ve forgotten all about it.

And even when something bad happens to one of the characters, it’s impossible to care because 90% of the total 45 – when the plot would be exactly the same with three of them – are pretty collections of polygons whose sum total of character development is two lines of text and a ludicrous accent. It’s funny that even the writers realized you couldn’t tell the characters apart without butchering their speech, randomly chucking in umlauts and apostrophes or sticking “-um” at the end of every word instead of giving them at least a pretense of personality. And it’s not like the accents even help matters, either. Rather, they completely dominate the characters so that on the rare occasion one of them actually gets some development, it doesn’t stick with you because the dialogue is too distracting; the character has already been reduced to a flat caricature with a stupid gimmick, and it’s almost impossible to dig through it to find something underneath you can identify with.

Instead of choosing to spend their money and time making the plot or the characters not suck, the developers put in 135 unique individual character attacks, the vast majority of which are as recycled as their personalities (but with different animations)! In Suikoden, at least, you could use your hordes of party members in large-scale battles to somewhat justify their sheer number, but in Chrono Cross, you never get a similar opportunity. Most of them fall into one of the generic RPG party member archetypes, like fighter or magic-user, and play virtually identically to all other characters of that archetype; you don’t have any reason to ever put most of them in your party, rendering their existence even more pointless.

Chrono Cross did do one thing right, though, in using a universal party level, which lets you switch characters in and out of your party as you please without suffering terribly punitive consequences. However, it managed to screw even this up: the levels (represented by stars) are only gained after defeating a boss. The stat increases you get from random battles are negligible, so not only are you screwed if you’re underleveled, but there’s virtually no point to even having random battles. This succeeds only in making them colossal (and excruciatingly annoying) wastes of time.

The battle system in general suffers from being a pain, as well; it’s too caught up with trying to be original to bother with the trivial niceties of convenience or functionality. The game employs a stamina system that puts a limit on what you can do every turn, with different actions requiring a different number of points. The cost of physical attacks, for example, varies with their strength, as does their accuracy. Stronger attacks are harder to hit with but do a lot more damage, introducing an element of strategy, right? It’d be fine and dandy if you ever had any reason to change the selected attack yourself, but you don’t: every time you land a blow, your chance to hit increases considerably, and the game automatically retargets the cursor to the most powerful attack with decent accuracy. You still end up mindlessly mashing the confirm button because the game shoves the most effective strategy down your throat – changing it at all makes the whole process less effective – so instead of offering an innovation on the usual “mash X until the baddies die” philosophy most RPGs employ, you end up with “mash X until the baddies die and take four times as long doing it as you should.”

The battle system doesn’t do anything to discourage this – quite the opposite, in fact. You cast magic (dubbed elements) with levels, Chrono Cross’s equivalent of MP, which you accumulate by physically attacking. At the end of the battle, if you have any unused levels, the game gives you the option to heal your party with any available magic. Because most elements can’t be permanently used up (they’re able to be cast once a battle instead), this means you’ll usually be restored to full health at the end of every battle, which turns dungeon-crawling into a joke. It also rewards mindlessly spamming the attack option in encounters; building up enough levels to cast spells is a pain, and by the time you’ve got enough to do anything, the fight is over.

Whatever the game’s flaws, it’s hard to deny that it’s very cosmetically impressive. Chrono Cross is set on a tropical archipelago newly introduced to the series (if it can even be called that), and the verdant environments, lush with brilliantly colored foliage, reflect this. The character designs are a bit polygonal, but the CGIs, which are pretty frequent, are works of art. The music is also superb, usually soft and moody with emphasis on flute, strings, and guitar. The exception is the battle theme, featuring an obnoxiously frantic fiddle – coincidentally the one theme you hear constantly, mind. On the whole, though, the presentation is done very well.

But, in the end, a silver lining couldn’t save Chrono Cross, or indeed bring it anywhere near redemption. It’s a haphazard mess that tries to capitalize on Chrono Trigger’s success without involving the first game enough to justify it in the least. The plot is a pretentious mess, the characters are a joke, and the gameplay is dull. Overall, the entire experience is almost insulting.

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Community review by viridian_moon (October 07, 2005)

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