Chrono Cross (PlayStation) review
"I do not care for this game."
Video games are awesome. They have that ability to shape and mould your emotions throughout, making you little more than a puppet grasping a control pad. They can inflict wonderment, losing you in a make-believe world more fantastic than your drab reality can present; they can lend you the icy touch of fear, making you jump or squeal or scream in horror as nightmarish images assault your senses. With games -- the right games -- comes an emotional attachment: smile, cry, laugh, gag -- for every experience, there is a reaction.
Chrono Cross inspires hate.
It's not like it's the worst RPG out there; no, that dubious honour goes to Monsterseed. But while Monsterseed is simply a poorly-made crapfest that happens to be hilariously inept, Chrono Cross is an insult to my intelligence. A convoluted mess of a game with complexity thrown on top of complexity in the vain hope it appears deep and gamers will swallow it.
I will not conform, Square! I will not swallow this train-wreck!
If it has anything going for it at all, it's that, for the most part, it looks and sounds great. Some people would agree that so does Paris Hilton, but after being subjected to more then 15 minutes of either, I'm ready to indulge in a hammer-wielding killing-spree. Chrono Cross offers up a meagre veneer of attractiveness to try and deflect your attention away from its myriad of uncountable flaws, and in this it nearly succeed. Kudos to you, Square, at least the people working on this game's sound and graphics can be rewarded; everyone else should be taken outside and shot. Twice. In the sodding head!
However! Even though the vast bulk of the music is awesome, the piece you hear the most, the battle theme, is such an ear-bleeding nocturne of violin/cat strangling abuse, you'll wonder if some kind-hearted employee wanted to try and warn you away from the painful mess that is combat. You know, like how poisonous frogs try and warn you not to lick them by looking like a hopping pile of acidic waste.
Because fighting introduces you to the genre standard turn-based fare with a twist of that complexity overkill I made reference to earlier. You patiently await your turn and when it comes around, you're treated to a varying degree of attacks that you can make, the higher the power, the less chance you have of connecting with the blow. You also have a set stamina rate, so you can only abuse so many attacks before your round is over. However, the only tactic needed here is to start the combo off with a few low-impact strikes, which in turn, improve the hit ratio of your high-energy blows. The game will even hold your hand and point out this simplistic tactic; each round will happily highlight the most powerful attack available with an 85% or better chance of landing, so you'll just find yourself pumping your X button, hoping you can fly through the fight as quickly as possibly so you can escape the aforementioned mute-button-inducing battle theme.
Let's reflect: It's a turn-based battle system that mindlessly chooses the best route for you, making the player nothing more than a mannequin mashing the X button. And, because of the irrelevant complexity of things, it takes about five times longer than your substandard wait-your-turn-and-strike-your-foe encounters more commonly employed by substantially better games. Revolutionary!
There's also the magic system that allows you to 'equip' elemental magics to your characters, but by the time you're able to build up the ability to use them via physical attack spamming, the battle is long over. The side-effect? Any of the unused power from this hackneyed system will heal your team after the battle, making them a shining totem of invincibility. Why fear damage when it's all automatically healed for you? Simple enough answer; you don't.
Some glimmer of hope stood in the fact that, like the vastly superior Lunar or Grandia games, foes are visible on the overworld, but unlike the previously mentioned masterpieces, Cross' enemies will charge you on-sight with a reckless, undodgeable bull-rush, or get jammed behind a bit of (admittedly gorgeous) scenery. Of course, these fights are just filler, because you don't actually gain anything of worth from them. Desperate to carry on the trend of being overly convoluted, you don't level up here via experience gained from battles. Gosh no! That's so passé! You can only level up through collecting stars from boss fights, and even then, the stat increases you gain are completely and unavoidably random.
Let me save you some time: the biggest flaw in Chrono Cross' huge arsenal of problems and moronic tweaks is that it's so busy trying to be something fresh and new that it doesn't bother with the little trivialities like being competent or enjoyable. Frankly, this game's wonky popularity is akin to throwing a mutated sheep corpse up in a famous art gallery and then berating people for not recognising art when all you have is a rotting, stinking carcass.
And it gets worse still -- courage, dear reader!
The start of the game sees you control charisma-lacking mute, Serge and his band of merry dorks through the draughty corridors of a medieval castle. Tapestries flutter in the breeze, torches flicker, shadows shift, surreal events unfold in a series of beautiful CGIs. Then Surge wakes up, discovers it was all just a dream, and is sent out to find shinies from the local beach by the command of his persona-less girlfriend. Oh boy! This will be explained later in the game, but thanks to some truly awful pacing, by the time it gets around to it, you've already forgotten about the events.
Why? Because Chrono Cross loves to bury anything of importance in a sea of trivialities. Of the 45 playable members available to you, maybe 5 have any real relevance to the plot, the rest are just bipedal shapes with pretty colours and silly names that all fit snugly into every cliché and stereotype you may want to imagine. So lacking are these characters in form of worth or personality that the only way Square could try and make each seem individualistic was to force upon them a varying degree of text-defined accents. Aussie characters will say 'mate' and 'G'day' every half-chance they get while native americans will have 'um' thrown on the end of every other sentence. You'll get lines of text written in phonetic gibberish to try and represent French accents, German accents, Mexican accents -- all set in a world where these places don't even bloody exist! Out of place and stupid, but more than anything else, a chore to read through and mentally translate.
Chrono Cross is allergic to simplicity.
But hope sprung anew when Square realised the finished product was a broken mess! "Fear not, denizens!", they cried to angry fans in an appeasing tone, "Cross is simply the second part of a trilogy! All the plot holes, the hiccups, the convoluted overtones we've shoved down your throat will all make sense when the trilogy is complete!" And so a sea of gamers waited.
The copyrights to the name Chrono Break expired shortly after Square merged with Enix, and has not been refurbished. You see, even they knew they'd irreparably broken the series. I am become Cross, they said, destroyer of Chrono.
If only they'd left it at Trigger.
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