This review of ChronoCross (abbreviated CC) is actually less a review of CC and more a rant about CC. As I'm sure all our high school English teachers admonished us, the use of specifics to illustrate points helps add vigor to our writing. I'm following that advice, which means I will be occasionally inserting spoilerish references to both ChronoCross and ChronoTrigger (abbreviated CT), though there will actually be more for the latter than the former. The plot, characters, and themes sections are particularly rife. You have been warned.--CurtisVinson
Plot: The fundamental problem I had with CC's plot was that it failed to engage, all the way from the beginning until the very end. I often ended up playing the game because I felt obligated to finish it, not because I cared about what happened next. Unlike ChronoTrigger, where you get thrown more or less into the thick of the action from the very beginning, in ChronoCross the plot starts tepidly, even though the key event (Crono's first jump through the time gate vs. Serge's parallel world jump) is similar. For a great deal of the plot, I felt a lack of motivation, both as a player and on behalf of Serge: he seemed to just be dragged around to advance the plot without any real explanation of why he cared, and I failed to see why I should care. After his first encounter with Lynx in Fort Dragonia, his motivations became clearer, but as a player, I still felt like I had been left hanging. By the time the designers finally started to reveal all the mysteries at Fort Chronopolis, I had lost interest, and even their valiant efforts couldn't revive it. I'll discuss this feeling of lack of direction more in the gameplay section.
A connected problem was my real lack of emotional involvement. ChronoTrigger, for all its simplicity, had many incidents which evoked emotion. Nothing in ChronoCross captured the poignancy of the scene after Crono's revival on Death Peak, the tragedy of the destruction of Zeal, or the very real feeling of victory at defeating Lavos. ChronoCross had its moments, such as the meeting with Miguel or Serge's rescue of Kid from the burning orphanage, but other scenes which should have caused me to feel something didn't, like Kid's poisoning or even the entirety of the "good" ending.
Finally, even in the very end, the plot remained turgid and confused. While ChronoTrigger had fuzzy boundaries on its own plot, with the two major points being the fate of Schala and the real force behind the creation of the Time Gates, ChronoCross's ending generated more questions than it answered, and a lot of the explanation in the middle left subtle holes which were never patched. I still don't understand the way the time streams and parallel worlds interacted.
Characters: A contributing factor to this problem was the sheer number of (44 total) and corresponding lack of development for the characters. Certainly, many of the characters were throwaways whom were inconsequential to the greater plot and thus we shouldn't expect any real development for, but that still left too many, around 15. This split the development too many ways and what development there was often handled poorly. Serge, in honor of Crono, is mute. Unfortunately, it doesn't work nearly as well in ChronoCross as it did in ChronoTrigger, and I left the game feeling like I never really knew Serge. This is a problem, since Serge is the only character who matters to the plot, who you receive early, and who actually stays with you. Kid, who you would expect to be more important, spends most of her time on her deathbed or separated from you (after Serge is transformed into Lynx); I think there was meant to be a love subplot there, but it died on the vine. The same is true of most of your other allies: they are usually given one major plot event to illuminate their character, and that's it. In ChronoTrigger, you carried your companions with you through the entire game; while I wouldn't call any of CT's characters deeply developed and in some ways CC's characters are more realistic, I still knew CT's characters a lot better by the end of the game than any of CC's charactes.
I think my issues with the game are largely summed up by the observation that Starky is a plot character. --Andrew
Themes: I had some serious issues with ChronoCross's mangling of ChronoTrigger's themes. In CT, it was implied that Crono, Marle/Nadia?, Lucca, and company fought on behalf of the planet against Lavos for all living things, without all of this crap about humans not living in harmony in nature (which, not so incidentally, is an old hoary which I hate with the white hot passion of a thousand suns). While ChronoTrigger did not make clear the question of whether humans evolved as a result of Lavos's intervention, I interpreted the answer as no: the Dreamstone was indigenous to the planet because it existed before Lavos's fall, and it ultimately caused humans to develop the way they did. (The exact quote, from behind one of Belthasar's doors in Zeal, goes something like, "Mankind's ancestors found the shards of a rare, red rock. The rock spawned dreams, and in turn, love and hate were born. Where it will all end, only time will tell.") Ayla, with the help of the others, also defeated Azala and the Black Tyrano before Lavos's fall, so arguably the Reptites were doomed even without considering Lavos's intervention. The whole storyline in 65 Million Years B.C. focused on the question of evolutionary conflict, but never provided any solid answers: no mention is made of who "started" the war between the Reptites and the humans. Moreover, after defeating Azala, Ayla offers to rescue him from Lavos's descent, but he refuses, declaring that the "apes" won and they should enjoy the fruits of their victory, which in this case is an Ice Age. In CC, the humans appear as the villains, but without any real explanation; moreover, the themes of evolutionary conflict and love/hatred between different lifeforms are entangled. This was present to a degree in ChronoTrigger, mainly in the conflict between the Mystics and humans in 600 and 1000 A.D. and robots and humans in 2300 A.D., but those particular incidents were the result of the manipulations of Magus/Janus? and Mother Brain respectively. Finally, the whole demi-human thing feels like an import from XenoGears; while ChronoTrigger did have the conflict between the Mystics and the humans, there were no demi-humans in ChronoTrigger (except for Frog/Glenn?, but he had a completely different origin). I guess one of the roots of my problem with ChronoCross is that it takes ChronoTrigger's generally optimistic feel and turns it into something gloomier, and frankly, I preferred the ChronoTrigger's interpretation.
Gameplay: Shifting gears completely, I was also not entirely pleased with ChronoCross's gameplay. While they took some of the few problems with ChronoTrigger and fixed them, they also managed to generate a whole new raft of problems which more than overwhelmed the few improvements the made. Most of the most serious issues center around the massive number of characters in ChronoCross. The combat system, as I mentioned in the XenoGears node, is a much improved and updated version of XenoGears' system, and the Element system which piggybacks off it is an interesting variation on magic, which restricts the power and abusability inherent in many magic systems. I have no issues with the combat system; it works.
The Element system is another matter: after a very early stage in the game, the amount of micromanagement needed to use it becomes overwhelming. Each character has an ever-increasing number of grids to individually fill with elements, and I could easily spend half an hour or more just futzing with the elements for my main party. By the end of the game, I had selected two characters out of my cast of thousands to use for everything I could simply because I didn't want to waste the time reorganizing my elements. Moreover, it felt like micromanagement to no effect; while the overall features of the grid are important, most individual decisions are fungible and substituting one element for another usually has very minor effects on battles, even for reasonably powerful elements. There is an option to allow the computer to outfit your characters, but the computer is so hopelessly incompetent that the option might as well not exist. Moreover, money is limited enough in ChronoCross that you can't afford to simply buy appropriate elements for everyone, not even dealing with the issue of the many elements which you are not able to purchase and which thus must be transferred from character to character. Thus the Element system more or less restricts character usage, unless you find that kind of micromanagement interesting. I enjoy micromanagement to a degree, but I'm very results-oriented; I like to see numbers go up or at the very least noticeably improved combat/whatever efficiency for my decisions, neither of which the Element system provides.
I'll give a bit more detail later, when I feel like spending time on it; I "solved" the problem of micromanagement by simply *not* micromanaging such things. At all. I think I occasionally went hunting through equipped characters for single instances of particularly rare Elements. (This was also the solution I chose for the similar problems in [FF8]). Certainly, this is not the most preferable solution, but it seems to work (though I did lose a Revive when SPOILER left the party ... rrr). Suffice to say I agree with Curtis, though (gasp!). -Andrew
If the Element system is too complicated, then the equipment system is too simple. The idea of constructing equipment out of various materials is interesting (and undoubtedly comes from the trading hut which appeared in CT), but there are only five levels of equipment in the game. There are a variety of accessories which you can find but not make, and they help by generating some are some strategic decisions, but for the most part it's a simple matter of climb the ladder, provided that you have the materials necessary, the availability of which are tightly constrained by plot events, and the money. I have no problem with the scarcity of money, but even with the puny amount of equipment, trading equipment across your army of characters becomes annoying after a while.
One of the things I greatly appreciated about ChonoTrigger? was its simple, intuitive interfaces for handling characters' equipment and techs. ChronoCross handles neither equipment nor elements elegantly, and the interfaces, while certainly not as bad as they could be, simply aren't up to the job. Especially, there needed to be more sorting options for the elements, the ones already there needed to be improved, and the equipment, particularly accessories, needed any type of sorting at all; I would even have been willing to do it manually, if there had been that option!
Finally, there's the issue of character management and development. I thought the star system, while something of a hack, did a decent job of performing its purpose: limiting the power of leveling to make the game easy while simultaneously providing a faster way to get maximized stats on multiple New Game+'s. However, from my observations of stat growth in game, the system resulted in favoring the "pick one party method:" i.e., if you used one pair of characters to accompany Serge consistently, those characters would get better stat growth and eventually become noticeably more powerful than the ones you had not been using, making you even more reluctant to abandon them. For a game with so many characters, I did not appreciate this phenomenon. Handling the transfer of characters in and out of the party was another problem. In ChronoTrigger, you could legally swap and out characters anywhere by pressing the Y button. This ability was abusable, because you could use characters as pinch hitters, using the MP of characters outside the party to do the healing or alternatively just replacing low HP characters. In ChronoCross, the Tele-Porter item serves much the same purpose, but can only be used on the overworld map and at save points. Unfortunately, there were a lot more situations in CC than in CT where I wanted to switch characters in a town or dungeon and couldn't, so I ended up doing a lot of unnecessary running around. Moreover, the pinch hitter issue doesn't exist in CC: with a mere modicum of effort or intelligent play, it's easily possible to keep all your characters at maximum HP outside battle, and there is no MP (at least not that would be affected by switching characters), so I don't know why they couldn't have simply left this extremely convenient option in the game.
ChronoCross does do some things right. The game has a default to run option and the text speed can be set so it isn't too terribly slow. The game's pre-rendered areas are intuitively navigable, i.e. the direction I intuitively pressed the control pad resulted in my characters going the direction I wanted, unlike their compatriots in FinalFantasySeven and FinalFantasyEight. The annoying build-up of Relics in ChronoTrigger is averted by the ability to sell, trade, or disassemble practically all the Elements and equipment in the game.
ChronoCross is not very difficult. I had to reload the battle against the Hydra in the marshes; it was the only required battle I ever had to do that for, and only because I had not equipped Elements on one of my characters and didn't realize you could run from bosses. The rest of the game I more or less finished on the first try, and even the battle which were mentioned as being difficult in the FAQ's I just breezed through. I had a little trouble getting my equipment appropriately set up for the Criosphinx, and pulling off the good ending using the ChronoCross was a bit tricky (speaking of which, HOW IN THE HELL ARE YOU TO SUPPOSED TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO THAT WITHOUT A FAQ?), but both those are optional.
Uh, the FAQs mention some subquest with Masa and Mune, which at least provides slight edification. Other than that, I don't know.
It has been 6 months since I played, but if I remember correctly I saw so many damn hints (some of which were NOT subtle) about how to use the ChronoCross that I was getting really mad at the game designers for making it so bloody obvious what you were supposed to do in the final battle. Everything from the Sphinx telling you how to use it to many occurances of flashy colors in the correct order in several places near the end to the stupid "let's switch to different places during the battle and, oh, wait, do those happen to be in the right color sequence? what a surprise" thing in the final battle.. oh, and the musical notes when you use elements, or the colored dots.. or... geez, I figured it out. But maybe that's cuz I spent a long time on the late part of the game, doing lots of sidequests. -- TimBuchheim
I recall that I got to the end of the game by a process of periodically sinking a weekend into it. Combined with the "I don't care" factor that Curtis mentions WRT the plot, this meant that I had little recollection of what had gone before, much less what I was supposed to be doing. As such, they might have explained the use for the CC at some point and I just didn't recall the explanation when I got it (I know the use of it didn't seem terribly intuitive just after I got it...). I do recall several of the "colors-in-the-correct-order" bits you mention, looking back on it, but I guess I didn't have enough invested in the game at that point to put two and two together. --AndrewSchoonmaker
Eye-and-Ear-Candy: Like ChronoTrigger, ChronoCross came late in the lifetime of its platform and thus could use its platform's capabilities to full effect. ChronoCross is a beautiful game; the character models look good both in and out of battle, the FMV's are good-looking and appropriate, and the pre-rendered backgrounds are sometimes stunning. Occasionally, the graphics seemed a bit grainy, but I might just be spoiled by large computer monitors running at high resolutions and color depths. The music is even better, surpassing ChronoTrigger in areas; I especially enjoyed the opening and ending themes and the boss music inside Terra Tower. The designers also made effective use of silence where appropriate, which is something I always appreciate in video games. In these areas, ChronoCross is probably the best PlayStation game I have ever played; it's just too bad the rest of the game doesn't hold up to their standards.
Summary: I sometimes wonder if the reason I like ChronoTrigger so much is because I see it through the rosy-colored glasses of myself as I was several years ago, whenever I first played it. While I don't really think so, I suppose it always is a possibility that if it had come out today, that I would, with my ever more cynical eye, be writing a similar review for it. Regardless, the two fundamental problems I have with ChronoCross are the way they handled the continuation of ChronoTrigger's story and the game's lack of polish. The first issue I can only claim to be partly judging based on technical merit; there's some personal bias there, too. The second, however, mars the game more deeply, and is the real reason I simply didn't enjoy it as much as ChronoTrigger. ChronoCross had a lot of the same elements as ChronoTrigger, but in ChronoTrigger, they meshed; in ChronoCross, they didn't. My ultimate verdict is that I simply didn't have as much fun playing the game, and that's the most damning indictment I can give. ChronoCross gets three of five possible stars; while I certainly ran it down the country in comparison with ChronoTrigger, remember that ChronoTrigger remains my favorite console RPG ever. ChronoCross isn't a bad game, it just isn't a great one either.
TimBuchheim: One thing which you don't mention, and I think a lot of people don't realize, is that while ChronoCross is a sequel to ChronoTrigger, in a way it's also a sequel to a different game. In 1996 Squaresoft released a text-based adventure (a computerized ChooseYourOwnAdventure?, really) called "Radical Dreamers: Le Tresor Interdit" for the "Satelleview", which allowed you to download games for your Super Famicom. The main characters of RD were named Kid, Serge, and Gill. Apparently the game goes into more detail about the Kid/Lucca? relationship than CC. Some of the music in CC came from RD. The following pages have some info on RD:
AndrewSchoonmaker: Having picked up the game again after a good two years of not playing it, the game bears some striking similarities to MetalGearSolid2, at least from replaying the first bit: it's a sequel, and yet constantly makes reference to the previous game, which I found highly amusing in MGS2, but didn't particularly notice in CC the last time around because I hadn't played CT in several years (not that I'm doing much better this time around, but...). I don't recall if MGS2 was the game that I played where it became increasingly clear that some of the team wasn't taking the project seriously any more... (CC seems to lean in that direction as well).
In response to Curtis' wonder if he would find ChronoTrigger similarly problematic if he had not played it up until now, I'd say a resounding "no"; while I also played CT several years ago and had a few good memories of it, it was not until I sat down and played through it again when it was rereleased as part of the FinalFantasy Chronicles that it really blew me away.