I have mentioned previously that I consider Chrono Trigger one of the greatest videogames ever made. One can imagine my anticipation, then, when finally, after several years, a sequel to Chrono Trigger was announced. I reserved Chrono Cross and played it as soon as it came out.
As I mentioned in my discussion of Chrono Trigger, I found Chrono Cross disappointing as a sequel; basically it undid or made worse than useless the achievements of your original group of heroes in Chrono Trigger. I had hoped for an actual sequel that took off from the ending of Chrono Trigger (my actual vision was that you would select one of Chrono Trigger's endings and then play from there, giving you several different paths to start with).
However, taken on its own merits, Chrono Cross is a quite good game overall, and I feel it deserved better than just being dismissed by me in a few paragraphs.
The greatest immediate hook for this game – and one that never lost its attraction for me, even at the peak of my reaction against the game – is the opening, which is not only beautifully done for its time (about 12 years ago), but also features one of the greatest pieces of videogame music ever composed, "Time's Scar"; this piece may be my favorite theme from a videogame ever, and is certainly in the top three.
The game begins with what could either be viewed as a flashforward, or a brief interlude in the present which then goes to a very extended flashback. After making your way through some huge tower in pursuit of an unknown enemy, you go back into the past, before the main character (by default named "Serge") had begun any adventures. As in Chrono Trigger, he is awakened by his mother telling him to get up, and then wanders about the village, greeting people (and incidentally, of course, getting some tutorial pointers to let the player learn how to do things) and exploring the nearby world. Eventually he decides to go get a "Komodo scale" for the girl he apparently is dating (or trying to date), and then meets up with her on a nearby beach.
And then suddenly the world glows around him, a strange shimmer of light goes up… and he blacks out.
When he comes to… the world is utterly different, yet eerily the same, a world in which, he quickly finds, he was born… but died as a baby.
From this wrenching beginning, Serge must set out to discover how it was possible that he has passed from one world to another, how he can return to his own world, and what the meaning of the existence of the two worlds truly implies for his future… and that of everyone living in both. He will confront a deadly enemy and meet new friends, and eventually will discover that it is his job – and that of his friends – to fix a terrible mistake made by another group of heroes, a mistake that could shatter both worlds and that hides an even worse danger, one that can only be dealt with using the legendary power of the Chrono Cross.
For a Playstation game, Chrono Cross was beautiful; even today, I sometimes find myself admiring some of the imagery, such as the underwater scenes. The combat system, with its wide selection of "elements" that characters could equip and use in varying ways, was easy to learn the basics of, yet offering enough complexity and challenge to minimize the usual boredom that sets in after the first several hours of play on such games. It was one of the first games I played that had an extensive system for players to design and construct their own equipment, and also had stores enough so that not being interested in constructing the equipment wouldn't be a fatal loss.
While – as with most game writeups – I am trying to avoid too many spoilers, I will say that the overall plot was well done; tightly written, with good cutscenes, narrative hooks, and enough logic behind it to make the overall game hang together reasonably well. In addition to the opening theme, much of the other music of Chrono Cross was quite well done, some of the themes very powerful and the final ending music beautiful indeed.
You get to meet and have the opportunity to recruit a lot of characters – a total of 45 playable characters exist, if I recall correctly, and I don't think I've yet gotten them all, even on my third play-through. Most characters also have some side-story info or events that you have to play through, so that you know something about them. Despite minimal "face time" with a lot of these characters, Chrono Cross does very well in giving the player some feeling of connection with them, enough so that you often find yourself choosing the characters as much for who you like most than for what "load-out" would be most useful for this dungeon.
I won't go into the typical limitations of the game – I've had that rant and no need to repeat it. It is a tad linear, but the initial motivation of our main character, and the importance of things as he continues, are a pretty good excuse to keep things relatively streamlined. If you're a Chrono Trigger fan, my recommendation is to try not to let the connections bother you. I found it's much better the second or third time through, when I was no longer focused on what it wasn't doing, and more on what it was doing – and, often, doing quite well.
For those who are willing to play older games at all, I would definitely recommend giving Chrono Cross a try!