Chrono Cross (PS1) Review

CC cover

The recent announcements informing that Hironobu Sakaguchi (FF series creator and a driving force behind the Chrono Series), Nobuo Uematsu (Master composer of the FF series) and Masato Kato (Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross’s master mind) among others are leaving or have left Squaresoft to create their own studios, mark as I have preaching for the last few years, the end of an era.

Perhaps, Squaresoft brought this upon itself by deciding to release many mediocre RPGs on a constant basis, and dedicating itself to make profits out of FFXI ( the online RPG of the company), or maybe, perhaps, by merging with Enix.

But the fact of the matter is that there was a time period (1994-2000) when every single time that Square made an announcement about the release a new RPG, time pretty much stopped for RPG fans around the world, as they would anxiously await the game with the highest of expectations for it.

Unfortunately, those days are over, Squaresoft, over that last five years, or so, has lost much of its mystique, and now, I get more exited about a new Konami RPG or a new Namco one.

Quite simply, I have been a victim of Square’s money making – over quality – ways, for a long time now, by having to play the mediocre FFX-2, the incredibly bad Unlimited Saga, and the “Was it really necessary to make this game?” Kingdom Hearts (which I will admit now, exceeded the low expectations that I placed had for it and was actually a decent game.)

Which is why, playing Chrono Cross was such a sad and extremely melancholic experience for me. Very much in the same way that FFIX was. In short: Squaresoft might never be able to regain its “mojo” again, and I fear that the company won’t be able to produce a game rivaling those fantastic RPGs that they released from the mid nineties into the millennium.

Chrono Cross, and FFIX (which were both released in 2000) stand, as of now, as the last great RPGs from the once infallible giant developer (Though Final Fantasy X should get an honorable mention here).

But, without further due, let’s begin the review!

Gigantic Shoes to Fill

Chrono Cross is the direct sequel to the legendary and critically acclaimed Chrono Trigger, a game that is held -and placed – at the highest of pedestals for RPG gamers.

While Chrono Trigger – still is to me – a better RPG than Chrono Cross. CC still, is a more than worthy sequel, and now five years after that fact, can be considered a legend in it’s own right.

Like ‘Trigger, Chrono Cross, is one weird playing traditional RPG, in every sense of the word. Think of the Chrono Series, as a great RPG series in which Squaresoft experiments with its creativity in ways that they can’t do with the more conventional FF series.

Exploration wise, the game (Chrono Cross), controls like a FF title complete with a world map to move around, and every other element that was expected of a 32-bit era JRPG. However, where the game really sets itself apart from that (Final Fantasy) series, is its  refreshing and innovative battle system, the open-ended story (more than 10 endings!) and the incredibly large cast of characters at your disposal (although not quite as large as Suikoden’s).

The battle system in Chrono Cross is very innovative and very forgiving, which really adds to the reputation that Chrono Trigger attained for the series, as simply being fun to play.

The system is forgiving in the sense that you can escape from every battle with an 100% success rate. When I say every battle, I mean every battle! Including every boss fight. So, if you don’t like the way a battle is going simply run away, level up or complete some of the numerous sidequests to get more powerful weapons, and armor and then return, to give that boss the beating of a lifetime.

The battles are still turn based, however, that is where the similarities between this game’s and the rest of traditional RPG battle systems end. The entire battle system in this game revolves around the use of elements. There are a total of six elements, blue (water), red (fire), yellow (Lighting), green (wind), black and white.

Every single character and enemy, including the boss of the game, are innate (born) with an specific element color. This is important because success against some of the stronger bosses in the game will be attained accordingly to how well you understand this system.

Each element has its opposite element, example: Blue-Red. Blue elemental attacks against Red innate bosses are highly effective, specially if they are casted by a Blue innate party member. However, the flip side to this, is that the Red innate bosses elemental attack could be devastating to that blue innate party character. It all depends on who has the upper hand in the Field Effect gauge.

The Field Effect gauge appears on the upper left hand corner of your screen. It consists of 3 layers, if your party is fighting a black innate enemy for example, successfully managing to string 3 white elemental attacks on him, with out him casting a black elemental spell in between, will turn the field completely white.

Chrono Cross Gameplay

Careful management of the Field Gauge icon (top left of the screen) is key to success in Chrono Cross.

So, if you attack the boss again with a white elemental attack, it will do massive amounts of damage to it. Conversely, If he were to cast a black spell while the field was white, then, consequently, you would receive substantially reduced amount of damage.

That is why it is important to not let the bosses get the upper hand on the Field Effect gauge. Also, the only way your party members can use a summon element is if the field is completely colored in the element that the summon belongs to.

There is more to this elemental play than the aspects that I just explained of course, for example, there are some restrictions in the usage of the elements. When you find an element, you must allocate it (equip it) in the character’s elemental grid, which can range from level 1 elements, all the way to level 8. There is, of course, a limited amount of slots in the grid. In fact, when I beat the game the first time after 38 hours of play, I only had two slots available in my level 8 elemental grid for then game’s main character, Serge.

Each element, including the summons, have a set level to them, so it would be wise to place them in the corresponding slots in the grid. You cannot use the same element twice, unless you have two of the same elements in different slots, so once you use that summon element, or tech skill element, you won’t be able to use it again for the remainder of that battle.

That might sound tedious in theory, but in practice it’s not. The system eliminates the need for MP levels in the characters, and after the battles the elements recharge automatically.

There are also drawbacks from constantly using an element. Each character has at the beginning of a battle 7 stamina points, if you fight purely with physical attacks, it is possible to strike the enemy seven times. One attack per point, however, that happens only if you use a weak physical attack. If you use a strong physical attack you will only be able to attack about 3 times, since each attack will instead deplete 2 points out of the seven, instead of one point, a fierce attack depletes 3 points.

However, using an element will automatically deplete 7 stamina points meaning that if you strike the boss six times with a weak attack and then decide to use an element, the stamina gauge will drop all the way to a negative 6. As a consequence that character will have to wait a very long before he/she can attack again.

Not only, does using an element deplete your stamina points, but it also depletes your Power Level points.

The Power Level counter starts at 0 during a battle, depending on your successful physical attacks it will raise all the way to level 8 allowing you – to therefore – utilize a level 8 element. It sounds complicated in theory, but after an hour or so, it becomes second nature.

The beauty of this battle system is that you are not forced to battle bosses in a certain – predetermined – way in order to have success. Most strategy guides on the net will tell you that the best way to defeat these bosses is by using an elemental strategy of some sort. However, to the game’s battle system’s credit, I found that to me, at least, it was easier to just use Serge’s physical attacks, to beat those tough bosses. Of course, I had leveled up quite a bit, and I had Serge’s most powerful weapon, the Mastermune equipped.

There are exceptions, like the very last boss, in which you must string a certain amount of elements in a row (with out the boss interrupting the chain), to then use the Chrono cross element, in order to defeat it, and get the best possible ending.

Being that I am in a good mood after playing this wonderful game, I will give you the NEVER ENDING REALM readers a free tip by telling you the winning combination string:

( Yellow+Red+Green+Blue+Black+White+CHRONO CROSS element and you will instantly end the battle and earn the best ending. Keep in mind, that the elements must be casted in that order with out the boss interrupting the chain, if the boss does interrupt it, you will have to start the string all over again. So, have a lot of colored elements in the level 1 and 2 slots in the grids of your party.)

Leveling up in the game is somewhat easy since the battles are so fun; I pretty much fought with each enemy in every area at least once during my 38 hours of playing it. Because I took my time beating everything up in my path, Serge was strong enough – to like I stated before – walk through the final bosses by just using his physical attacks. I could see someone beating it in less than 30 hours because like ‘Trigger, Chrono Cross is a short game, since the developers want to encourage repeated plays through the use of NEW GAME PLUS Mode, which is to me, is one the greatest gameplay innovations that Chrono Trigger left us. So, good luck unlocking all the endings!

Like in Trigger, the enemies are visible on the screen at all times making it possible to avoid confrontation with them.

A Large Cast, A Fantastic Story (If You Played Trigger)

While Chrono Trigger had a large cast of characters, Chrono Cross takes it to the next level by allowing the player to at least recruit 40 party members during the first play through. In reality, I never used most of these members in battles, but all of them have at least one side quest, or another that will lead gamers to some goodies. So, it is important to check all of them out (that is how I got the Mastermune).

RPG completists will be entertained for awhile since there is so much to do in the game’s world.

Moving onto the story, I have read a lot of reviews stating that it is not necessary to have played Chrono Trigger before hand, in order to fully enjoy Chrono Cross… and there is a degree of truth to that statement. You will enjoy Chrono Cross regardless of whether or not, you have finished Chrono Trigger before it.

Chrono Cross can stand on its own against most RPGs out there, however, I must say that had I not played Chrono Trigger before hand, my enjoyment of the game would have been substantially less.

Let’s put it like this, I was finding Chrono Cross’s Story dull until the second half of the game when a sickly amount of references to ‘Trigger began to appear, that is when the game’s plot gave me shivers, when I began to understand why there were two dimensions, and why Serge was well… Serge. You will get a much better understanding of this game’s plot if you have played Trigger before, not only that, but you will also find it a much more rewarding experience.

What starts as a simple adventure to find the frozen flame becomes so much more. When the events of Chrono Trigger, and its after math were revealed, my imagination went to unexpected places. There are numerous shocks and twists, but really, had I not played Chrono Trigger before it, I would have found Cross’ story an impenetrable mess, that might have been even harder to understand than Xenogears’ plot.

The fact that there are a lot of characters in the game does not really affect the plot, because story here doesn’t focus on the characters and their trials as much as it focuses on the events occurring around them. So, you won’t find Final Fantasy Caliber Character Development here, in fact, the crew in this game is nowhere near as likable as Chrono Trigger’s party.

But, the game does a good job in building upon the events of Chrono Trigger, and it makes what other wise would have been an average story seem like its actually a very good one.

Serge, like Chrono, doesn’t speak throughout the adventure, forget about a melodramatic protagonist…to be fair though most of the 40 plus characters in the crew have short decent back stories.

Chrono Cross’ tale, instead,  focuses on time and dimensional travel, and the alternate futures that choices in them create. In other words, you are bound to be somewhat confused even if you have played Chrono Trigger to death.

In the end, provided that you have finished Trigger, you will find Chrono Cross’ Story a worth while and enriching experience.

The Greatest Soundtrack Ever Conceived?

Musically, Chrono Cross hasn’t found its match except maybe in Trigger. Yasunori Mitsuda is every bit the genius that Uematsu is. While Umetasu excels at classical compositions for large orchestras, Mitsuda is better with the less grander, and perhaps, more personal tunes.

An example of this, is the ending theme which was accompanied by an acoustic guitar; it was simply beautiful and breathtaking. Every track in Chrono Cross, like in Trigger, does not scream  “Big Budget” at loud, like the PS1 FF tunes do, but arrangements here do have a lot of heart and soul in them.

Those who have played Chrono Trigger will immediately recognize familiar tunes that now sound better than ever. It’s unfortunate that Chrono Cross might be the last Chrono game that will feature Mitsuda as a composer (he now works with Namco in their Xenosaga games.) Because I think it’s clear to anyone who has listened to the Music composed by Mitsuda, that it is the Chrono series that brings the genius out in him to the fullest form of its expression.

Every single composition in Chrono Cross is masterful, there is really no weak link to its sound track. In fact, I will dare say that Uematsu for all of his greatness has never really composed such a consistently great score for any of the FF games (Maybe FFVI and FFVII could be the exceptions ). Chrono Cross will likely be remembered, as it stands now, as the greatest work – among all of the great works – of Composer Yasunori Mitsuda.

A Beautiful Expression of Art

Graphics wise, Chrono Cross fans as well  as it does with  its music. While there are some good FMV’s in the game, after playing FFIX (which was released during the same year), it is clear where most of the budget for the two games went to…it didn’t go to Chrono Cross.

Don’t misunderstand me, the graphics are a work of art, but not because of fancy special effects, instead, the graphics are great because of its fantastic art work. The artists obviously poured their hearts into the hand drawn pre-rendered backgrounds.

The entire game is set on tropical islands, and the tropical flavor and mood was captured perfectly (I would know I come from the Caribbean), the world is bright and colorful.

Character design, as always with Square games, is impeccable, and the characters look as true to their FMV counter parts, as they can look on the Ps1’s 1995 hardware. The in battle environments are a bit bland, but that is easily forgiven when you lay your eyes on some of those impressive looking bosses ( the sky dragon looks majestic and towering.)

A Must Own

In closing, I definitely recommend Chrono Cross to every RPG fan out there, and it is a must play for anyone who has played Chrono Trigger. Being that Chrono Trigger has been re-released now on the PS1, there is no excuse for not playing both gems.

While the story might need some help, the music, the artistry and the near flawless gameplay make Chrono Cross an elite RPG and a worthy sequel to the beloved Chrono Trigger.

 

Gameplay: 10.0-

Innovative battle system, the amazing new game plus mode is back,40 plus characters all with their own sidequests, games don’t get much better than this.

Graphics: 9.5-

As good as it could have looked on the PS1, but FFIX is more impressive. Great Hand drawn pre-rendered environments.

Music: 10.0-

If there was a score higher than 10 in our rating system the music in this game would get it. Incredible music, Mitsuda’s greatest work ever, and for a composer who only produces great soundtracks that is saying something.

Story: 9.0 –

A complicated time traveling mess that might only make sense to those who have finished Chrono Trigger. The Characters are not that well developed, and the story sometimes really takes a turn towards the incomprehensible. But the vast amount of references to Chrono Trigger, and the fact that it builds upon that beloved tale takes the story’s score a few notches higher, a few  cameo appearances of Trigger’s most beloved characters gave me some chill inducing moments.

Replayability: 9.5-

New Game plus mode, 10 plus endings, tons of items and characters to collect, will keep you playing long after finishing it for the first time.

Overall: 9.5-

A great game, and a classic, unfortunately because the overall rating in the never ending realm places great emphasis on plot, which is simply very good in Chrono Cross, as opposed to great, the score here takes a hit. Any game in the 9s however is a must buy title, plus as far as traditional RPGs go, gameplay wise, very few titles are as fun as Chrono Cross.

Metacritic rated Chrono Cross a 94.

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By Samuel Rivera

An avid video game player and book reader, Samuel has been playing video games for the last 31 years. He has played nearly every PS1 JRPG known to man, and loves Ocarina of Time more than any other game.