Chrono Cross: The Good, The Bad, and The Fans
EXT. DAY. A seashore. Some distance out to sea
a ragged man is struggling his way to shore. Slowly and
with difficulty he makes his way up onto the beach,
flops down exhausted and announces:
INT. HOME LIBRARY. Cut to a comfortable CHAIR, with
books and a warm fire all about. LORD J, ESQ enters, with
a PIPE and ROBE. He rests his HAND on the CHAIR, and
notices YOU, THE VIEWER.
Ah, hello! Who let you in? Tonight we’re going to talk about
Chrono Cross. You might expect that, since we’re the
Chrono Compendium, but what you might not expect is
Solt and Peppor. Come on in, ol’ chums.
SOLT and PEPPOR enter, each with a HARSH UNIFORM and SIDEARM.
Solt and Peppor here are our new Gurus of Security. They’ll
be seeing that none of you leave until we dismiss you. Isn’t
Positively positive, sir!
One wrong move and we’ll shake it to them for sure! Isn’t
that right, Solt?
Rightly right, Peppor! It’s our duty as Gurus!
And we don’t want to mess it up this time, right Solt?
I don’t want to go back to doing laundry for the Giant Gloop!
Making those brights brighter and whites whiter!
Enough! We’ll be good Gurus, sir!
Lord J, Esq.
Grand. Moreover, gentle visitor, the doors have been sealed
and the air supply cut off, so I think we will all find it in our
best interest to sit down and enjoy this heartily heart-to-heart
conversation as quickly and efficiently as humanly possible.
Now, then, let’s begin. Chrono Cross is something of
a nuisance for my good friend ZeaLitY, who enjoys the
game thoroughly and detests that it has suffered such harsh
criticism for what he sees as wholly frivolous reasons. You
have heard the complaints yourself: The game isn’t a true
sequel to Chrono Trigger; the plot is confusing and
riddled with holes; there are too many characters and yet
none of our favorites, such as Crono and Magus; the music
is boring and less epic; time travel was not a part of the
gameplay; the list goes on and on. Is there any substance to
these complaints? We can all agree that the game has its
flaws, but what exactly are those flaws? To put it simply,
are we dealing with a great game, or aren’t we? At last the
Compendium has undertaken to resolve this vital question...
Chrono Cross: The Good, the Bad, and the Fans
Chrono Cross had the misfortune of succeeding perhaps the greatest RPG of all time. From the moment it was announced, anticipation hit a fever pitch and expectations ran very high. The fans understandably wanted another Chrono Trigger; they wanted to relive the "good" times. But what they got was a very different game.
When Chrono Cross exploded on the scene in 2000, it was critically acclaimed. Gamespot awarded it the coveted "10" rating, given to only a handful of over one thousand games judged. Electronic Gaming Monthly awarded it a "10 / 10 / 9.5" with their three reviewer program. GamePro was enamored of the title enough to secure six pages of interviews, including fan-submitted questions. When the dust cleared, Rottentomatoes averaged its ratings as a 92 percent, while Gamerankings matched that number. As time wore on, Chrono Cross was selected to be a Greatest Hits title, and then a couple years later it was selected again. Its soundtrack was a popular choice for remixers, and fan-artists enjoyed the opportunity to draw any of the dozens of playable characters. Nevertheless, people’s expectations had been very high, and the adventures of Serge, Kid, and Lynx were not so great as to be widely considered an improvement upon the original game. Thus, although Chrono Cross was initially greeted with rave reviews upon its release, it aged poorly.
Time has borne that out, including here at the Chrono Compendium, where most of the topics of discussion and amateur fanworks focus on Chrono Trigger. Indeed, it was Chrono Trigger alone that earned the series its loyal following. In a trans-community poll last year, only nine percent of respondents said that they had played Chrono Cross first, despite the fact that gaming had become much more mainstream by the year 2000, as opposed to Chrono Trigger’s 1995 release, thus implying that Chrono Cross had access to a much larger potential audience. If Chrono Cross had been as exception as its predecessor, it too would have brought a significant number of new fans into the Chrono community. That this did not happen implies that it was neither as popular nor as endearing of a game.
Across the Internet, Chrono fans split into factions and did battle over whether Chrono Cross was a worthy successor. In some places it became fashionable to bash the game as ill-conceived and poorly implemented. A whole host of accusations and criticisms rose up, many of them as potshots and nitpicking by people who had already decided they did not like the game, and were looking for any opportunity to excoriate it further. Eventually that got old, and the furor died down. But as a result, today many people have a slightly bitter aftertaste in their mouth when the subject of Chrono Cross comes up. Few prefer it to Chrono Trigger, and a tiny minority refuse to consider it a canonical Chrono game at all.
That’s where we come in. The Chrono Compendium wants to exonerate the good standing of this game, by separating its genuine weaknesses from the trumped up charges of aggressive fans, and finally by clarifying its strengths, so that those who care to play it again will have something positive to look for. Of course in the end everybody will still have their own opinion, but ours has a little something working in its favor:
This article is separated into five main sections which examine Chrono Cross in detail:
If you are a fan of the game who has had trouble defending it in arguments in the past, or if you are a neutral fan looking to better understand the foofaraw, or even if you don’t much care for Chrono Cross but care to read why others do, read on!
The status of Chrono Cross as the sequel to Chrono Trigger is the source of much of the game’s controversy. Chrono fans were expecting Chrono Trigger 2. But Chrono Cross does not take place immediately after Chrono Trigger. It does not follow the aftermath of Lavos’ defeat. It does not clearly explain what became of Crono and most of his friends. The playable characters are all different. The locale is set in a completely new and heretofore unseen part of the Chrono world.
A simpler way to put it is, "No Magus, no Kingdom of Zeal, and no Time Gates."
And yet the game unambiguously styles itself as an entrant to the Chrono series. It is clearly titled Chrono Cross, clearly set in the Chrono universe, and clearly involves characters and story elements from its predecessor. Some would infer that this makes it a sequel. Certainly a sequel is what everybody was expecting, and, in that regard, Chrono Cross was quite a surprise. Most of the Chrono Trigger fans who resent this game, do so because it does not fit in with their idea of what a Chrono sequel ought to be.
Is it a sequel, though? No, it probably isn’t in the fullest sense of the word. Nevertheless, there is enough stretch in that word for a legitimate debate. Of Chrono Cross, we can uncontroversially say this: The action takes place in the Chrono universe, twenty years after the events of Chrono Trigger -- looking from Crono’s time period, of course. Woven into that action are the Chrono Trigger themes of destiny, courage, cause and effect, and friendship. The plot follows an unfinished piece of business from the Chrono Trigger plot, and centers around time travel. At the end of the game is the same final boss. Several characters and artifacts appear in both games. And the gameplay itself involves the crossing between two parallel worlds which were sundered by changes to the timeline -- a variation on the Chrono Trigger gameplay of traveling through time directly. This game follows the ramifications of Lavos’ defeat and the original Chrono Trigger adventure as they pertain to the history and future of the world. It expands upon Chrono Trigger’s story and worldview, and is the direct result of Chrono Trigger events. Those who argue that the game is a sequel, certainly have their reasons.
But even to those folks it should be pretty clear, although perhaps not without controversy entirely, that Chrono Cross is not Chrono Trigger 2. It is not so straightforward a story that the twenty years between these events of these games may as well have been a commercial break. The fates of Crono & Co. and of the six time eras are not addressed. If this game is a sequel, it is a very loose or indirect one.
So, if Chrono Cross isn’t a direct sequel, then what is it? It certainly isn’t a standalone game, and, because of its intimate concern with the main plotline of Chrono Trigger, it hardly qualifies as a spin-off, either. Instead, Chrono Cross is something of an addendum. It expatiates on the philosophy and ramifications of its predecessor, Chrono Trigger. It is not a sequel but a successor. It is an add-on; a supplement; a "closer look"...a gigantic P.S. to the original Chrono Trigger. Here is how one of the game’s producers, Hiromichi Tanaka, put it, in an interview archived on the Compendium:
Hiromichi Tanaka: When creating a series, one method is to carry over a basic system, improving upon it as the series progresses, but our stance has been to create a completely new and different world from the ground up, and to restructure the former style. Therefore, Chrono Cross is not a sequel to Chrono Trigger. Had it been, it would have been called "Chrono Trigger 2." Our main objective for Chrono Cross was to share a little bit of the Chrono Trigger worldview, while creating a completely different game as a means of providing new entertainment to the player. This is mainly due to the transition in platform generation from the SNES to the PS. Radical Dreamers served as the bridge between Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. Gamers who have played all three games can probably figure out the connection, but since the media itself was so unique, I don't think many players know about it. As a result, we had to make sure players could play Chrono Cross without being too conscious of its connection to Chrono Trigger. This is why we have the title "Chrono Cross" instead of "Chrono Trigger 2."
There are two instances in which Chrono Cross can legitimately be called a sequel. The first instance has already passed: When marketing the game, and trying to sell the most copies, this game was advertised as the "long-awaited sequel to one of history’s greatest adventures." That shows up right on the back of the box. This zealous misrepresentation can be forgiven, because advertisements are, well, advertisements, and people paying attention don’t want to hear "a game that thoughtfully builds upon the circumstances and ramifications of its predecessor." They want to hear "SEQUEL!!!" And so that’s what they heard. Besides, from a development standpoint, Chrono Cross technically is a sequel; many of the same top people worked on it.
The other instance in which the game might legitimately be called a sequel is the case of convenience. It might be a reasonable convenience to call Chrono Cross a sequel, if one is simply referring to that game’s major plot events and standing in the Chrono universe. "Sequel" is an easier concept for people to digest, and most people aren’t going to care about the distinction anyway; thus, most of the time it hardly matters. However, if pressed -- or if the issue is important -- it would be better to give the more nuanced explanation that Chrono Cross is only a sequel of the most indirect of sorts, and that properly it is an addendum of Chrono Trigger, expanding on that game while charting plenty of new ground of its own.
Be that as it may, many of the people who dislike Chrono Cross would perceive an admission of the game’s standing as a non-sequel as an outright proof of their other criticisms, and in this they would be mistaken. So that is why we now move on...
The Myths --
Chrono Cross is a flawed game. Chrono Trigger had its small share of flaws as well. But these do not stop the games from being enjoyable and objectively entertaining. But before we talk about the good and the bad, we’ve got to talk about the ugly. You have probably seen it yourself if you have been around an RPG community: Whenever Chrono Cross is brought up, chances are a flame or two are thrown in the mix. Many of these complaints lack a critical basis, and when they are repeated throughout a community, the reputation of the game is tarnished. Fans of the game feel isolated and defensive -- the very sentiment from which this article was born. Newcomers who would otherwise have a good experience may be compelled to expect a disappointment, and those sorts of expectations are often self-fulfilling. So let’s cut through the myths and do our part to stamp out the flames.
Myth 1: Chrono Cross makes sense if you consider it a standalone game.
The implication here is that Chrono Cross doesn’t work if you think of it as a canonical successor to Chrono Trigger, but that these discrepancies become irrelevant if the former is considered to be its own, standalone work. This is a bait-and-switch argument: Chrono Cross would indeed make sense if viewed as a standalone game, but it isn’t a standalone work and so the point doesn’t matter. In any case, it makes just as much sense when viewed as a canonical Chrono game.
This myth may also arise for more benign reasons: Chrono Cross has an extensive and winding plot, and though the Chrono Compendium has made good analytical sense of it, the game’s delivery of its plot was far from perfect, often confusing new players. This confusion can lead to the myth that Chrono Cross has no ties to Chrono Trigger. It couldn’t be farther from the truth, though. Belthasar, Lavos, Schala, Robo, Crono, Marle, Lucca, Masa, Mune, and Doreen all appear. The town of Porre figures directly into the affairs of El Nido. Demi-Humans are present in abundance. The plotline deals with the repercussions of events that transpired at the Ocean Palace during the last game, and to top it off, features a host of cameos and references: The Neo Epoch, Toma XIV, Denadorite, Rainbow Shell, the Hero Medal, and even Guardia itself are mentioned or appear. While the game does not follow the original team or take place on Zenan continent, it has everything to do with the world of the Chrono series, right down to the cameo of the "Black Wind" name for the Porre special ops unit.
Myth 2: Chrono Cross is an alternate dimension or "what-if" scenario, riddled with plot holes.
The argument here is that since Chrono Cross deals with parallel worlds, the entire plot must also be some kind of alternate dimension that didn’t really happen -- that it is merely some vague offshoot of the Chrono Trigger world that doesn’t try to maintain internal logic or consistency between games. In other words, the game is not canonical. And because Chrono Cross is not only complicated to begin with, but also poorly executed in many ways, this perception can innocently occur to many people. Others use this argument merely as a pejorative, to slander a game they already do not like.
Ironically, this "non-canonical" designation is the fate that befell Radical Dreamers. The Chrono Cross development team relegated the events of that game to alternate dimensions, as evidenced by the Chronopolis computer readout.
However, there is nothing in Chrono Cross -- or in the other Chrono games -- to suggest that it is anything but canon. The Chrono Compendium has considered both the relationship between these games and the internal consistency of Chrono Cross’s plot, and a significant part of the Compendium’s Analysis section deals with these minutiae in particular (such as the Fates of the Chrono Trigger Team article). Inasmuch as these issues might be used to call the game non-canonical, there is little fodder. In fact, in the definitive list of plot holes produced by the Compendium, Chrono Cross actually has none -- while Chrono Trigger has four direct inconsistencies While some mysteries are left up to interpretation and artistic speculation, others have been decisively resolved, and Chrono Cross has been shown to be consistent not only with itself but with Chrono Trigger too.
Myth 3: No Developed Characters
Some fans expected a tight-knit party akin to that of Chrono Trigger; instead, Cross featured a wide array of colorful characters. While a handful of them have whimsical backstories or little motivation for joining, the same cannot be said for the bulk of the cast. The assertion that Chrono Cross's cast is bankrupt of characterization or develpoment is untrue. Examples range all over the cast. Fargo and Nikki, for example, are together one of the most developed duo in the game; each undergoes a significant transformation -- Fargo makes peace with his past and instructs his dimensional equivalent, while Nikki comes to terms with the truth of his heritage and causes the salvation of Marbule. Pierre becomes a magnificent hero after learning that a hero's courage comes from within, and is not granted by appearance alone. Riddel finds Dario, albeit in an altered state, and must confront his evil side. General Viper acquires much wisdom and learns to not trust in his own puffed up legend, while Karsh's spirit is tempered by a resurgence of past pain. Above all else are Serge and Kid -- together, they are hugely round characters, sporting a rainbow of behavior and traits. Their natures and actions are the crux of the game's events; they carry it with interesting development and revelation. Granted, some characters in Chrono Cross lack development, heroic backstory, or adequate motivation to seek the Frozen Flame. These are dealt with in the Expectations section below in this article.
Myth 4: The music sucks!
Tastes vary, but artistically this claim has no credibility. What people usually mean when they say they don’t like the music, is that the Chrono Cross soundtrack uses fewer instruments and speaks in fewer genres. They may also be upset that the playable characters -- even the most important ones -- do not have personal theme music. In some cases they will complain about the overuse of the battle music. These are all fair concerns, but the conclusion that such a person who shares them would properly draw is "I don’t like the music."
From an artistic standpoint, the Chrono Cross soundtrack is more coherent, more consistent, and more complex than that of Chrono Trigger. It reflects composer Yasunori Mitsuda’s personal growth over the years, and is more thoughtful toward the listener’s intellect. This music cannot be called objectively bad.
The Flaws --
With the myths eliminated, it is easier to see what truly went wrong with the game and how it influenced the bad taste left in the mouths of fans. That something is a flaw is somewhat relative as well; some things can make any game go wrong, while other aspects can be considered negative if examined from a certain light. In fact, from the frames of reference of many games, various tidbits of the game may strike a chord. But in this section, fluffy opinion and expectation will be cast aside to objectively identify the real shortcoming of Chrono Cross, and relate its role in detracting from the overall experience.
Flaw 1: Direction and Pacing
The defining flaw of Chrono Cross is poor pacing and directorial error. Primarily, role-playing games must progress at a rate that allows to the player to both understand the plot and be entertained; when complicated plot is thrown in the mix, it is the job of the director to structure the layout of the game's course and decide what occurs at certain times and places. In terms of technical execution, Chrono Cross does well, transitioning scene to scene smoothly and providing fresh action and character for the player to devour. The problem comes at a higher level. The issue is not with the plot itself, but its delivery. Cross suffers two-fold at this tier -- firstly, the player must accomplish much of the game without truly knowing Serge's motivation, and secondly, the player must, through bad presentation, read and digest copious amounts of meaningful information in substantial chunks. Starting with the first issue, Chrono Cross, for much of its playtime, is fundamentally about a young man's search for knowledge concerning the existence of two worlds and the importance and meaning of the Frozen Flame. This is clearly stated in the script; for example, its first appearance comes from Belthasar in Viper Manor near the beginning:
Member: The reason has to be something that happened 10 years ago! Prophet: You can only find out by moving on...
Though it is stated, it is somewhat ambiguous -- Serge is not commanded to do it; he does not declare he shall do it, and neither is there a clear enemy to defeat. Almost immediately after this segment, the original purpose of Serge's journey can be lost. Once Kid is injured, the focus of the story shifts to saving her; from there, it deals with the Acacia Dragoons' taking up residence at Fort Dragonia. Without clarity of purpose, the goal of discovering the truth behind the parallel worlds is overshadowed by the pressing plot devices at hand. The goal may be totally lost after the Fort Dragonia segment, as the aim of the player once again changes position, coming to rest on the task of retrieving Serge's old body now that he is Lynx. Subplots also emerge at this point, including the occupation of El Nido by Porre and the prejudice against Marbule. Though it covers it in places throughout this substantial portion of events, Cross does not regain its essential focus of discovering Serge's true identity and role until Chronopolis is reached late in the game. While it may seem simple to remember Serge's simple goal on paper, consider the experience of an average player, who can only play the game a few hours each day. Amidst the whirlwind of exciting events, sleep, and real life, the goal is easily lost, leaving players to wonder what exactly they're on a quest for. This is compounded by the revelation that Serge was being manipulated all along by the Dragon God, which can distort recognition of Serge's motives even further. Another critical mishandling is the Dead Sea; Serge must go there to restore the dimensional distortion, but the exact reason and mechanics are never explained beyond this ambiguous goal.
Why is this important? The establishment of the party's central motive is a perspectival axis through which the game's events are viewed through the player. To draw on Chrono Trigger, take, for instance, when the party hears Magus declare that he did not create Lavos. This important fact matters because the party is actively searching for Lavos; the player takes this piece of information to heart, as it directly relates to the quest. Conversely, examine Miguel's revelations to the party at the Dead Sea in Cross. At the showdown, Miguel talks about Serge's history and the creation of the dimensions. However, Serge is primarily there with his friends to restore the distortion in order to cross the dimensions, and the player has just endured a trip to S.S. Zelbess and other misadventure to get there. By this point, the player is viewing his words from the eyes of one who just completed a swashbuckling adventure around El Nido. This makes it harder to initially accept, comprehend, and relate than if Miguel's statements were studied from the perspective of Serge, who desperately desires to learn more about the worlds. Ultimately, this problem leads to the player having to assemble isolated revelations about the plot in order to understand it on whole, which, coupled with the problem of pacing soon to be discussed, causes most to play through the game more than once or consult a guide to understand it.
The second problem with the directing is the pacing of the plot. Specifically, too much meaningful plot is reserved for the very end of the game. To achieve a complete understanding, the player would have to relate all the divulged information to the events of the rest of the game; this is a monumental task to accomplish immediately before fighting the last boss, and is why most players must play the game at least twice to understand it. Masato Kato masterminded a complex and internally consistent plot, and the world it took place in was immersive -- but the pace of the plot's revelation is not smooth, resulting in big bunches given here and there, leading to fragmented understanding. Some foreshadowing didn't work because hours passed in between events (such as Lynx's sending Karsh down to Cape Howl to find a ghost -- the motivation for the trip and the knowledge that Serge was coming was later explained, but too late to meaningfully relate back to the event). The reasons behind the existence and appearance of the Dead Sea were solid, but their delivery was muddled and cloudy. Compounding the problem was the perpetration of myths concerning the Dragon God early in the game -- myths revealed to be false and contradicted by later information. By the time the truth is received, the Dragon God lore is accepted by the player for much of the game. The handling of the lore was also done in a roundabout way, leaving vague allusions even after the truth is given.
By far, the most blatant example of poor pacing are the events at Opassa Beach at the end of the game. Through the ghost children, the entire scope of machinations and mechanics behind the plot is revealed. Various secrets pertaining to the actual quest are divulged as well, including the history of Serge's father, the nature of Kid's pendant, and the meaning of the phrase "Chrono Trigger". But how can the player begin to examine the game's events with this new information, except by playing it again? This final denouement can illuminate mysterious dialogue and ambiguous events in the game, but the player cannot be expected to recall these and experience the full meaningfulness of these revealing statements there at Opassa Beach. Some of these revelations could have been better utilized earlier in the game, where their implications would have had more meaning when discovered as the cause of some events or dialogue. The other problem with Opassa Beach's revelation is the sheer amount of dialogue the player has to digest. Putting it all together in the moments before taking the route to the final battle is an impossibility for first-time players unless notes have been taken. The plot is complex, and the mythos of Cross is gargantuan; the more subtle plot points and important notes can easily be overlooked.
The problem of pacing is not easily fixed, either. The simple problem with that is that Chrono Cross relied on a series of manipulations and revelations; Serge worked for the wrong people for most of the game, and learned more in successive revealings of information. Rearranging the course of the game would require much work, as Serge couldn't be allowed to know about certain things before the time came (like the Dragon God using Harle to get the Frozen Flame, or Belthasar's identity and role). This would require a substantial amount of reorganization, and I hold that it is very possible that Masato Kato simply backed himself into a corner as the game ended. That is, the revelation progressed according to the game's physical events such that most of it could only be revealed at the end before the final battle. It is not surprising considering Kato probably also competed with deadlines. Be thankful that he did help with the English language localization team to clear up ambiguous concepts for us.
Flaw 2: The Ending
A minor flaw, the ending is nonetheless problematic. Firstly, no ending is given to the player for beating the Time Devourer without using the correct color combination. This could have an angering effect on one who has just beaten Cross for his or her first time. Secondly, the good ending is ridiculously ambiguous, and leaves the fate of the entire cast open to interpretation. It is unknown whether the characters retain any of their experiences or gained wisdom; they could have simply reverted like Serge to their previous states. It is a total mystery what the nature of the unified dimension is like, or whether anything has truly changed in the world. Compounding the enigma are Serge and Kid; we do not know with finality that Serge has lost his memory, and we have no earthly idea what becomes of Kid. It is implied she merges with Schala, but this causes a googleplex of problems and implications. Additionally, there is a photograph of Kid and Serge married on Schala's desk, though Schala indicates that she's still searching for Serge. These ambiguities, while leaving the future open for new adventure, nonetheless are not satisfying in terms of providing closure to the quest.
The specifics and possible scenarios of the ending have been nailed down at Chrono Cross Resolutions.
The Fan Expectations --
The above is the true problem with Chrono Cross, and the deciding factor in the bad taste left in gamers' mouths. However, faithful Chrono Trigger fans also had a bone to pick with the innovation and new conventions in Chrono Cross. Many were understandably expecting a direct continuation of Trigger, complete with dual and triple techs, a handful of engaging and adventurous heroes, and a plot spanning the ages. Refer back to the producer's quote in the Myths section; the developers anticipated this, and sought to make a new experience rather than use the old standard. Chrono Cross resustingly did not disappoint in story, characters, and the plot device of dimensions -- rather, these aspects disappointed those who expected a new Trigger. In this section, we'll briefly discuss fan reaction to anticipations that proved wrong. Remember that expectations that proved misplace do not indicate singular flaws in the game. Nonetheless, some fans have a bone to pick with Cross for these notes; we are accurately covering them here.
Expectation 1: A Small, Developed Team
Chrono Trigger featured a cast of distinctive, unique characters who each brought something to the table and underwent changes. Crono's actions of bravery revealed a fighting spirit; Marle confronted her father and made amends, while Lucca made peace at last with the incident that claimed her mother's legs. Frog regained his honor, while Magus faced his past; Robo grieved for Atropos, and even Ayla spoke volumes in her simple words -- "Win and live. Lose and die. Rule of life." The characterization was not overt, but it existed for each character. As a result, Chrono Trigger fans expecting a faithful sequel were doubly amazed to find a cast of forty individuals, with some having relatively little backstory and motive for joining the quest. Before going further, keep in mind that it is a myth that Chrono Cross lacks character development on whole. To provide some examples, Kid ranks as one of the most well-rounded characters in the series, while secondary characters such as Fargo and Nikki are involved in intricate subplots that change their destinies. Others, such as Sneff, Pierre, and Norris undergo changes as well, finding freedom, heroic courage, and wisdom as a result of the quest. The majority of the cast have good motives for seeking the Flame and assisting Serge, and improve in some form or another after the day is done.
But the problem of expectation remains; loyal fans anticipated a tight group of seven or eight adventurers, with round characterization, who would grow from and interact with one another while cooperatively seeking the Flame. This element of "Dear Friends" is lost with a party size of Cross's magnitude. The other element fails in some regard, as there do exist a few characters with flimsy reasons for tagging along. The marlins of the game are easily memorable -- Guile, Harle, Grobyc -- but creeping in the party are weak characters. Korcha struck many players as purely annoying, and lacked endearing traits -- he is simply a hick-type boy from Guldove (though he was handled well in terms of characterization, showing an indomitable ferocity in protecting the rights of Demi-humans). Janice was flippant and her origins were never revealed; she contributed little in the way of important commentary in the game. Macha and Mel seemed superfluous to many; that an overweight mother and bratty kid could fight with the caliber of Serge and the others was seen as incredulous, and both received scant character development. The cook, Orcha, was given a backstory, but lacked flair. Cases can be made for other characters as well. Nonetheless, the majority of the Cross cast was handled well; with a few removals, the game could retain a large, solid cast.
Expectation 2: Time Travel
Chrono Trigger took time traveling to the hilt, claiming the science fiction concept as its own franchise in the realm of RPGs. As a result, it was puzzling to fans that Chrono Cross only included a couple instances of time traveling. The plot of the game was still brought into being entirely by acts of time traveling, and dealt with the repercussions of those acts; nonetheless, the primary mode of travel was dimensional. This still qualified the Chrono series as one of science fiction and extratemporal travel, but the change from seven time periods to two dimensions was hard to stomach for some. Additionally, though El Nido was beautifully crafted and arranged by the gifted artist Yasuyuki Honne, some faithful fans still clamored to visit exotic areas that Chrono Trigger offered -- to dine with a Medieval king, hunt in prehistory, and find the ruins of a lost civilization. Again, this dichotomy does not harm the quality of Chrono Cross, but it surprised some fans and caused distaste for the new system.
Expectation 3: Dual and Triple Techs
Chrono Trigger had a swashbuckling feel to it, an obvious result of Yuji Horii's influence in its development. While the contrast to Chrono Cross's mature attitude caused subtle differences between expectation and result, one of the more obvious and cited differences between the two is the lack of double and triple techs. Part of the tight-knit, team-oriented atmosphere of Chrono Trigger's cast was a result of these cooperative attacks. Each character had a way of jiving with the others, and the system even contributed to Magus's characterization by omitting him from double techs. Additionally, this system was mostly unique to Chrono Trigger, defining it in part as a hallmark of the Chrono series. However, it was absent from Chrono Cross, save for a handful of double techs and three triple techs. Many fans expecting a limited cast and the cooperative system were alarmed at this decision. More baffling was that some double and triple techs were still included, as if to tease fans who expected more. In retrospect, the developers might have better opted to disclude them entirely or add support for at least one double tech with each pair of characters in the game. While the other expectations in this section do not harm the singular quality of Cross, the exclusion of these techs comes close to harming the Chrono series on whole. As a unique and interesting feature of gameplay, they should be retained.
In summary for expectations, it seems the developers did try to provide ample warning in interviews that Chrono Cross would be a new experience, just as Chrono Trigger had been. Nonetheless, many fans expected the old hallmarks, and some were understandably disgusted when a different product arrived in their PlayStations.
The Strengths --
We come now to the strengths of Chrono Cross. They are numerous, and elevate the game to a sparsely-paralleled tier of quality. Amid all the criticism of expectation and the flaws of direction and pacing, Chrono Cross shines brightly. There is help in writing this section, as many professional reviewers have echoed praise long before this feature debuted. The words of Gamespot's review will supplement my own.
Strength 1: The Story
Gamespot: Without revealing any more of Chrono Cross' excellent storyline, it can be said that it successfully pulls off the difficult balancing act every sequel faces. It's not a rehash of the original Chrono Trigger, but neither does it exploit the characters and setting of Chrono Trigger for name recognition alone. Instead, it sets up an equally valid, separate, and well-developed world, then slowly and responsibly weaves in elements, characters, and events from the first title. It doesn't continue the original Chrono Trigger mythos so much as it expands it. Gamers will be stunned by the resolution of the disparate plot threads. And with features like a unilaterally taciturn hero, an accommodating attitude toward interdimensional travel, and a new game+ mode, Chrono Cross manages to maintain the ineffable Chrono Trigger feel.
The story of Chrono Cross is the central engine that keeps the effort running. Masato Kato sculpted an expansive plot that involved every active influence in the Chrono series, balanced this world between two dimensions, and successfully pulled it together at the end before uncovering the final boss -- all without a single plot hole or point of inconsistency. For a story as complex and multilayered as that of Chrono Cross, this is a major feat and triumph for scenario writing. Again, the problem in the game lay in its direction and pacing -- much of the story was given in huge doses which the player found hard to gulp in one swallow. But once the pieces are assembled, the expanded story of Chrono Cross is a complete and beautiful tableau of the Chrono mythos, substantially augmenting the world of Chrono Trigger while offering a completely new adventure in lands unexplored. There may be a slight difference in feel (which will be discussed in the last section, Contrast to Chrono Trigger), but the plot is without a doubt a Chrono triumph.
Strength 2: Thematic Depth
This strength is more fully explored in the last section, where Chrono Trigger is compared to Chrono Cross. It is sufficient to note here that Chrono Cross addresses a variety of themes which run deep in its plot and events. For a brief list, consult the last section of this article.
Strength 3: The Battle System
Gamespot: Combine building element grids and plummeting stamina bars with the dynamic nature of characters' turns, and battles become a constantly shifting endeavor - yet always remain under the player's total control. Once you understand the intricacies of the battle system, encounters are always over quickly...Don't reset your console - just run away, regroup, and re-engage. And last but far from least, the option to automatically heal at the end of a battle is a boon from the RPG gods. Don't misunderstand; the game doesn't cure your party for free. But it will intelligently dig through your available spells and stocked inventory and use the necessary elements to return your party to fighting shape. So long, post-battle trips to the status screen, and don't let the door hit you on the way out.
The battle system is often a point of contention in some criticism of the game, but this is merely opinion and taste. The creation of a new, innovative battle system succeeded, fulfilling the developers' wish to create a new experience. The Element system worked, and the stamina bars encouraged strategy and clever manipulation to execute the maximum offense possible.
Strength 4: The Characters
Gamespot: Unlike many cast-of-thousands RPG epics, each character in Chrono Cross is an interesting and worthy addition to your team. Everyone has a beautiful character model, excellently animated attacks, and three unique "limit break" type special skills. There's even a miniquest or special requirement for every character's best skill - that's a lot of extra adventuring! While you'll certainly have your own handful of favorites, you'll never add someone to your party and wonder, "Why is this character in the game?" There are no disposable placeholders in Chrono Cross.
Granted, this praise for every character may be a little undeserved, as can be argued in the Expectations section above. Regardless, the character design is unique and colorful, and the stories and developments of most of the game's party members are deep and varied. Each character finds an inspiration for living and seeking their desires during the quest, culminating in their quotes while approaching the Frozen Flame -- some of the best dialogue in the game lies here, from Pierre's "A true hero knows fear" to Fargo's message of making amends for his sins.
Strength 5: The Graphics and World
Gamespot: Graphically, Chrono Cross is nothing short of stunning. While Square's Final Fantasy is glossy and polished, Chrono Cross has an organic feel lacking in the former's "perfect" environments. Vibrant color, creative design, and just the right amount of ambient effects bring the settings to life. Again, while Final Fantasy drops your characters into a small subsection of a large, epic environment, Chrono Cross lets you explore every nook and cranny of scandalously detailed towns, buildings, and dungeons. While we don't intend to slight Final Fantasy's excellent graphics and design, many gamers will prefer the more down-to-earth, personal, and "gritty" feel of Chrono Cross. The environments are well worn and lived in, not just-constructed movie sets. The battle graphics are also excellent. Characters and enemies are universally well modeled, textured, and animated. Camera movement, for the most part, always offers a great view of the action. Special accolades should be given to the spell effects - while they're impressive and suitably over-the-top, they're also short and fast.
The graphics are a hallmark of the game. El Nido is a tropical archipelago, full of indigenous islanders and colonists from Zenan. These cultures clash with two others, the ruins of the Dragonians and the futuristic Chronopolis. The vibrancy of these peoples and the sheer beauty of the nature surrounding them mix in a milieu of wild and beautiful color and architecture. The to partake in the immersive world of Chrono Cross is to bite into one of the richest desserts of visual splendor ever afforded to gaming. Yasuyuki Honne's style is warm and inviting, and the picturesque El Nido archipelago serves as a perfect romantic backdrop to the heartfelt happenings of Serge's quest to find the Frozen Flame and the truth about the past. Chrono Cross was acted out upon a magnificent stage.
Strength 6: The Music
Gamespot: Thankfully, the sound and music more than match the graphics. Sound effects are varied and always match the situation at hand. The music is, in a word, gorgeous, and it will undoubtedly be many players' favorite part of the Chrono Cross experience. Chrono Trigger composer Yasunori Mitsuda has returned and crafted a masterpiece. Composition and sample quality are both outstanding, and the soundtrack runs the emotional gamut, presenting everything from playful mambo jams to sorrowful violin solos.
Like Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda is one of the most well known video game composers in the business, and his following is earned by merit. Mitsuda utilized a variety of styles in making Chrono Cross, including Mediterranean guitar, African percussion and the ancient music of several other lands. He covered new ground and reinventing themes from Chrono Trigger and Radical Dreamers. Just as the graphics of the game created an inviting world, the music charged it with emotion. A common experience by fans of Chrono Cross is the whirlwind of emotion that comes with the final vista of the Dead Sea. This experience and others were made possible with Mitsuda's artistry.
Strength 7: Replayability
Some of the more diehard fans of Chrono Cross are still going through multiple playthroughs, utilizing the New Game + feature to see all the endings, forge Rainbow equipment for each character, or simply search for missed scenes and characters to create a perfect savegame file. Chrono Cross is highly replayable, and the world, characters, and items are varied enough to keep the search up for hours. The unique atmosphere of the game has a lasting and fond appeal.
The Contrasts --
We now arrive here -- a section dealing with the contrast between Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. This far in, we've rebuked the myths, identified the strengths and flaws of the game, and probed fan expectations. Let us now turn our attention to the difference between the two games, and perhaps one of the fundamental contributing factors to common attitudes held towards Cross.
Chrono Trigger was created by the melding of a Dream Team of developers, of which Yuji Horii was a member. Horii is still in charge of the Dragon Quest series, as he created them; his plots are known for their light-hearted narratives of several heroes banding together to fight an ultimate evil. It is no surprise that Akira Toriyama is his main man for animating the world of Dragon Quest, and signed on to help with Chrono Trigger -- his happy-go-lucky style of humor fits in with Horii's worlds. Chrono Trigger resultingly fit this mold. Before Masato Kato and others came to the helm, it was simply a game about heroes who traveled through time to defeat Lavos. Horii's humor showed through, apparent in the laughable Ozzie, Slash, and Flea, Tata, the Chancellor and Pierre, Kino, and Johnny -- as well as in a variety of comedic situations that gave Chrono Trigger a lighthearted tone. This is the fundamental difference between Chrono Cross, as Cross maintained a much more mature and serious attitude, attempting to explore themes beyond the simple quest to defeat evil. Chrono Trigger was not without its drama or sad moments, including the fall of Zeal and Cyrus, and the pain between King Guarda XXXIII and Marle. The general feel and mood of Chrono Cross are, on whole, deeper and more poignant than those of Trigger. The themes explored were numerous.
Cross firstly dealt with the repercussions of time traveling; as opposed to the cheery ending displayed in Trigger, Cross reveals a reality filled with grief caused by the trip through time. As a result of Crono's doings, Schala is trapped within the ultimate destroyer, and Guardia fell in the present era. Secondly, we have a problem of love as shared by Serge, Harle, Kid, the Acacia Dragoons, and others. Harle expresses fondness for Serge but cannot ever have him, due to her mission. Serge and Kid also experience gravity, while a full blown caustic situation exists between Karsh, Riddel, and Dario. Often, the results are pained and teary. Cross also deals with the corruption of power: Belthasar, Radius, Dario, and FATE all suffer the slings of power's lure. Belthasar manipulated the lives of thousands in a personal paradise to achieve his goals, while FATE dreamt of evolving to a higher lifeform with little regard to obstacles in tis way. Radius and Dario both fell to the influence of the Masamune, and by their flareups of ambition caused pain to both themselves and their peers. Another large theme is the search for identity, as Serge must quest to find out why he died in the other dimension and discover his role in the affairs of the world. So too must Kid, as she is charged with a complicated heritage as the daughter-clone of Schala. Racial prejudice also makes a strong appearance in the plight of the Demi-humans; an entire sidequest revolves around easing the tensions between races. Environmentalism appears too -- Lavos is seen as a pernicious influence, and humans, by extension of their being evolved through the Flame, share that tainted mantle. Ultimately, the fundamental theme of the Chrono series -- that history can be changed for a better future through self-will -- appears before the final battle. Other themes -- loss, honor, and courage -- are explored through individual characters and events.
Masato Kato aimed high and succeeded in gifting Chrono Cross with thematic depth and romantic allure. This is not to say that Chrono Trigger lacked it, as Trigger had its fair share of hurtful or joyous moments (Zeal was the only part of the game written exclusively by Kato), characters, and themes. Rather, the difference is in the mood of the games. Chrono Cross aims to cover much more ground artistically; resultingly, the attitude is more sober and serious as the important themes have their time on the stage. It can be felt in the many shining moments of the game -- including the battle with Miguel at the Dead Sea, the ascent to Terra Tower, and Harle's weeping upon the prow of the S.S. Invincible. Ultimately, perhaps this difference is best expressed with a simple analogy. Chrono Trigger can be likened to a surprisingly popular, well written and produced summer blockbuster, dazzling and securing a huge fanbase while establishing a franchise. Chrono Cross, on the other hand, is the longer, more reserved and grandiose theme film, aiming to take a bite out of art and make poignant statements. It is Batman (1989) versus Batman Begins (2005). The first laid the ground rules and established the wildly popular following; the latter explored the deeper and sometimes darker themes of the caped crusader.
But this difference is moot in light of the fact that both are good games. Both had humorous and teary moments; both involved a sweeping adventure across time and dimension to save the planet from destruction and grow in wisdom and will. This hallmark of quality is the legacy and prevailing attribute of the series. If you have played either game and felt immensely satisfied, touched, happy, or sorrowful after the experience, you have known the quality and depth of the Chrono series, a jeweled isle in the ocean of RPGs. Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross may be different, and fans may prefer one over the other. But the fact that the Chrono series, on whole, is an excellent production, and that Masato Kato, Yasunori Mitsuda, Yasuyuki Honne, and the other regular contributors are skilled artists in the craft of making games -- that is a fact we can all take joy in as fans of the Chrono series. As you play a Chrono title in the future, remember that you are partaking of something truly special.