The Never Ending Realm
Chrono Cross Review by Samuel Rivera
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The recent announcements 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 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 (1994-2000) when every time Square made an announcement that they would release a new RPG, time pretty much stopped for RPG fans as they anxiously awaited the game with the highest of expectations for it.

Unfortunately, those times are over, Square 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. Simply because I have been a victim of Square’s money making over quality ways, 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 I had for it and was actually a decent game.)

Which is why, playing Chrono Cross was such a sad melancholic experience to me, very much in the same way that FFIX was. In short: Squaresoft might never be able to regain its "mojo" again and won’t be able to produce a game rivaling those fantastic RPGs they released from the mid nineties into the year 2000.

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.

But with out further delay let’s begin the review. Chrono Cross is the direct sequel to the legendary and critically acclaimed Chrono Trigger, a game that is held in the highest of pedestals of RPG gamers.

While Chrono Trigger still is to me a better RPG than Chrono Cross, Cross 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 everything. However where the game really sets itself apart from that series is in the 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 the series has for being simply fun to play. The system is forgiving in the sense that you can escape from every battle with a 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 RPGs 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 with some of the stronger bosses in the game will be attained accordingly on 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 member. 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, if you can successfully manage to string 3 white elemental attacks on him, with out him casting a black elemental spell in between, the field will turn completely white. So if you attack the boss again with a white element it will do massive amounts of damage to it, if he were to cast a black spell while the field was white, then 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 summon belongs to.

There is more to this elemental play than those of course, for example there are some restrictions to 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; I only had two slots in my level 8 elemental grid for the 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 but it’s not, because it eliminates the need for MP in the characters, and after the battles the elements recharge automatically.

There are also drawbacks from constantly using 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, 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. Meaning that character will have to wait very long before he can attack again.

Not only using an element depletes 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 to utilize a level 8 element. It sounds complicated in theory but after an hour or so it becomes second nature.

However the beauty of this battle system is that you are not forced to battle bosses in a certain way to have success, most strategy guides on the net will tell you that the best way to defeat the last bosses is by using an elemental strategy of some sort. However to this game battle system’s credit, I found that to me it was easier to just use the Serge’s physical attacks, to beat the bosses and indeed easy it was. Of course I leveled up quite a lot and I had Serge’s most powerful weapon the Mastermune equipped, and because I knew that, I managed to change strategies. Of course 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 it) to then use the Chrono cross element, in order to beat him and get the best possible ending. Being that I am in a good mood after playing this wonderful game I will give you 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 the elements must be casted in that order with out the boss interrupting it, if the boss does interrupt the string, 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 playing it. Because I took my time beating everything on my path up, 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 because like ‘Trigger, Chrono Cross is a short game, since the developers want to encourage repeated plays through using the NEW GAME PLUS Mode which is to me the greatest gameplay innovation Chrono Trigger left us. So good luck unlocking all the endings!

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

While Chrono Trigger had a large cast of characters, Chrono Cross takes it to the next level by allowing to at least recruit 40 party members your first time through. In reality I never used most of these members in battles, but all of them have one side quest or another that will lead you to some goodies so it is important to check them out (that is how I got the Mastermune). So RPG completists or those who only have enough money to play one game per 3 months 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 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 much more rewarding.

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 are revealed. There are numerous shocks and twists, but really had I not played Chrono Trigger before it I would have found Cross’s story an impenetrable mess that would have been even harder to understand than Xenogears’s plot.

The fact that there are a lot of characters in the game do 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 Final Fantasy Caliber Character Development you won’t find here, in fact the crew of this game is nowhere near as likable as Chrono Trigger’s party. But because the game does a good job in building upon the events of Chrono Trigger, it makes what other wise would have been an average story seem actually very good. And since Serge like Chrono doesn’t speak throughout the adventure, forget about a love story…to be fair though most of the 40 plus characters in the crew have some short decent back stories.

The tale here focuses on time and dimension travel, and the alternate futures that choices in them create, so in other words, you are bound to be somewhat confused even if you have played Chrono Trigger to death. In the end provided you have finished Trigger, you will find Chrono Cross’s Story a worth while and enriching experience.

Musically Chrono Cross hasn’t found its match except maybe in Trigger. Yasunori Mitsuda is every bit the genius Uematsu is, while Umetasu excels at classical compositions for large orchestras, Mitsuda is better with less grander more personal tunes. An example is the ending theme that was played on an acoustic guitar; it was simply beautiful and breathtaking. Every song in Chrono Cross like in Trigger does not scream at loud "Big Budget" Like the PS1 FF tunes do, but they 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.

Every single composition in Chrono Cross is masterful, there is really no weak link to this sound track, in fact I dare say 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.

Graphics wise is pretty much the same story as with the music, while there are some good FMV’s in the game, after playing FFIX (which came out during the same year) it is clear where most of the budget for the two games graphics went…it didn’t went 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 the art work. The artists obviously poured their hearts into the hand drawn pre-rendered backgrounds, the entire game is set on tropical islands so 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 they (the characters) look as true to their FMV counter parts as they can look on the 1995 released PS1. 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.)

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 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 PS1but 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 will only make sense to those who have finished Chrono Trigger. The Characters are not that well developed, and the story sometimes really takes 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, appearances of Trigger’s most beloved characters gave me some chill inducing moments.

Addictiveness: 9.8-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: 9.4-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 Chrono Cross.

2003-2005 RicanSaiyan. All works here are copyrighted by their authors.