A Look Back at Chrono Cross: the Underappreciated JRPG Classic

  • What’s With All the Hate?

    After spending almost 1500 words absolutely gushing about my favorite video game ever, Chrono Trigger, I got to thinking, “What about the sequel?” Chrono Cross was released very late in the original PlayStation life cycle. While it was a critical hit, gaining nines and tens from most reviewing sites, it rubbed the fans the wrong way and has largely been forgotten. Why? What happened to it? Why isn’t it seen as the incredible, innovation in gaming like its predecessor? Well, let’s look at a few things.

    The Name of the Game is the Game

    Chrono Cross’ gameplay is amazing. It’s unique in turn-based battle systems and was kind of a hybrid of the traditional battle systems at the time and the more action-RPG systems that would become the standard in the coming years.

    Japanese RPGs were going through an interesting time of growth. The traditional battle systems had become a bit stale, and Square was looking for something new. Chrono Cross is unique in that instead of only being able to cast one spell or attack, you had a stamina bar, and you could do multiple attacks or spells depending on the type or power of the attack or spell. For example, you could do one powerful attack, or one weaker attack and weaker spell. This gave players much more freedom in how they wanted to play the game. Furthermore, you don’t level up by grinding through tons of enemies, you level up by just fighting regularly, and the more you use one style of attack those skills will level up. For example, if you’re a brawler, and just do powerful attacks, your character will level up that way, and your magic skills will be weaker.

    Like I said, this was very new and unique, and many core fans didn’t like it. They missed the Chrono Trigger system. Chrono Cross’ system seemed terribly confusing to them, and completely alien. In Chrono Cross, the way you played the game also affected the story in many ways, and many first time players didn’t know this. So you could play through the game completely and not get the perfect ending because of some arbitrary decision you made in battle many hours earlier.

    I Have How Many People in My Party?!

    Many JRPGs are known for their vast parties, but Chrono Trigger kept the party small and developed each character. Each character had their own arch. You got to know each character well, to they point where they felt like a personal friend to you, the player. Chrono Cross did away with that and went for breadth rather than depth. In Chrono Cross, the party is huge and varied. You have a skeleton, a clown, cat people, dog people, knights, and many many more. While the more the merrier, you lost the same connection you had with the original team.

    He Doesn’t Look Like Goku!

    Another thing that put off many core fans was the very different art style. Akira Toriyama did do some of the original designs, but the final designs were done by Nobuteru Yuki. Many people missed the hand-drawn style of the original. I think this decision was one of prudence and that Akira Toriyama’s style would not have fit in the 3D world they were going for. The technology was not there yet. This vast shift in design paradigms can be rather shocking to people. They are used to seeing the Chrono world in one way, and when they suddenly see it in a very different way, they can’t get past it.

    Where’s Chrono?

    One big disappointment to many people is that none of the main characters (explicitly) return to the game and (SPOILER ALERT) at the game’s half point you find out that most of them have died in between games. I remember the game being marketed as a sequel to the original and took that to mean that it was going to be a direct sequel. This was honestly false advertising. The game was never intended to be Chrono Trigger 2. The game’s director Masato Kato said the following:

    “We didn’t want to directly extend Chrono Trigger into a sequel, but create a new Chrono with links to the original. Yes, the platform changed; and yes, there were many parts that changed dramatically from the previous work. But in my view, the whole point in making Chrono Cross was to make a new Chrono with the best available skills and technologies of today. I never had any intentions of just taking the system from Trigger and moving it onto the PlayStation console. That’s why I believe that Cross is Cross, and NOT Trigger 2.”

    The Story

    One of the biggest problems people had with the game was the story. It is incredibly complex. Chrono Trigger dealt with time travel and going back and forth on the same timeline. But Chrono Cross does something much more interesting, In Chrono Cross, you deal with multiple timelines or parallel universes. You as the main character, Surge, accidentally travel to another world very similar to your own only to find that in that world you are dead, and your life or death effects the whole world. That is such a cool idea! And I think that, while very confusing, it is realized very well. To understand everything you have to do a little bit of research, but it is an incredibly rich and detailed world created.

    But when the game came out in 1999, the idea of multiple parallel dimensions hadn’t really sunk into the public consciousness like it has now. With nerd culture bring so prevalent and shows like The Big Bang Theory, and Rick and Morty, these ideas are much more palatable to the general audience. If Chrono Cross were released today I think its story would get a lot more recognition.

    In the End…

    Chrono Cross was fighting an uphill battle trying to tell a new story in the same Chrono universe, but that is not what people wanted. Fans of the original wanted another adventure with Chrono and friends. There is one aspect of the game however that everyone can agree on; the music in the game is incredible. I think it is one of the best game soundtracks of all time. Yasunori Mitsuda, who scored the original, came back to do the music for Chrono Cross, and it is amazing. The game should receive wider acclaim for its music alone. If you have never played Chrono Cross, try it out. It is still fun and enjoyable today!

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