Graveyard: Chrono Cross

Out back of the Hardcore Gamer office you’ll find our Graveyard, where countless long-dead classics lie. We come here to pay our respects, to reminisce, and to wonder aloud what a passing mad doctor might be able do with all these corpses and some high-definition lightning.

Chrono Trigger was a revolutionary JRPG when it hit the SNES in 1995. It took players across time and presented alternate dimensions in a way that hadn’t really been done before – at least in a video game. Chrono Cross was an eagerly-awaited follow-up that disappointed some player five years later, but blew me away. The opening cinematic remains one of the best I’ve ever experienced and has one of my favorite gaming tracks, too. It’s fast-paced and just gets things off to an exciting start. Chrono Cross came out in a JRPG-rich time in gaming, and on one of the best consoles ever for the genre, the original PlayStation.  Chrono Cross‘s robust plot crosses various timelines, but I found its cast of characters to be better than that of Trigger. The early cast was very likeable, and the usage of CG cutscenes worked to flesh out the world.

The plot is a bit of a mess – involving time streams, dimensional shifting, and about a billion characters – yet it all comes together. The individual pieces of the game are certainly flawed, but every time I go back to Chrono Cross, I have a great time. The dramatic parts of the story all work and the shifts into melodrama are so out of nowhere that they seem logical within this game’s diverse universe. You’ve got luchador-looking characters in a game set in an indeterminate timeframe without much in the way of what we would consider modern technology living alongside jungle-raised warriors, and human-shamed animals. It’s a strange world and something that takes getting used to.

The main character is Serge – a white slate who has very little actual personality, but serves several important roles in the overall plot. Kid was my favorite character when I first played through it, and remained so over time because she has a fairly sad backstory. She grew up homeless and is fairly tough as a result – so her rough interior stands as a stark contrast to her kindly exterior.  The roster is diverse and its playable character count is among the highest of its time outside of the Suikoden series. This of course means that some of the characters are just there to fill spots – but diversity is always appreciated and beats the pants off of playing a game with the same half-dozen or so characters for 40+ hours.

Like any JRPG, its story has to be compelling and Chrono Cross‘s is just that. You are given quite a few reasons over the course of the adventure to care about the primary characters – with some dealing with serious health problems that take them out of action for a long while. It’s a bit like having Aeris in your party in FF VII only to suddenly lose her – only far more dramatic because it’s so touch and go. With Aeris, everything is so sudden whereas here, you have to sit around and worry to see what’s going to unfold next. The time travel stuff didn’t do much for me at the time, but replaying it after over a decade of watching Futurama really made me a fan of it because I was able to approach it from a different angle.

Its battle system was one of the most intricate on the market at the time. It doesn’t use the ATB system from Chrono Trigger and instead gives everyone stamina points to use. Attacks were split into light, medium, and heavy attacks with different point values. You could go for a high-risk heavy attack and do a lot of damage – but wind up costing yourself about half of your stamina. If you have a weakened character, defending costs a point and magic users have to carefully choose what they do because it will drain their stamina. Stamina regenerates when party members attack and it allows you to mix in strategy with a faster-paced battle setup. Chrono Cross’s battle system takes some getting used to, but an early tutorial helps you get acclimated and while going through it again, I’d forgotten just how tough it could be to carefully balance attacking, defending, and magic usage.

Visually, Chrono Cross has held up marvelously with time. Sure, the graphics are dated – but the character models using more realistic proportions allows everything to look far more realistic within the world it’s in. Unlike Final Fantasy VII, you wind up with a world that isn’t disjointed with character models shifting from battle to overworld traversal. While CGI is used to tell most of the tale, every character stands out a bit thanks to their body language and designs. There are no two characters that look entirely alike in the main cast, which is surprising given how just diverse the cast is – they could’ve taken the lazy route every now and then, but didn’t. Spells look impressive, and the environments have held up remarkably well with each area having a completely different style to it. You can be in a Roman coliseum-looking area, a dense jungle, a swamp, or in an art deco city and have it all dazzle you with how much detail is contained within each area.

The soundtrack is one of the best in gaming history. While Square’s output has always been strong in that regard, this remains a game worth playing just for the music. It begins with one of the most diverse songs ever – going from somber and relaxed to epic with violin work that would put Lindsey Stirling to shame. From there, you get subdued town themes, fast-paced battle music, and a soundtrack that has to be heard to be believed. While the game lacking voice work may hurt it for some, that does allow the player to craft the voices for every character and that usually works well for RPGs.

Chrono Cross
remains as fun to play now as it was 17 years ago. Its blend of intricate battle, gorgeous graphics and some of the best music in gaming history allows it to be a must-play for any JRPG fan. Anyone who hasn’t enjoyed it yet should grab it on PSN — where only $10 will separate you from enjoying its greatness on either a PSP, Vita or PS3. The game has never been remade, but with Final Fantasy VII getting a big budget remake, maybe one day we will see Chrono Cross get a similar treatment — or better yet, something like that for both Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross.