Developer: Square Enix
Producer: Square Enix
Release Date: November 18, 1999
Platforms: Playstation, Playstation 3 (PSN Classics)
Reviewed On: Playstation 3
Fifteen years ago, the year 1999; fans of the even then legendary RPG Chrono Trigger had waited patiently for nearly five years for a sequel that would continue the anime-inspired adventures of Chrono, Marle, and the rest of his friends. What they got, however, was Chrono Cross, a game so divorced in story, gameplay, and character from its predecessor that if it did not have “Chrono” in its title casual observers could likely not even tell that the two games were connected!
The fandom raged! Cross was not the game they were expecting, or perhaps even the one that they wanted. And while the reviews of the time were almost universally positive, with a quick look at Metacritic showing that Cross currently boasts an aggregate score of 94, two points higher then that of the DS remake of Chrono Trigger, Cross has in the decade and a half since its release garnered a boat load of negative attention from fans both new and old who regard it as an inferior follow-up to one of the best RPG’s of the 16-bit generation. But why all the hate? Just what about Cross was so egregious that it caused those who loved Chrono Trigger to hold a grudge against it for over a decade? Hard questions all, but that will not stop me from trying to answer them!
Released in 1999 for the original Playstation, Chrono Cross represented something of an endpoint for RPGs for the first in Sony’s long running line of videogame consoles. Much can be said of the PS1’s worth in helping to expose western audiences with such landmark titles as Final Fantasy 7, The Legend of Dragoon, and Xenogears. But Cross, which came out a mere year before the launch of the PS2 in 2000, was among the last RPGs for the venerable console and in every way looked the part of a late-gen video game. With a beautiful soundtrack, graphics that improved upon the realistic character models found in Final Fantasy 8, and an interesting battle system unlike that used elsewhere in the gaming world, Cross was a game with an impressive pedigree that seemed poised for success. And, to a point, it was. Shipping over 1.5 million copies world wide, according to Wikipedia, and garnering much praise from critics of the time, Cross was a successful title by most metrics. Yet its legacy has been a mixed one at best, some fans love it, some fans hate it, and some have even gone so far as to devise entire fan-games just to erase it from the series continuity entirely! Indeed, few games have inspired such division within a fandom as Cross has.
But why? Well, first and foremost, Cross was a game that did not live up to the vision of a sequel to Trigger that many gamers had concocted in their heads. None of the first game’s characters appear in Cross directly, while time travel, Trigger’s primary plot gimmick, is completely absent as well, and the art style, which was an odd mix of western and eastern influences, resembled in no way the high energy, anime-influenced, style that artist Akira Toriyama had used to define Trigger’s art direction. Overall It just didn’t look or feel like a Chrono game.
[Spoilers for a fifteen year old game from here on]
Secondly, for those who played the game all the way through, Cross’ story often felt like a slap in the face that more or less read as “Hey, you remember all that stuff you worked for in the first game? Yeah, it doesn’t matter in the end. Have fun with that.” Not only are Marle and Chrono, the primary protagonists of Chrono Trigger, implied to have lost their lives in a military coup, but fan favorite Robo is actually terminated on screen in front of the player! After having spent 30+ hours in Trigger getting to know these characters, it felt as if fans collective heart had been ripped out by the Chrono Cross’ development team! How dare they kill off such beloved characters so easily! On top of this, the game’s last boss, the Devourer of Time, a creature directly tied to Lavos, the final boss of Chrono Trigger, represented a similarly decisive plot element, as its very existence implied that the entirety of the first game’s quest was merely prologue to the events of Chrono Cross. Needless to say, this did not make many fans happy at all.
Besides much loved characters being slaughtered wholesale like cattle, Chrono Cross’ plot is a bit…convoluted, to say the least. Featuring dimensional travel as its primary plot crux, Cross jumps from between two versions of the same world, one in which the main character Serge survived a run-in with a wild cat as a child, and one where he did not. Simple enough, but as the plot advances, things quickly become more and more complicated. As dead timelines forever frozen like still life paintings, the nature of evolution, and weather controlling dragon gods all serve as plot points to make many a gamers scratch their head and utter a simple and very pronounced “Huh?”.
Indeed, so bizarre is the plot of Cross that several NPCs were even added to the English version of the game just to explain plot points that players might have missed. And the explanation didn’t stop there, several anime movie sequences were added to the PS1 rerelease of Trigger to further explain the connection between the two games, annnnnd, just a few years ago, the DS remake of the game expanded even further by featuring an entire bonus dungeon and alternate final boss that both served strengthen that very same connection.
So we’ve covered why Cross’ story and art clashed with many people’s vision of what a sequel to Chrono Trigger would be like, but what about the actual game play? While less controversial then Cross’ plot, the games battle engine, which used a 7 point stamina gauge to determine how often and how hard a player could attack, was a huge departure from the modified Active Time Battle system, also featured in many Final Fantasy games of the era, that Cross had used. Cross also reduced significantly the number of double and triple techniques that players could use as well, making for combat that flowed and felt much different from that of its predecessor.
Also often criticized is the sheer number of playable characters present in Cross, which numbers almost fifty in total. While it is neat to have such a variety in the range of characters you can select to be in your party, many of them are very goofy, including a mushroom man, a Lucha Libre-styled wrestler and a gothic rockstar, and have little relevance to the game’s overall plot, making it often seem that character depth was sacrificed for the sake of having a large and interesting looking cast.
So in all, Chrono Cross was just too different a game from its predecessor. While this is by no means a bad thing, it was a matter of audience expectations. When a Square Soft announced that they were making a sequel to Chrono Trigger people were imagining a game in the same vain as the original, one that would continue the adventure of the same characters and world. But that just didn’t happen, we instead got Chrono Cross, a game wildly divergent from its predecessor in nearly every way. The lesson to be learned from this is simple, no matter how good a piece of media is, if your audience is going in blindly expecting more of the same, only to find the reality of the media in question is much different from what they had concocted in their heads and/or believed it would be like, you’re going to end up with an angry fanbase.
To quote the game’s scenario director, Masato Kato: “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.“
So what is good about Chrono Cross? Literally take everything that I listed above as being a problem due to how different it from Chrono Trigger and compile them into a list. It really is that simple. Chrono Cross’ art direction is interesting, if a bit odd by JRPG standards. It featured graphics more then decent for its time and a battle system that was dynamic and interesting enough to keep your attention from beginning to end.
The story is very complicated, but it is one that if you take the time to sit down and piece together the small shards you are fed across the game’s play time (especially doing side quests and paying attention to minor details) is both rewarding and complex. This is not to say that Trigger’s story was not complex, but rather it was presented in a far more upfront manner then Cross’ story was. Both are enjoyable, they are just very different in scope and scale.
The game’s music, which definitely deserves special attention, is the one part of Cross that I feel completely outshines its predecessor in every way.The definitive song from the game ,”Scars of Time”, can be heard below.
While I cannot forgive just how silly some of the game’s nearly 50 characters are, Chrono Cross is still an amazing game that deserves to be taken on its own merits, rather then continually compared to its predecessor. So, on that basis, I give Chrono Cross a 9.5/10. (And, for the record, I would have given Chrono Trigger a 9.0/10)
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