Chrono Cross, while certainly a well-done RPG and worthy any Square fan's collection, falls short in many categories. It is billed as the sequel to the ever-popular SNES game Chrono Trigger, although really it's more of a direct sequel to Radical Dreamers. I don't really understand the decision to base so many references in Chono Cross on Radical Dreamers. The fact that it was a relatively obscure game, released for a relatively obscure SNES add-on called the Satellaview, makes me wonder how they expect North Americans to catch any of the references. While we don't see Crono, Marle, Magus or any other classic Chrono Trigger characters, we do see Serge, Kid, Lynx, the Frozen Flame, and that horrible battle music theme, all of which are directly imported from Radical Dreamers.
First of all, the positives about Chrono Cross. The graphics are pretty well done. Movement blurs and special effects add to it, and the FMV sequences are stunning, as usual in a Squaresoft game. It should be noted that Chrono Cross is far less reliant on FMVs to convey crucial story points than Final Fantasy IX was. Chrono Cross is, though, unfortunately limited by the PlayStation's inherently underpowered graphics, CPU, and 2X CD-ROM drive.
The musical score was excellent. You don't often hear music in a video game that conveys the mood and fits the scene so well. The music in the latter Final Fantasy games seems to be getting more and more bland, but Chrono Cross has possibly the best score in an RPG to date. The one blemish, really, was the truly awful battle theme. And this is unfortunately the most often heard piece of music in the game. The boss battle music was good, and almost all the other town/overworld/dungeon themes were excellent. The only other two exceptions were the music heard in both the Home World and Another World when you're using your boat to move between continents.
The story was also extremely well done. I still think that if the graphics, music, and story of Chrono Cross were all placed into the same gameplay engine used in Chrono Trigger, we would have had one hell of an RPG. Anyway, your main character is Serge. As per series tradition, he is a silent protagonist. He "reflects the will of the player." I don't really mind this stylistic choice, as it spares you pointless and extraneous emotional rants from the main character that have become commonplace in other RPGs. There are other, more talkative characters as well. Kid, the obligatory scantily-clad female main character, will accompany you for a good portion of the game. Lynx is Kid's arch-nemesis, and he has some strange connection with Serge as well. Beyond that, though, the rest of the characters in Chrono Cross are transient. They come and go and have almost no direct relationship to the story. There are, in total, 43 playable characters., many of whom are just random people you pick up on a side quest. That basically destroys any hope of character development, which hurts the story a bit. Chrono Cross takes place in El Nido, ten years after the events in Chrono Trigger. Shortly after talking with a friend on Opassa Beach, Serge discovers that he has fallen through a dimensional portal. Soon after, he meets Kid, and gets caught up in her quest to find the Frozen Flame and exact revenge on Lynx. I won't say more, for fear of spoiling it, but suffice it to say that it will be very satisfying to those who've player Chrono Trigger. If you haven't, you won't be completely lost, either. The story is probably the coolest part of Chrono Cross, I just wish they could have spared us the fetch quests towards the end of disc 1, and the ear-splitting "concert" on the S.S. Zelbess.
And now for the bad and the ugly. The gameplay is the weakest link in Chrono Cross. Your party consists of 3 characters. For a good portion of the game, you must include Serge and Kid in these three. The worldmap and areas work similar to Chrono Trigger - nothing out of the ordinary. Also, as in Chrono Trigger, enemies appear on the screen, and you only initiate a battle with them if you collide with them, unlike the totally random battles in Final Fantasy games. However, battles are still a necessary part of Chrono Cross. Square has eschewed numerous successes with ATB-based battle systems in favor of a different system in Chrono Cross. Every spell, item, and ability is now an "element". Some elements are consumable (like potions and tonics of yore), other are spells to cast in battle, still others are innate abilites. Elements can be purchased in towns or captured from enemies. You equip them on characters not unlike materia in Final Fantasy VII. Each element can be used once per battle. Each element also has a specific elemental color (blue, water; red, fire; yellow, earth; green, forest; white, holy; black, evil). Each character also has an innate color, and using elements of their own color will amplify their power. Now, for the battle system itself. Rather than ATB, each character has a stamina meter. Commands be issued to any character who still has stamina left. Attacks and element usages deplete stamina. Each physical attack landed on an enemy, however, recharges the other party members' stamina. Using an element causes all the stamina of that character to be depleted, and deadwood to show up in their meter. This must be cleared before stamina will build up again. If everyone's stamina drop below the level where any actions can be used, everyone's stamina is recharged, but all the enemies get an attack.
Ok, so it looks fine on paper, but in implementation every battle is monotonous, drawn out, and takes forever, even for puny little enemies. You can run away with 100% success from any battle, but the enemies on the screen will not disappear. Also, some bosses will let you go and prepare for the better, while others will just immediately initiate combat again. All in all, the gameplay engine is almost all subpar - making Chrono Cross just another face in the crowd as far as this goes.
Well, that's about it. There is one other thing that I found funny, and sad, about Chrono Cross. In the instruction booklet, on the 'Credits' page, I found a reference to the English Auto-Accent Generator. What this means, I believe, is that all the charatcers who speak in exaggerated, annoying accents (probably about half of them) had their accents automatically created by some regex parser that some tech working at Square wrote. Innovative!
A typical Square game, really. Incredibly good in some areas, and really crappy in others. None the less, it will keep you entertained for a good while. Just have the mute button handy for battles.
Chrono Cross was released in Japan on November 18th, 1999, and in North America on August 16th, 2000. No European release is planned.