Old RPG Review #40: Chrono Cross

NuMetalManiak Yes folks, I have just reached 40 reviews. Awesome. I remember 20 reviews ago, I did Chrono Trigger at #20, and here I am 20 reviews later, doing the successor, Chrono Cross, at #40. Now this was a game with a mixed fanbase. There were plenty that dissed the game as being a terrible sequel to Chrono Trigger and doing away with most of the cast from that game, while the whole slew of characters in this one are rather one-note. But then again, there were quite a lot who adored the game in contrast. Now when I played this, I honestly thought this game looked ugly in graphics, especially the first few moments. But I pressed on, and overall, I'd say this was a worthy one to play. Get ready, here's another long one for ya.

Gameplay: So Chrono Cross takes place in two dimensions, Serge's Home World, and Another World, where Serge is supposed to have died long ago. The game's navigation mechanic remains similar to Chrono Trigger, with certain key items taking center stage. The Astral Amulet is used to go between worlds, the Tele-Porter is used to swap out characters in the party, and the Smith Spirit allows usage of the weapon/armor forging shop. This particular thing allows for weapons to be made, but they require materials, obtained from enemies usually. No random encounters, which makes things easy since you can dodge enemies, and not a whole lot of puzzles to go about. There are, however, branching points.

I should mention the Elements in this game. There's white (holy magic), black (darkness and gravity), red (fire), blue (ice/water), green (wind/grass), and yellow (thunder/earth). The characters and enemies in-game use these six element colors in battle for advantage, and the types are opposing of one another (white vs. black, red vs. blue, green vs. yellow). What bothers me about this is that not only are these the source of magic, but also for consumable items (like antidotes), and special ones like trap elements and summon elements that are really hard to use. Characters also have an innate color, meaning they are both strong and weak to the opposing element. Basically, anything that's not a key item or a piece of equipment is an element. At least many can be found at shops; using trap elements is necessary in order to get the hard-to-find ones.

The battle system here is quite unique. It's sort of active-time, and physical attacks play like Xenogears, with three levels of attack with diminishing accuracy each one. Adding to that is the stamina bar, which refills while others are doing their thing, and when it's 0.0 or in the negatives, the character can't really move. Using an element depletes the bar by 7 (which is the max that everyone uses). Characters' elements are on a grid, where they can be customized and used for battle, however each element can only be used once per battle unless a special one is used. An element used contributes to the field, which is the weird circle thingies at the top left in battle. These enhance a certain color, so if a field is all green, then green elements will be more powerful, while the opposing yellow color is much less so. Techniques are exclusive to characters, and can be fun to use. There exist very few techs used by two or more characters in this game, unlike in Chrono Trigger where there's more.

Now onto leveling up. You don't. After battle, the spoils usually involve more than a money gain, sometimes extra items, but also stat boosts to the characters, which ties in to where you are in the game. Beating a boss causes an increase in growth level, signified by stars, meaning that another element slot is usually available along with more stat boosts. It's a unique way to level up, but not by all means the best. For the fights that don't raise the star level, the stat boosts basically stop after a while. All in all, Chrono Cross has a very interesting battle system unseen anywhere else, with it's anti-leveling thing and how the elements work and all. It's pretty hard to get the hang of. Gameplay Grade: A-

Characters: Now, there's 45 or so playable characters, so this is like half of a Suikoden cast. Unfortunately, a good chunk of them have no plot significance whatsoever and are pretty one-dimensional in personality. Plenty are worthless too, and there are some funny accents in some of the characters (in what is actually known as the Accent System). Finally, the branching points I mentioned lock out certain characters, so unless we are playing a New Game+ (yep, that features here too), not every character will be used. I'll list them in alphabetical order:

Doc: A country doctor that has a surfer-like attitude. He's a white innate, but average in battle.
Draggy: The youngest party member available, this red innate character is a baby dragon that is nice physically.
Fargo: One of the more story-involved characters, this guy's a pirate and a gambler. Well done physically as a blue innate, and one of three characters that can steal in the game.
Funguy: An ordinary man, turned into an anthropomorphic mushroom after eating a tasty mushroom. Freaky. He wields an axe and is a yellow innate, not really what I consider.
Glenn: No this isn't Frog from Chrono Trigger, he's a different Glenn. One of the best characters in the game IMO, he is good all around and has a dual tech with Serge, X-Strike. He's also green innate and can actually dual-wield a certain weapon late in the game, making him even better. Only problem is that he can be missed on a certain branching point.
Greco: A psychic wrestler who sometimes speaks Spanish, he's another red innate that can wrestle enemies physically. Early in the game too.
Grobyc: That's Cyborg backwards. Black innate, one of the strongest physical fighters, and probably the best black innate late game if you didn't get Guile (below)
Guile: Not the Street Fighter character, but he is a street magician. He is one of three to join at a branching point. Notable is that his element grid is inverted from the usual, so he gets more high level slots, useful in a New Game+. He's also black innate, and is actually implied to be Magus from Chrono Trigger.
Harle: One of the more story-involved characters, Harle is, well, a harlequin, a jester if you will. A fun black innate character to have around though, she's statistically good.
Irenes: A mermaid who's accent consists of tons of umlauts. She's a natural blue innate character
Janice: A crazy bunny girl who is recruited if you beat her monsters in an arena, okay. Red innate.
Karsh: Although a villain at first, he becomes playable later on and is like Glenn, a statistically good green innate. Plus an ax wielder. Tragic past.
Kid: One of the main characters (she's on the cover of the game of course). A red innate and a thief with an Australian accent. Very much tied into the plot.
Korcha: A snobbish little individual who's one of the more hated characters apparently. Blue innate, statistically bad. His manner of speaking involves CHA a lot (this applies to other characters that have -cha at the end of their names).
Leah: Hey look! Mini-Ayla! She's only 6 years old, very tiny, but man she's powerful. Yellow innate, ax wielder,
Leena: Serge's childhood friend. Great magic ability and blue innate, okay physically. Great techniques. She's easily missable, just refuse to have Kid join the first time to get Leena instead, since Kid joins up anyways.
Luccia: Weird Russian scientist. Black innate, bad stats. She's actually an acquaintance of Lucca.
Lynx: Main villain of the game, but there is a considerable portion where he's playable. Very powerful black innate, and like Serge stat-wise. Great techniques.
Macha: Mother of Korcha, weird mother character and red innate. Actually, her stats are decent, which is surprising.
Marcy: Little 9-year old tomboyish princess whose a part of the team of Devas along with Karsh. Powerful blue innate though.
Mel: A sort-of spoiled character. It's possible to miss her and Korcha if you take the path of not saving Kid (which nets Macha, Doc, and Glenn instead). She's a terrible yellow innate, but she can steal from enemies.
Miki: Very much on the exposure with this dazzling dancer. Red innate whose good with magic.
Mojo: What is this? It's some scarecrow voodoo-doll thing and it's animations are just weird. Low stats, black innate.
NeoFio: Oh wow, a tiny flower is a playable character. An easily forgettable green innate character.
Nikki: I guess his name alludes to Nikki Sixx, although he was originally called Slash (but then again, Chrono Trigger already had a character by the name of Slash). He's a glam rocker with makeup on, and fights by rocking out. With his guitar. By playing it. Blue innate character, also on a branching point. He even plays one of Chrono Cross's signature songs.
Norris: Porre soldier who joins for plot reasons. My actual favorite character in the game as he's an idealist, and a decent yellow innate like Leah. I used him more than most other characters.
Orcha: Very hefty cook, good physical stats and red innate
Orlha: Reminds me of Sailor Moon. She's a blue innate and is pretty comparable to Fargo except she cannot steal.
Pierre: A narcissist knight, similar to those foppish guys from the Suikoden games, and on one of the branching points in the game. Statistically, he sucks real hard as a blue innate, but he can get certain equipment, or so I hear, to make him good.
Pip: A unique character, Pip changes his innate based on some elements he uses. He's not statistically good enough to be in my active party though.
Poshul: Oh gosh, it's a pink fluffy talking dog with a lisp GET IT AWAY. Really though, her attack and HP are good but everything else is awful for this yellow innate.
Radius: This old man isn't entirely as bad as he seems. He's a green innate with okay stats, and has some plot relevance too.
Razzly: The best character on the "Save Kid" branch, she's one of the best magic casters in the early game like Leena is, but is really bad physically. Green innate.
Riddel: Like Razzly, bad physical stats, killer magical ones. White innate character, and is important for a couple of sidequests I think.
Serge: Yay! The main character finally! He's a silent protagonist, I mean it, just look at his status, his occupation is literally silent protagonist. Like any RPG protagonist, good at everything. He's a white innate, and can do immense damage and also wield the best weapons (his weapon by the way is a swallow, which is like an oar or something, with blades).
Skelly: You have to find this black innate's bones to recruit him. He's not bad, but there are better characters to use. Nyak!
Sneff: A magician by claim, but he's a terrible character in stats and there's better yellow innates. Possibly the ugliest character too.
Sprigg: She has the worst element grid, but there's a reason for that. This green innate character is a gimmick like Pip in that she transforms into monsters that were previously defeated, which can make battle a bit more diverse. The problem is there's a certain accessory needed in order for her to use a defeated monster, or she has to defeat it normally, and her stats aren't that good enough to do that.
Starky: Little alien dude, and white innate. Shoots with a gun of course.
Steena: Reminds me of Jeane from the Suikoden games. Cool fighting stance, pretty good white innate.
Turnip: Er, a vegetable that gets pulled out and joins. One of the last characters to join, a green innate, but not so good.
Van: Little brattish artist kid whose father's name is Gogh. Another green innate, but not really good.
Viper: Old general guy. Okay yellow innate, he at least can get a unique weapon.
Zappa: Blacksmith, powerful red innate physically. More importantly, he's the one who gives you the Smith Spirit. Also he talks with a Scottish accent.

So those are the playable characters; as you can see, it's quite a list of them, though very few have any plot relevance and out of them, Serge, Lynx, Kid, and Harle probably have the most. Other characters include a few from Chrono Trigger, but they are either cameos or ghostly apparitions. What bothers fans is how these characters are basically dead in this game. That's something that works against the score here, since I liked those characters, plus I liked very few of the playable ones. Grade: C

Plot: Well I didn't pay much attention to this in all honesty. I beat the game fairly quickly thanks to not having to worry about excessive grinding (unless it's for money's sake). So the first part of the game is a prologue where Serge, Kid, and a random character are all in a big fort. Easy peasy come squeazy, and then we see a rather nightmarish scene of an unconscious Kid on the floor with a smiling Serge holding a bloody dagger...oh wait it's just a dream.

Serge wakes up at home thanks to mom, which is a call-back to how Crono woke up. He helps his possible girlfriend Leena get some Komodo scales or something, then passes out on a beach. He wakes up in Another World, where everyone thought he died a long time ago. After finding his apparent tombstone, Kid appears to help him out (refusing here actually nets you Leena and Poshul, Kid joins later anyways). At Termina, the big city of the game, is a branching point where the party must infiltrate Viper Manor. There's three options, and only one character can join. One option is to go find Nikki in a forest, since the rockstar has gone missing. Another is helping out magician Guile go up some cliffs, and the third is taking Pierre along to the front gate. I chose Nikki, but any way goes and then they're all at Viper Manor.

Cool, a scene where the party defeats a group of soldiers and then takes their uniforms. Cliche as it is, we find out about the main villain, Lynx, and then everyone escapes. At a town called Guldove, Kid falls ill and then there's another branching point. Saving Kid apparently involves killing a near-extinct monster, and Korcha, Razzly, and Mel are characters that join. Not knowing whether to save Kid however allows for Glenn, Macha, and Doc to join instead, but either way, Kid ends up better regardless and rejoins. After sometime, the party reaches Fort Dragonia, the exact same dungeon from the prologue.

Now here's where the plot got good. You know how there's that one cartoon episode where two characters end up switching bodies and such? Like in one Fairly OddParents episode where Mr. Crocker inspects the buzzer that Timmy has and they switch bodies? Well that happens here. Serge confronts Viper and Lynx, and after the latter backstabs Viper, the Dragon Tear is used and Serge and Lynx apparently swap bodies. Done even moreso in that we see Serge talking for the first time, except that's Lynx as Serge, and Serge is now Lynx (so Lynx is technically the silent one now). The same scene from the dream that's been playing a few times actually happens now, with Lynx-as-Serge stabbing Kid with her dagger.

Serge-as-Lynx now finds ways to get his body back, getting help from a few characters such as Harle. He's stuck in the Home World too, unable to use the Astral Amulet to head back. At a really cool location known as the Dead Sea, a place frozen in time, a guy called Miguel along with three ghosts of Crono, Marle, and Lucca explains a few plot points. I forgot what they were, but Miguel fights the party in what is one of the harder boss fights in the game.

A computer known as FATE destroys the Dead Sea, but Serge-as-Lynx is able to go to Another World. Regaining former enemies as allies and fighting six elemental dragons, Serge then uses the Dragon Tear to return to his former body. Around this time, Harle disappears too. At the place known as Chronopolis, Serge fights Lynx (who is still in Serge's former body), and he reveals he's FATE. But this breaks things as the six dragons, and apparently Harle for some reason, and the Terra Tower, the final dungeon, rises. Conquering that, and a flood of exposition from Belthasar (the only returning sage from Chrono Trigger), it's back to that beach, where the three Chrono Trigger characters offer even more flood of exposition (Lynx was Serge's brainwashed father!). Also Schala, another Chrono Trigger character, is a part of the final boss, the Time Devourer, and there are two normal endings, a bad one where everyone dies, and the good one where Schala is released, which is hard to do of course. This is quite a ride. I didn't get all of this plot, but I loved the body switch. Grade: B

Music: Ah, here's the best part. I loved Chrono Trigger's music, but I will say that I loved Chrono Cross's music as well. The overworld themes, the Shadow Forest theme, the Isle of the Damned theme, the Dead Sea theme, so many great ones. The battle themes sort of wear thin though. My favorite though, is Nikki's ballad song, Magical Dreamers, played on his guitar and sort of resembling the Top Gun theme. That guitar is just fun to listen to. Grade: A+

Overall Grade: A-

Chrono Cross is one that's worth a play. It's got a unique battle system, many characters to choose from (although most are insignificant), a decent plot, and killer music. The New Game+ feature adds to it all and I plan to redo this game just for that. I heard you can fight Ozzie, Slash, and Flea, three memorable Chrono Trigger characters, in the New Game+, plus a key item that speeds/slows down the game too! Anyways, I'm glad I played this. Now I wonder what I should plan for my 50th?