I've been chipping away at some RPGs for what feels like forever. I often look back at several RPGs I played in the past to create a list of the style elements that I thought were good & bad. One game I spent time reviewing was Chrono Cross. I played it a couple of years ago and thought it was one of the best RPGs I'd seen. As a one-man-shop I couldn't hope to create something nearly as detailed. However, there were certain style elements of the game that could be used in a less graphically intensive environment. As with any game, there were a few annoyances I re-discovered in Chrono Cross. This is not meant to bash the game; the good elements outweigh the bad by an awful lot. It's just a way of saying that even a great RPG can have some room for improvement so here are a few things to avoid. If you own Playstation 1 or 2 and like RPGs I'd highly recommend picking up this game (especially since it's widely available for under $20). Sure, it doesn't look as good as Final Fantasy X-whatever but it's still a top-notch RPG.
Spoiler Warning: This little article contains all kinds of spoilers about Chrono Cross. It's probably a bad idea to read it if you ever plan to play the game.
10 Reasons Why Chrono Cross is a Great RPG
#10 3/4 (isometric) Perspective
Now that everyone uses a similar perspective for RPGs I guess it's not that big a deal anymore. It sure seemed novel at the time though. A few previous games used this viewpoint style but Chrono Cross was the first where I felt like they really got it right. The game perspective changes based on the size and shape of the area the party is in. Prior attempts at this style used a fixed perspective while Chrono Cross boldly used a dynamic one.
#9 Battle System
The Chrono Cross battle system is a tad difficult to learn at first so the game forces you into some handy tutorials. After getting the hang of it, it's one of the better ones designed.
I've never seen an introduction that made me want to play a game more than the one for Chrono Cross. In the first 45 seconds you're blitzed through a series of images showing what's to come, it builds a great feeling of anticipation. This is something of a Square trademark that they excel at.
The game itself kicks-off at about the halfway point. Well, it's actually Serge having a dream of future events. Of course it ends with Serge dropping a bloody knife. No idea who you just stabbed or why, just a craving to find out what's going on.
#7 Fast-Forward Replay
After beating the game you receive an item that lets you replay in fast-forward mode. By holding one of the shoulder buttons on the controller you can play the entire game at double-speed.
Oh, and if you replay you start at whatever level you beat the game at and can instantly regain all the companions you had. This is one of the few RPGs that are fun to play through a second or third time because of this feature.
#6 No Leveling-Up
Chrono Cross scraps the traditional experience points=levels concept. Instead, whenever a boss is defeated all characters gain one level. Even the ones that weren't in the boss battle gain a level, brilliant idea. Phantasy Star II was the first console game to try the multiple companions idea. However, the XP/level system means you tend to only use the ones that first joined your party. Bad times for Hugh and Kain who end up being the least used characters (OK, Shir joins the party last but needs to built-up to obtain one of the most useful items). Chrono Cross gets this absolutely right by keeping all companions at the same level.
#5 Branching Storyline
There are several points in the game where a decision you make changes some part of the storyline. This affects what areas you visit and what companions join your party. This adds to the already strong replay factor by giving you a reason to run through one more time (and it takes at least three runs to catch everything).
The soundtrack to Chrono Cross is simply a masterpiece. From the very opening it does a perfect job of setting the tone for the entire game. With 67 tracks, each area and intermission has its own distinct ballad.
There are a healthy number of remixes if you can't get your hands on a copy of the official soundtrack.
#3 Multiple Endings
There are 9-12 different endings to Chrono Cross depending on who you ask.
After finishing the game once you can replay it (see #7) and fight the last boss at virtually anytime. The stage of the story determines which ending you'll see. A few of them are definitely worth the effort.
#2 No Random Battles
It's always a relief to find an RPG without random battles. Not only are the battles easy to avoid, but they're completely optional (see #6). I read this on the back of the box but didn't believe it until I played. This feature lets the player focus more on the game and less on slaughtering never-ending legions of monsters. If I'm in a killing mood I'll fire up Doom, when I play an RPG I'm looking for something with more substance.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Phantasy Star and Lunar games but rarely replay them due to the random battle factor. I've tried and usually by the 100,000th fight I give up.
#1 Huge Cast of Companions
Chrono Cross features 45 playable characters to choose from. And that's not 45 generic characters but 45 unique characters each with their own back story and role. Many of these companions are discovered through a side-quest or branched storyline.
My personal favorite sidekicks are Harle, Glenn, and Fargo.
3 Reasons Why it's Not
#3 Too Easy
Except for a couple optional bosses, this is one of easiest RPGs around. Even the final boss is relatively simple to defeat, unless you try to defeat him in such a way as to invoke the "good" ending. That takes a few tries but it's still easier than 90% of the final bosses out there.
#2 Save Points
If I were to actually finish creating an RPG it would have two rules: 1) No random battles, 2) Players can save at any time. I mean quot;any time". 10 seconds into the introduction, during the ending credits, even in the middle of the important dialog that shouldn't be interrupted.
It's pretty frustrating to play an RPG for an hour and not be able to quit because you can't find a place to save. There's a certain segment of the gaming market that has nothing but disposable free time. These people either aren't employed or don't have kids (or they're exceptionally bad employees and/or parents). The rest of us have 30 minutes of free time a day and often need to abruptly stop whateverwe're doing. For us, save points are wretched inventions that should be abolished from all games.
#1 Zany Plot
I've played through Chrono Cross several times and I still have no idea what it's about. Seriously. OK, I can follow a number of the individual storylines. There are a few dozen sub-plots that revolve around a specific character which are largely excellent. The overall binding story is a bit harder to follow though.
It starts off interestingly enough; Serge accidentally enters a parallel universe where he died at a young age. Somehow a guy named Karsh knows Serge entered this parallel universe and tries to hunt him down. I guess that's simple enough. As the game progresses it gets increasingly complicated/convoluted.
By the end it tries to sum things up with this dialog:
When did this sorry tale all begin...?
Was it 10 years ago, when you almost drowned here? Or was it 14 years ago, when you were wounded by that panther demon that attacked you resulting in you being carried to Chronopolis where you came into contact with FATE and the Frozen Flame?
Or perhaps it was even 2,400 years in the future, when the Time Crash hurled Chronopolis back to prehistoric times?
Or even it could have been 12,000 B.C., when an ancient magical kingdom met its end after trying to use Lavos?
Each is close to being correct and yet, at the same time, so far from the right answer! The true beginning was during the destruction of the ancient Kingdom of Zeal! As the palace collapsed around her, Princess Schala was sucked into a dimensional vortex along with the Lavos Mammon Machine. Schala and Lavos became unified into one even more powerful entity that would evolve into the Devourer of Time. Filled with the hatred and sadness of Lavos, half of Schala's mind became set on destroying all of existence. Yet at the same time, the other half of her mind desired to save the universe and to be rescued herself. As Schala fell through the time gate in this condition, she heard your crying echoing through time.
That is when her story and yours began to intertwine. It is also when the past and the future began to intersect, and when the world became divided into two. Led by the pitiful crying the young Serge made as the panther demon's poison took hold of him. Princess Schala traveled ten thousand years in time to try and make contact with this dimension! This caused a raging magnetic storm that resulted in FATE's system malfunction, which led Serge to the Frozen Flame.