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SummaryBeware of the Lynx!..
The GoodChrono Cross had really large shoes to fill - its predecessor, the famous Chrono Trigger, was considered by many one of the greatest Japanese RPGs of all times (in my opinion, rightfully so). While Chrono Cross doesn't quite work the same magic as that legendary game, it is most certainly on par with it in every way.
Chrono Cross is even more lyrically intense and complex than Chrono Trigger; it has its own original gameplay style, setting, and a fresh new story that is nevertheless closely tied to the one of its predecessor.
The setting of Chrono Cross is a semi-medieval world with a touch of sci-fi, especially near the end of the game. Fantasy seems to have no limit in this game, and its world is wonderfully colorful. Complicated mechanical devices together with magicians; realistic townspeople, medieval-style knights and mysterious half-humans; robots, dragons, time-traveling, traveling to a parallel universe, dream that becomes reality, reality that becomes a dream, and so on. The game drags you into its world as soon as you start playing it.
When it comes to the narrative, Chrono Cross not only matches its predecessor in terms of various plot devices and balance between given facts and secrets, but even surpasses it in some aspects. Characters and situations develop gradually, being only partially revealed, and the story doesn't give away too much in the beginning, allowing more space for subsequent twists.
Large parts of the story are told silently and remain enigmatic until the later parts of the game. Particularly appealing to the fans of the series are the fine threads that tie the seemingly unrelated story of Chrono Cross to that of Chrono Trigger. In fact, the most unexpected plot twist - the discovery of the true identity of one of the game's main characters - can be understood to the full extent only by those who have played the previous game. That said, the knowledge of Chrono Trigger's plot is not necessary in order to enjoy this story.
The trick of alternate realities that is used in the game works a lot like time traveling in Chrono Trigger, allowing plenty of complicated and fun experiments. For once there are two worlds in the game, the "real" one and the alternate one, each with a complete set of characters, which of course have totally different destinies and relationships. Early in the game you gain the ability to travel between the realities, which also includes different time periods, and are able to change and "correct" the future like in Chrono Trigger. The coolest part is the ability to take characters recruited in one reality into the other, making them meet their own self. One of the game's best side-quests involves making a certain character a better person by showing him his "alternate persona".
The game allows you to recruit a tremendous amount of characters into your party, making it almost a Suikoden-like experience - 40 possible characters, including a large number of optional ones, and those who can be recruited only after having completed the game for the first time. One would expect that with such an amount of characters there will be no in-depth characterization in the game. Surprisingly, it is not so. Like Suikoden, Chrono Cross succeeds in precise characterization, and many of its secondary characters can compete with the main leads of other RPGs.
The "meat" of Chrono Cross are its character-related sub-quests. Among some ordinary assignments you'll find great personal stories with convincing psychological background. Check out Fargo's story or the complex Murasame-related sub-plot (that once again involves a fantastic, almost Shakespearean dramatic story), to name just a couple of examples.
The characters of Chrono Cross are colorful and charming - just look at Kid with her simple, good heart, careless approach and cute cockney accent. As it is often the case in such type of games, morally ambivalent characters (such as Harle) are the best.
The gameplay system is quite interesting. There are no random encounters, but that's an insignificant detail compared to the battles system itself. Stamina management plays an important role; you'll either have to accumulate stamina in order to perform devastating blows, or do a couple of weaker attacks in a row, planning your moves in such a way that at least one of your characters will remain intact, stamina-wise, when it is your turn.
Instead of magic, the characters use Elements, which sounds pretty much the same, but is not. Elements fall into the same category as items and should be readied whenever you enter a battle. Naturally, you can cast only as many spells per battle as you have previously equipped. This makes the "summon Bahamut as many times as necessary until everyone is dead" strategy impossible, and of course adds some balance to the battles.
But the best aspect of the gameplay in Chrono Cross is its open-ended, non-linear nature. You can follow the main story in a standard Japanese-style linear fashion, but you can also take your time and perform the numerous side quests scattered in the game. It is always cool to discover some optional locations and characters, but Chrono Cross adds even more to this: there are several ways to complete the game, and the way to achieve the best ending is anything but obvious. Like Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross has a New Game+ option, where you can start at a killer level, and face the final boss at any time possible, achieving all kinds of additional different endings.
There is more: top-notch production values. Visually, Chrono Cross is on par with Final Fantasy VII, if not more impressive. It doesn't have as many CG animations, but those that are there are gorgeous, and character graphics are superior to the blocky guys of FF7. As for the music, I guess I should just mention that it was written by Yasunori Mitsuda, the former apprentice of Nobuo Uematsu who has surpassed his master in the eyes of some fans. A company that has two such composers employed shouldn't really worry about the quality of music in their games...
The BadMany of the battles can get disappointingly easy in Chrono Cross. The game is rich in boss encounters, but once you figure out which elements work best against which, you simply pound the poor boss with the element he is weak to, eliminating him before he is able to realize what is going on.
Like in most Square games, the writing can get awkward. Some of the plot elements are confusing, and a major plot twist is handed to you almost nonchalantly near the very end of the game. In fact, I think it is even possible to finish the game without learning that plot twist, though perhaps I'm mistaken.
Not all the characters are interesting; some of the accompanying party members seem to be there just to fill the void. I think greater roles were assigned to some of them during the development of the game, but for reasons unknown they didn't make it into the final version.
I felt that the main character, Serge, was too much in the background, even for a silent protagonist; somehow, his personality was never really carried across. Perhaps it would have been better to make him a regular "talking" guy, since many of the plot events specifically revolved around him.