959th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: Playstation 1
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Square Product Development Division 3
Publisher: Square

Chrono Trigger was one of the biggest RPGs of the 16-bit era and probably rivals only Final Fantasy VI in its focus on JRPG character building and story telling, even outshining it as it could focus on a smaller cast. It’s no wonder then that Square decided to create a sequel. It’s meant to be more closely linked to its base game than the Final Fantasy series is, though mostly through cameos and appearances rather than more direct references – I believe the way later Dragon Quest games handle it.

I’ve seen it criticized a lot, although mostly from the comparison. It’s a good game, but not as good as Chrono Trigger‘s heights are. Based on the fan reaction, this might not be on here, but all I know is that it’s meant to have its own charm. With that said, I don’t know what to actually expect as I’ve only heard about this game second hand. Will it work that well?

Our Thoughts

What makes Chrono Cross that bit less compelling is its central conceit. Where Chrono Trigger focused, in its stories, on time travel, having the past influence the future and with a main villain who goes back in time, Chrono Cross works across parallel worlds. There’s two of them – one in which the main character survived into adulthood and the other where he didn’t – and aside from switching between them you can influence them somehow. I’m not quite sure why you can do the latter (wouldn’t it deviate?), but it’s how the game works. Beyond that, it’s a neat way of exploring the butterfly effect in a game in a way that you can rarely see done. It’s not as intuitive as time travel though, which is where I got a bit confused on how it could all work out.

Even so, there’s another place where I feel it leans into it, although I can’t say I’ve fully experienced it. While Chrono Trigger already did a lot with its New Game Plus mode, Chrono Cross takes it further. Not only are there loads of endings, most only accessible by replaying, but the immense cast (not as big as the Suikoden series, but it seems close) can’t all join your party in a single playthrough. Unlocked characters seem to carry through between plays, but there are several splits in the path where you are limited in who you can collect when you go through. Even early on you want to deny some people joining you so others can join you first. It even impacts how the rest of the game plays: The second town you visit has three different ways to get into a castle, with different characters and gameplay. It’s an interesting choice that, again, hits that collector’s nerve in my brain.

The battle system’s flexibility ties into that. Each character and enemy is tied into an element and one of the things you do during battles is to use your techniques, attacks and even items to change the colour of the battlefield to match your preferred elements and increase your own damage while diminishing the enemies’. You also assign certain abilities to your character based on the grids that they’ve unlocked, so you can customize each one to focus on the abilities and elements you need for each. There’s some character-specific stuff in there as well – double and triple techs make a combat – meaning that there’s a lot of depth here even when you can just let the game figure it out. One other thing that helps with this many characters is that you don’t have to worry about grinding as much: Your maximum level is determined by the number of bosses you’ve defeated, with that mostly giving you some extra stats, after which your characters don’t get stronger. It both means that you can be focused on playing through the game rather than leveling, while you know you’re never too far behind. It works nicely to make the game that much more playable: it’s not as if they needed to inflate the playtime with grinding anyway.

Final Thoughts

It feels like sometimes Chrono Cross tries to get ahead of itself: Spending too much on being better and bigger than Chrono Trigger, while trying not to resemble it too much. Had it been named anything else it probably would have been one of the great PS1 RPGs, but it suffers in the comparison. It would’ve been an exploration of complex story telling that I would have liked to have seen more of.