Review: Chrono Cross

Ever since I played Chrono Trigger earlier this year, I’ve been extremely curious to see just how Square was going to try to top that experience. For me, Chrono Trigger represented the peak of 16-bit era JRPGs. It had all of the elements that I look for in an RPG and it delivered them with flawless perfection. With that in mind, I was eager to dive into its spiritual successor, Chrono Cross.

Chrono Cross was originally released for the Sony Playstation in 2000. In 2011, it saw a digital release on the Playstation Network but remained exclusive to that platform until 2022 when a remastered version was released. This remaster, titled Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition was made available on the PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC. The Radical Dreamers Edition of the game includes support for modern resolutions, enhanced graphics and sound, tweaks to the game’s localization, and the addition of some quality-of-life enhancements (the ability to disable random encounters, etc). It also includes a bonus text-based adventure that serves as a loose bridge between Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. Initially, fans of the game were quick to shun many of the updates included in the remaster. But, it’s important to remember that all of the new enhancements can be disabled. Players have the option to experience the game as it was originally released or with the remastered elements.

Upon release, The Radical Dreamers Edition was plagued with technical problems. However, after a number of subsequent updates, this version of the game is now considered to be the definitive release of Chrono Cross. That being said, I would warn players to beware of the PC version. For whatever reason, the PC port contains a number of bugs that can cause frequent lock-ups and visual artifacts (mainly excessive screen tearing). These graphical problems can be easily resolved by tinkering with your graphic card settings. But I have yet to find a solid fix for the lock-up and freezing issues. For this review, I played the game on the PC because that’s the version that I owned. But if you have the option, I would highly recommend one of the console releases instead.

The story of Chrono Cross focuses on the character of Serge, a young boy living in a remote fishing village. One day, while running errands with a friend, Serge passes out. When he awakens, he finds himself back in his village but no one seems to recognize him. After some investigation, Serge learns that he is now in an alternate timeline in which he died ten years prior! Determined to figure out what’s going on and to return to his original dimension, Serge sets out on an adventure that unites him with a huge cast of characters and also thrusts the very fate of the world into his hands.

Despite being billed as a sequel to Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross is better described as a spiritual successor. The game takes place in the same world and there are certainly some references to the events of Chrono Trigger sprinkled about. But, the story is self-contained and doesn’t rely on knowledge of events in the first game. Not only that, but when it comes to gameplay, these two titles couldn’t be more different.

For starters, like many other similar games of the era, Chrono Cross departs from the classic 16-bit JRPG formula and fully embraces a mixture of pre-rendered backgrounds and 3D sprites. But putting graphics aside, the biggest change comes in terms of gameplay. Combat in Chrono Cross is unlike any other JRPG that I’ve played. In fact, I’m not even sure where I should start when it comes to describing it. Like most JRPGs, the combat in this game is turn based. Players can select which action they want their party members to take (ex: melee attack, magic skills, using an item). The biggest difference is that each character has a certain number of stamina points that they can use when selecting options in combat. When performing a melee attack, players can choose between a weak, medium, and strong attack. The success rate of the attack varies depending on how powerful it is. Also, stronger attacks cost more stamina points. When a character runs out of stamina, they cannot attack for the remainder of the turn. Certain skills and magic abilities require that players equip specific “elements”. These elements function similar to the popular Materia system from Final Fantasy VII. Characters can equip and unequip elements as needed, trading them between characters or even selling them to NPCs.

It’s also important to note that there’s no experience point system in Chrono Cross. After defeating enemies, players will occasionally see an increase in certain stats. But these increases quickly become capped. Removing the cap requires that players defeat a boss. This system ensures that players are not able to grind out levels early on and breeze through the remainder of the game.

Another somewhat unique aspect of this game is the character roster. Chrono Cross boasts a huge cast of playable characters. There’s a total of forty-five different characters that can be recruited into the party. Each character has their own strengths, weaknesses, and unique abilities. A big portion of the game is using trial and error to figure out which characters to take along for various parts of the game. But it’s important to note, not all of these characters are available in the initial playthrough. Like Chrono Trigger, this game features multiple endings and a New Game+ system. To see everything this game has to offer, players will need to complete the game multiple times with a different combination of characters.

I don’t want to spoil the story. But I will say that something happens about halfway through the game that really turns everything on its head. Up to the midway point, Chrono Cross feels like a standard JRPG with some really unusual gameplay mechanics. But once you’ve crossed that threshold in the storyline you really begins to see the magic behind everything this game has to offer. What seems obscure and puzzling early on quickly starts to take shape and this is where the real charm of Chrono Cross starts reveal itself.

I have to admit, that until I reached this halfway point in the game, I wasn’t really sure what I thought the title. Yes, it was fun and I found the new mechanics to be different and interesting. But it just felt like something was missing. Then, out of nowhere, everything just fell into place and I found myself hooked. I’m not sure that I’ve ever had that sort of experience with a game before, so kudos to square for continuing to provide a first-class gaming experience.

Despite all of my praise, Chrono Cross is not a perfect game. Yes, the story is great, the gameplay is refreshing, and there’s plenty of content. However, The game doesn’t do a very good job of making everything feel cohesive early on. On top of that, there’s so many characters and side stories that the game can often feel overwhelming at times. Still, I never want to punish a developer for including content. I think I just feel like the earlier portions of the game could have benefitted from a little less action and a slower moving story. Whereas the later portion of the game seems to drag on a bit during a time when I would have prefered that faster pacing.

One other critique I have lies in the UI. For the most part, the UI and menu navigation is intuitive and snappy. But I found the element system to be a bit cumbersome at times. Sorting and equipping elements to various slots seemed like a bit of a hassle for me. So much so, that I would often dread changing out party members because doing so usually meant reallocating elements. For this reason, I tried to avoid changing out party members more often than not.

All that aside, I found Chrono Cross to be a delightful game filled with some really bold and interesting ideas. I don’t think it’s as groundbreaking or memorable as Chrono Trigger. But if you’re a fan of classic JRPGs, this is one game that you certainly will not want to miss out on.

Version Reviewed: PC

Difficulty: Medium –  The biggest challenge in this game comes early on. Some of the earliest boss battles feel tougher than those that come later. However, as you progress through the game and gain a better understanding of the various mechanics. Things start to get much easier.  It’s also important to note that The Radical Dreamers Edition also comes with some options that let you disable regular encounters or even start encounters fully charged and virtually invulnerable. Enabling these options allow you to experience the game without any challenge whatsoever. Personally, I don’t recommend using them as this takes a lot of the fun out of the experience, plus the game isn’t that difficult to begin with.

Multiplayer:  No.

Story: The storyline for the game starts off deceptively simple but over time more and more layers of complexity start to work their way into the plot. By the time it’s all said and done, it can be hard to wrap your head around everything that’s going on. To get the full effect of everything the plot has to offer, you’ll need to replay the game multiple times.

Originality: You can’t claim that this game doesn’t bring any new ideas to the table. The developers certainly were not afraid to take risks and try new things with this title. Some of these things works well, while others seem a bit out of place. But no matter what, there’s plenty of originality in Chrono Cross.

Soundtrack: Another amazing JRPG soundtrack from Square. I wouldn’t rank the music in this title on par with what’s found in some of the classic Final Fantasy games, but it’s very close. The game is filled with a mixture of mellow, enchanting tunes and rocking battle music. Very good balance.

Fun: For JRPG fans, Chrono Cross can provide hours of quality entertainment. However, it took a large portion of the game before I found myself completely hooked. I’m not sure that casual gamers would enjoy this title as much as an RPG veteran might. But still, there’s plenty of fun to be had with this title.

Graphics: This is one of those games that came out during a period where the industry was experimenting with pre-rendered backgrounds and 3D rendered sprites. The game also features several FMV sequences that haven’t aged very well with time. Still, when considering the time period in which the game was released the graphics were as good as anything else that was coming out. One thing that struck me a bit odd was the art direction for the character portraits in the game. They are very different than what is found in many other JRPGs of the era. These portraits are one of the things that change pretty significantly in the remaster (the update gives them a slightly more anime feel).

Playcontrol: As with most RPGs, control is not an issue. Everything works and feels as expected regardless of the controller you are using. With this in mind, gamers playing the PC version are highly encouraged to play with a controller instead of the keyboard and mouse. This game was designed with a controller in mind and that’s how it’s best experienced.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: Violence, blood.

Value: Used copies of the original game can often go for $20-$50 online. A physical copy of The Radical Dreamers Edition sells for around $45 on the Nintendo Switch whereas digital copies are usually found for around $20. $20 is a steal for all this game has to offer.

Overall score (1-100): 90Chrono Cross is a solid and bold JRPG. But, it’s very dated and may not be as approachable to more casual gamers as some other titles. The game serves up an excellent story with some really engaging gameplay elements. But it does occasionally feel disjointed at times.

Original System: Sony Playstation

Available today on: PC, Switch, Xbox One/S/X, PS 4/5  – (Updated as of Spring 2023)

Best Experience: Xbox One/S/X, PS 4/5    –   (Updated as of Spring 2023)

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Chrono Trigger    –    Chrono Cross

Old Game Hermit

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