In the history of video games, few Japanese role-playing games have gained as much notoriety as Chrono Trigger. Its sequel, on the other hand, is often overlooked. Initially released in 1999, Chrono Cross is fondly remembered by the few who did play it back in the day. On April 7th of this year, Square-Enix released an HD remaster of the game. Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition brings this forgotten game to modern platforms with some new enhancements.
Playing Chrono Cross is a very mixed bag of experiences. The story has some great moments, but it’s also convoluted and confusing. The gameplay has some interesting ideas that work well, but it’s bogged down by some very tedious mechanics.
A Story Too Elaborate for its own Good
The story of Chrono Cross begins roughly twenty years after the events of Chrono Trigger. The player takes on the role of Serge, a young man living in a small island village. One day, while gathering shells for his friend Leena, Serge falls into an alternate dimension. This new dimension is very similar to the one that Serge is from, only with one key difference. In this dimension Serge died about ten years ago. He is then joined by a young woman named Kid, and together they set out to discover why Serge is able to travel between these two dimensions.
Chrono Cross features a huge cast of characters with a total of forty-five playable characters that can be unlocked. Most of these characters have interesting backstories and very compelling development arc, although there are a few that feel like they were just thrown in as an afterthought.
The basic setup for the plot is fairly straightforward. However, things eventually evolve into an overly complicated mess that gives Kingdom Hearts a run for its money. It’s difficult to discuss just how cluttered the plot is without going into spoilers. Some players might enjoy the complexity and all the discussion of alternate dimensions, but most will just end up with a headache.
Exploring the World of Chrono Cross
Chrono Cross is one of the few JRPGs that doesn’t have random encounters. Instead, monsters appear on screen while the player is in a dungeon area. This makes it possible to avoid some enemies if the player wants to. However, it isn’t uncommon to be forced into an encounter by an enemy chasing the player down or blocking your path. Occasions like this are incredibly annoying if you’re trying to avoid combat. This happens often enough that it makes enemies appearing on screen feel totally pointless, since you’re often forced into combat anyway.
One thing that makes Chrono Cross unique is that you have the ability to run away from any encounter with a 100% success rate. This includes any of the boss fights, which occur frequently throughout the game. This means that if you’re even in a hairy situation, you can just run away from the fight, adjust your strategy, and try again.
An Attempted Evolution of Turn-Based Combat
The combat in Chrono Cross is turn-based, but with several changes from the norm. All characters have three types of physical attacks: weak, strong, and fierce. All characters also have a stamina meter and start combat with a certain amount of stamina. A character’s turn ends when they run out of stamina. Strong and fierce attacks will use more stamina than weak attacks. Landing successful attacks on the enemy will charge the character’s elements.
Elements are this game’s version of magic and abilities. The sheer variety of elements available to the player is very impressive. It can be fun to experiment with different elements and see their effects. Player characters, monsters, and elements all have one of six colors associated with them. These colors determine what elements the player character or enemy will be weak and resistant to.
These combat systems feel like they were implemented because the developers of Chrono Cross wanted to avoid the “mash accept button to win” cliche. However, this combat system is still very repetitive and ultimately isn’t any better. Every turn of every character ends up being exactly the same for every battle. Just use a few physical attacks until you’re out of stamina, then follow up with an element. This is ultimately tedious and the game would have probably been more fun if it was “mash accept to win”.
Leveling Up Your Characters
In Chrono Cross, player characters don’t level up by gaining experience points. Instead, character stats increase individually at the end of battle. These increases are semi-randomized, based on the strength of the enemy fought. Stats can only be increased to a certain amount, which is determined by the player’s “growth level”, which increases after every boss fight.
This system feels very similar to what was used in Final Fantasy II. One key difference is that it actually works well in Chrono Cross. Since you’re only able to increase stats by a certain amount, it’s difficult to become too overpowered. Since stats increase after pretty much every battle, you also never feel underpowered. Even if you just focus on the story, there really isn’t a need for any kind of grinding. You can totally get away with just fighting a few things here and there.
The Look and Sound of Chrono Cross
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition has character models and textures that have been improved from the original PS1 release. These improvements are nice to look at; however, the overall visuals are ruined by a horrendous framerate. Since the gameplay is turn-based, this isn’t the end of the world; the game is still playable. If this issue really bothers you, there is a mod for the PC version that fixes this or you can just play the PS1 original, which runs much better.
One of the things that Chrono Trigger is most known for is its incredible soundtrack by Yasunori Mitsuda. He returned to compose the music for the sequel and completely knocked it out of the park again. Chrono Cross reuses a few tracks from its predecessor in addition to having some new music of its own. The new tracks feel very similar to the old, which strengthens the connection between the two games.
VIBE Score 6.5/10
Chrono Cross is an experience with a lot of highs and a lot of lows. The story is memorable, even if convoluted. The gameplay has some interesting ideas, but most end up being tedious in execution. If you really want to play this game for yourself, the PS1 version is still the better version of the game. The framerate alone makes The Radical Dreamers Edition hard to recommend.
32, living in Arizona with a passion for video games, music and movies.