On August 15, 2000, North America saw the release of Chrono Cross. For many (like myself) it was one hell of a last hurrah for the PlayStation. For others it wasn’t what they expected. My introduction was relatively simple, I was 14 and a friend told me of JRPG I had to play. I remember him pretty pretty excited as he gave me a very basic summary. I thought, meh: a new game I’ve never played before? Why the hell not? Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
It’s been 20 years since its release, some how it’s remained being a memorable and pretty damn unique experience. If you’re a fan of the JRPG genre, I dare say it holds up to most modern titles. Sans the graphics of course. So, why is it one of a kind? What elements made this game so supposedly special? Am I over praising this?
Before that, let’s address this sequel thing. To begin with, it isn’t a direct sequel it takes place loosely within the universe…maybe? The team behind the behind had to repeat this often. Still, people thinking this was a Chrono Trigger part 2 did so for a number of logical reasons.
One, the title has the same familiar logo, there promotions of you getting a clock and then there was a promotional ads like this…
You really can’t blame folks for the ole switcheroo they encountered. Sure, it’s not like predecessor but umm they weren’t shy about banking on that connection.
The director/writer Masato Kato and the development team wanted to create a game that anyone could play. Logically speaking, removing the barrier that this was only for Trigger fans to go out and enjoy. Considering how it’s sold millions over the years? This decision wasn’t a bad one in a business sense.
So the story, it’s a whole lot of mess(coherently speaking)…that manages to hit the notes of ever RPG of this era? The story stars Serge, a young island boy, whom discovers his can cross over dimensions. The narrative is ultimately about he and his comrades fighting for everyone’s existence. Along the way we see people fight colonialism, see the sheer magnitude of environmentalism. You’ll experience fantasy racism among humans and other species. You’ll witness the ramifications of humanity’s hubris and etc. Oh and you literally fight fate. Yes, fate has an ass that it needs kicked. Again, the story is messy. Plus when you add that my teenage self was down for the existential crises? It doesn’t make sense completely but oh whee I was there for the entertaining mess.
What helps Cross feels fresh compared to other games is the fact that it takes place entirely in an archipelago, El Nido. The game carries a very strong tropical ambiguity of its world. I remember vividly, this is why I was drawn to the game.
As someone whom was born and raised in a Caribbean family I felt a strong almost sense of familiarity. Archipelago’s have an intimate relationship with the ocean and the water. The oceanic themes in the game are so integral to game, it’s nearly impossible to ignore.
The game’s title screen is if a camera traveling underwater through the sea. Serge’s journey starts as he looks out from beach in his backyard. When you cross dimensions, it’s as he if he falls through water. Multiple major threats emerge from abandoned areas of the sea. Even themes of rebirth come from the water.
More to the point though, the archipelago of the game reminds me of real world locations. Chrono Cross feels very much like what a fantasy Caribbean inspired may look like.
Much like the real world archipelagos, contain a multitude of cultures, people and diverse environments. This is a game where you can recruit up to over 40 characters. Some villains, some military, hell some from another planet. The game allowed from a good bit of diversity from your recruits. Though, to be honest the representation wasn’t all good. Yet, it was appreciated. Culturally speaking the game could take place anywhere in the real world.
There’s a lot that can be said for the music of this game. Yasunori Mitsuda, composed a lot of great music throughout his career. Yet, there’s always a conversation if this is his best. I think we often lose the point of trying to find what’s “definitive” and “the best”. Art is subjective but we can come to understanding that it’s damn good. Mistuda has songs here that it’ll make you cry, feel melancholy, fight dragons, or chill out in a tiny row boat.
Keep in mind, prior to Cross he composed the music for Xenogears. Xenogears is a long spiraling game that has many amazing pieces of music. His compositions for that game also stand the test of time. So what can be said that he came from that to create work that’s his best? I don’t have the words, but damn he’s been on a creative victory lap for two decades now.
Now, with all that artsy stuff out of the way let me get to the game play. Listen, turn based battles aren’t fun for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that whatsoever. So being turn-based may rightfully scare people away. This game is fun to play because the turn-based battle system is engaging and fast. Battles in Chrono Cross have a lot going on. You have to pay attention to weaknesses, stamina, the battlefield, while also keeping in mind all the other RPG stuff. Spells are equip-able and are all one use only in battle. You also have to consider your tools and what’s you best 3 person team for a fight. Things can go badly quickly, or you can end thing just as fast. It’s tense and calculated. I could be wrong but no other game has attempted to do the same.
Ok, alright I wrote a lot about why this game I found in 2000, is still one of the best games I’ve played. Let’s turn back the clock and consider the year 2000. The final year of the PlayStation was like farewell tour for JRPGs (and adjacent). Front Mission 3, Vagrant Story, Chrono Cross, and Final Fantasy 9.
It easily stood among it’s peers and it wasn’t scared to be a departure from what was “safe” for the genre. Hell, you don’t even level up in the conventional sense in Cross either. My larger point is, if it were released or remastered today, it would fit right in. It remains a classic because it’s a weird ass island theme game about parallel dimensions. It doesn’t really make sense but it sticks the landing.
By the way, Serge’s weapon is based on an oar. You’re kicking ass with a boat oar and you look like a pirate. I love it.