Thursday, January 06, 2011

Video Game History - Chrono Cross

I've decided to start excerpting bits and pieces of my book on the history of video gaming in the 1990s on this blog. Today, Chrono Cross, the divisive sequel to the cult hit Chrono Trigger.

At first glance, Chrono Cross, the 2000 sequel to the classic Chrono Trigger, does not seem to fit the pattern of Square moving away from its strengths as a game like Final Fantasy VIII does. It is brightly colored, with magnificent music -arguably the best soundtrack in video game history – and certainly one of the greatest opening movies in video game history. Its combat system is a bit of a throwback in that it is purely turn-based, but it includes stringing moves together in a manner akin to Xenogears. On the surface level, it is a worthy successor to Chrono Trigger.

Chrono Cross also tries to make one of the biggest changes to the Town-Dungeon-Boss formula of any game since Final Fantasy IV. Instead of gaining experience points from random battles, the party only increases in level when it fights bosses. The random battles are good for practice, and they can allow some character statistics to increase to their potential, but the potential is only improved by boss fights. Results of this innovation are somewhat varied: it does prevent you from grinding and streamlines the game more, but by making random battles even less useful, it makes them more annoying.

The biggest problem with the game, however, is that wants to be deep. Its predecessor Chrono Trigger seemed to understand that it was simple and charming and that's that. Chrono Cross aspires to be more, and ends up being less. In the original game, the time travel mechanism was simply a mechanism to allow the characters and, by extension, the player, to travel to a wide range of different places for maximum entertainment. Chrono Cross, on the other hand, is far more attached to its traveling mechanism. It is interdimensional instead of temporal. In one dimension, the main character, Serge, is alive, in the other, he is dead. He finds a way to travel between the two dimensions, and in the process, discovers an increasingly complex story of scientists trying to harness interdimensional travel as an experiment, and evil beings attempting to take advantage of that. The complexity of the story and its constant references to the letter of the previous game stand it stark contrast to Chrono Trigger's spirit of fun. In essence, like many of the Square games of the PlayStation generation, Chrono Cross takes itself far too seriously.

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