Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Chrono Cross

So, for my first post, I've decided to review a game that I really enjoy but feel is not only totally underrated but also gets a lot of hate from fans of the first game in the series, totally unjustly. I know that this game isn't exactly mainstream but with any luck, I'll convince at least a couple of people to go out and give it a try so I'll do my best to avoid spoilers.

Chrono Trigger was a SNES RPG that was one of the first RPGs that wasn't totally linear - and it's still one of the only JRPGs that isn't painfully linear - but despite the fanboys telling us how amazing this is, it -is- still a linear storyline. Okay, you can fight the last boss and complete the game at many different points throughout the storyline and there are optional quests and decisions you can make that alter which of the game's multiple endings you'll get and so on and, yes, this was one of the first games to have features like this but it doesn't alter the gameplay experience at all outside of that. You'll get the same characters (Perhaps minus one based on the decisions you make), fight the same bosses and regardless of which ending you get, it's still the same game all the way through, more-or-less removing any replay value outside of enjoying the game again and getting a different ending, you won't see anything new a second time through unless you deliberately ignored some of the side quests on your first play through. I'm not attacking Chrono Trigger - it's one of my favourite games - but it's not the perfect RPG experience as many gamers seem to remember it through their rose-coloured glasses. Now, I'm not going to say that Chrono Cross fixes all of those problems I had with Chrono Trigger but it certainly improves on them all-round - I'll explain how later on.

A criticism a lot of players had of Chrono Cross was that it didn't "feel like" a sequel. I'm taking this to mean that it didn't have the same characters, wasn't in the same setting, didn't have the same soundtrack, didn't have the same graphics, didn't have the same console limitations as the SNES, doesn't have the same combat system and didn't have the same storyline. Now, that seems like a pretty pointless arguement to me. Chrono Cross is a sequel to Chrono Trigger, yes, but it isn't the same game. These critics are usually mindless Chrono Trigger fanboys who take any attempt to do something different with the premise as a personal insult. Basically, the game fanboys wanted was Chrono Trigger 2 - basically, they wanted the exact same game but better. Unfortunately for them, they didn't get that, instead they got Chrono Cross.

Chrono Cross follows the story of the silent protagonist, Serge, and his journey between two alternate dimensions, set 20 years after the events of Chrono Trigger. Yes, this -is- a direct sequel to Chrono Trigger, set in the same world - albeit, a never-before-seen sub-continent of that same world - but none of the original cast appear until the middle of the game and event then, not as they did in Chrono Trigger - no, you will never play as Chrono, Marle, Lucca, Robo, Frog or Ayla (There's some dispute about Magus but I won't spoil that for anyone) and you'll never get to travel through time and you'll never visit any locations from the original game (Aside from in flashback/dream scenes).

Now, when starting a new game, we're exposed to a sequence that makes no sense until later in the game where Serge, a girl named "Kid" and a randomly selected character from one of the 40 playable(Yup, this game has a big cast) are inside a fortress, fighting their way past robots and bats to activate some kind of teleporter by doing... something... to a crystal. A fairly fun and exciting opening scene in my opinion that turns out to have been all a dream! Now, I'm not a big fan of dream exposition but Chrono Cross does have a lot about dreams in it and does it well for the most part so I'll overlook it here.

The plot of Chrono Trigger was basically fantastic and despite what a lot of people who probably didn't play it right to the end say, Chrono Cross is a fantastic continuation of that story, though doesn't rely on the original game's story while telling it's own. There's not a lot I can say that won't ruin it and I really think it's important for me not to spoil it so I won't say anything beyond it being fantastic. As with Chrono Trigger's time travel plot-device, the dimension-shifting element has some huge plot holes that are, at times, almost immersion-breaking if you stop to think about them. For example, why does doing something in one dimension, totally alter something related in the other dimension? The game never offers an explanation for this and, whilst my knowledge of inter-dimensional travel might be limited, I'm fairly certain events in one dimension do not passively cause changes in another. Fortunately, as with Chrono Trigger, the game is fast to gloss over these plot holes and does it's best to stop you from thinking about them and as long as you focus on the fun characters and events, the plot holes shouldn't bother you too much.

In terms of graphics, Chrono Cross is one of the better looking games on the PSX. If I had to compare it to another game graphically, I'd say Final Fantasy VIII or IX are pretty similar which isn't totally surprising considering it's a Square-Enix game, released around the same time on the same console. The 2D backgrounds that you're moving through look beautiful and are extremely detailed and the character models, again, are very detailed and colourful, making each character feel very individual to look at. The graphics look a little dull, very polygonal, ugly and flat in combat, however – the floor becomes completely flat and the backgrounds are populated by 2D trees and objects that aren't very attractive. The in-combat models, however, look pretty great for the PSX and playable characters, bosses and regular enemies are all well animated and detailed, as well as most of the elemental and special attacks the characters, bosses and enemies perform.

Now, the music in Chrono Cross is... it's just amazing. There are a couple of tracks based on Chrono Trigger's music but it's mostly totally original music and even the tracks based around Chrono Trigger songs feel fresh and new. Every piece of music suits it's scene or location and every piece of music is composed and performed expertly. I honestly can't impress upon you enough how awesome the game's soundtrack is. If you play the game, you'll want to get hold of the soundtrack and maybe even look into some of the great remixes over at OC Remix (In fact, if you're not familiar with the site, you should head over and have a look around anyway, there's some awesome stuff there) because it's too good to miss if you enjoy fantasy music as I do.

The character designs could not be more different to Chrono Trigger. I hate Akira Toriyama's character designs. I find it too childish and ugly. I hate Dragonball, I hate Dragon Quest, I hate Blue Dragon (Original naming there, Toriyama) and, in all honesty, his character designs were almost enough to make me dislike Chrono Trigger. Fortunately for Chrono Trigger, his character designs barely made an appearance when you were actually playing the game and so if I got drunk enough (Or the equivalent of drinking when you're underage... eating lots of sugar I guess?) I was able to forget about it. That's the problem I have with Akira Toriyama, I think – even as a child, I thought his art style was too childish, now that I'm an adult, I actually cringe when I look at it. I feel bad for not liking his artwork and I'm sure that there are a lot of fanboys out there who'll want to see me strung up for that criticism but, alas, that's how I feel. The Chrono Cross character designs are colourful, varied, not ridiculously childish and detailed – everything that the Chrono Trigger characters were not.

As with Chrono Trigger, Cross is linear hiding behind the illusion of being non-linear. Some things can be done in a different order, there are different characters that join your party depending on what choices you make, there are different ways to go about doing certain sections of the game and bits of the game are only available if you make certain choices. But as with Trigger, the choice is basically just something for critics and summaries of the game and it doesn't actually make any big difference to the plot. This isn't a major complaint because when I go into a JRPG, I don't expect a sandbox game or storyline but I do feel the need to comment on it because it does hinder the game experience very slightly for me when the game is trying to appear to be something it's not. Multiple play-throughs are certainly advisable if you want to get the full experience out of the game but don't expect to find a completely different game hiding behind that New game+ option – it's going to be largely the same. Mass Effect 2, this is not (And, yes, I know, Mass Effect 2 isn't -completely- non-linear, it was satire). In Chrono Cross' defence, it was still an early game to experiment with non-linear storyline elements and it did it well for it's time.

That's all I can really be bothered to comment on. If you want to know more, you should play it. If you don't want to know more, you should play it anyway. Chrono Cross was a game that was betrayed by a lack of marketing, a fanbase that rejected change and a publisher/developer combo that hid it behind it's larger franchises. Chrono Cross is a great game – in my opinion, a contender for the crown of Best JRPG – and if you like JRPGs, there's no excuse for not playing it from start to finish at least once. Chrono Cross had a lot of heart and it's Final Fantasy brothers overshadowed it, hiding it from the mainstream crowd. Chrono Cross was one of the last risks Square had a chance to take (Though, their lack of marketing and non-EU release suggest that they weren't holding their breath on it) and the dawn of the PS2 launched us into Square's dark age, their last two “risks” being Vagrant Story (which suffered the same lack of investment as Chrono Cross and has ended up criminally underplayed and underrated) and Final Fantasy IX (Which went back to an earlier style of gaming that Square has now long since turned it's back on). An age of bad voice acting, whinging lead characters who weren't involved in the plot, techno-bullshit around every corner and the endless assault of Final Fantasy VIIsploitation. Next week I'll be delving into that dark realm with a game so shit that I'm genuinely finding anything else to do to avoid sitting down and playing it - I actually found myself wishing I had more work to do, just to get out of playing this game. Alas, I'm going to bite the bullet and load it up now. I -have- played it through to the end in my youth when, for some reason, I actually liked it, but as someone older and wiser, I loathe this game and genuinely doubt I'd be able to stand a full play-through. Let's find out, though, as Scias attempts to play...