Cidolfas's RPG Reviews: Chrono Cross (PSX)
You Are: Serge, a silent protagonist, aided and abetted by over 40 characters, including Kid, a tough-talking Australian sheila. You are no relation to Crono.
Your Goal Is: To figure out what the hell's going on, seeing as how you've managed to find your way into an alternate dimension with some shocking differences from your own.
General System: Chrono Cross is a large leap away from Chrono Trigger, the previous game in the series. Although there are some similarities (overworld with no random battles, a three-person party, instant changing of characters) this is a very different beast. For starters, weapons and armor can no longer just be bought: you have to assemble them from various ingredients (a takeoff of the prehistoric equipment using Fangs, Feathers etc. in CT). Then there's the idea of Elements: each character has an "element grid" which lets them equip a set amount of Elements in specific places or levels. These Elements can (for the most part) only be used in battle, but there are also elements which take the place of items, e.g. by healing HP or status, and can be used even outside of battle. There are also actual "items", but they're solely story-based ones, which can be used from a special menu if necessary.
Battles no longer take place right on the screen, but in a separate screen like most RPGs. Luckily, there are still no random battles; they're triggered by running into enemies. Most battles are avoidable in some way, and in fact it's a good idea to do so, since fighting battles doesn't actually get you EXP. Rather, you gain levels (or "star levels") by fighting boss battles. Regular battles can get you slight raises in stats, but nothing to write home about. You do get money and Elements this way, though.
The main conceit of the game, as a counterpoint to CT's traveling in time, is traveling in dimensions. There are two versions of the world, and you travel back and forth as the story demands (after a point, you can switch whenever you like). This means that each location has a second counterpart. While this makes for some neat and intriguing comparisons, the end result is that you will be exploring almost every single location twice.
A neat touch is the New Game+ option: here, when you finish a game, just like CT, in your new game you can beat the final boss at any point and see a variety of endings. In addition, you have an awesome new item that lets you speed the gameplay up! You can also (eventually) get any characters you used to have in the previous but missed this time around. Since there are several points where the story diverges, you can use this to eventually get all 45 characters at once.
Battle System: Rather unique, especially compared to CT's fairly stolid ATB system. Each character and enemy has seven Stamina points. One point is used up in an attack, and seven by using Elements. No stamina means that character can't move (and Stamina can go down to -6, if you use an Element with only one Stamina point remaining). Stamina will recover with "time" - there isn't actually time happening here, as battle is solely menu-based, but it's there "in the background" so to speak. There are three levels of physical attacks (strong, medium, and weak); strong attacks won't hit often, but if you start with a weak attack, your accuracy goes up. And in fact you need to attack physically, since each attack will raise your Element Level. This starts at zero. A weak attack will raise it by 1, medium by 2, and strong by 3. You can only use Elements in your Element Grid that are at or below your current Element Level, so you'll have to first attack before you can use them. In other words, the order of events is usually weak->medium->strong attacks, followed by using an Element, then start all over again.
Elements have colors as well, and these are very important, as each character has an innate color too. A Black innate character will do more damage against a White character, and ditto for Black Elements against White characters. In addition, some Elements can only be equipped on characters who share a color with it. There's also a "field effect", three colors in a sort of queue which change each time an Element is used and affect how powerful each color will be. There's a wide variety of Elements to use. Most attack or healing Elements allow only a single use per battle. Some healing elements come in packages of 5, but then disappear (like items in regular RPGs). Then there are Trap Elements, which when used will steal a specific Element from an enemy when he tries to use it. There are Summons, which use up a star (they can be refilled at inns) but require the entire field effect to match its color, which is tough to pull off. Finally there are techniques, which are unique to each character. There are double and triple techs, but there are less than a dozen in total, and given 45 characters, chances are you'll never use them.
Graphics: Much more grainy and organic than the smooth Final Fantasies, though it uses the same paradigm of rendered backgrounds. It's not bad by any rate; the animations are fluid and the locations are exotic, but sometimes details are hard to make out, especially since characters have a tendency to be a bit small and blocky.
Music: By far the high point of the game. It's not the sort of instantly catchy tunes from Trigger, but there are really a lot of beautiful tracks here. What's more, since there are two versions of almost every location, there are two tunes, each slightly different from each other and evoking different emotions. There are a few familiar bars from Trigger and Radical Dreamers, the game this is loosely based on. The intro music is astounding.
Story: If music's the high point, this is the low point. Although there are 45 characters, few of them get any sort of development. The localization is excellent, and the script is polished, but the game takes so long to answer the myriad questions it poses (at which point it throws all the answers at you at once) that you find yourself losing track of why you're doing what you're doing. You won't be exploring the whole world again, but a tiny archipelago, so you won't see many places from CT. There are some familiar faces from CT that crop up, but they're mainly little more than cameos. Perhaps if this was voiced it'd be more evocative, but I found that it largely failed to inspire me.
Length: About 40 hours
My Thoughts: If you're going in here expecting a second Chrono Trigger, you will be disappointed. However, CC is not a bad game. Especially the first time through, it's fairly engaging, provides an interesting change of battle systems, and has a lot of variety in terms of locations and characters. The idea of the two dimensions is a good one, but poorly implemented; you'll be exploring almost every single place twice. The story just seems to sag at a few points; I found myself genuinely bored. However, once you get past a few dips, you'll find some intriguing plot devices (including one easily as shocking as the one near the end of CT). The game itself is well presented, with an amazing soundtrack. It has an "island" feel to it, meaning it's much more relaxed and lazy than a usual RPG. If you take that into account and just play, you'll probably find yourself having a good time.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10