Underrated Game of the Week: Chrono Cross by Squaresoft
Am I writing about this game because I happen to be playing it? Yes. Still, that shouldn't negate how good of a title Chrono Cross actually is and how much it deserves a higher place on the grand pedestal of JRPG classics like its predecessor Chrono Trigger along with Final Fantasy VII and Persona 3 among others. As everyone knows greatness in games doesn't come from one avenue. It takes multiple successes to create something that stands out. So why does this game qualify?
Before learning the good stuff, it is best to understand why it is underrated in the first place. Chrono Cross came out in 1999 right in the middle of the Final Fantasy golden age. It is easy to see why fans didn't give it a second glance. Also throw in the fact it was originally considered a direct sequel to the classic Super Nintendo title Chrono Trigger, and when fans found out the two games were actually quite different, that likely decreased the buzz as well. Cross shipped 1.5 million units between Japan and other countries. Given successful titles of that time went somewhere in the 3 to 7 million range and it's sad to say the game never really got off the ground.
Did the reviews reflect this lack of enthusiasm? Not by a long shot. Several reputable magazines and game reviews gave Chrono Cross very high marks. Electronic Gaming Monthly called it a "masterpiece" while GameSpot gave it a perfect 10. At that time it was just the seventh 10 awarded by them to a game among 40,000 other titles. Modern day powerhouse IGN gave it a 9.7 rating and the prestigious Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu gave it a 36 out of 40. That is high praise from high places. The primary complaint about the game was with its "vague" ending and its lack of connections with Chrono Trigger. Some might call that nitpicking but the gripes are legitimate all the same.
The Plot and Characters
Without going into too much detail and spoiling everything for those who haven't yet played it, Chrono Cross follows the exploits of Serge. The 17-year old boy is a native of a village called Arni. While running an errand for a girl who is fond of him, he ends up on a beach and goes through a bizarre experience that renders him unconscious. When he awakens and returns home to Arni he finds that nobody recognizes him. He later discovers that he has somehow slipped into an alternate world where he died at age 7. People view him as a ghost, not knowing the truth of his origin, and Serge later discovers his slipping into that world wasn't an accident. It is soon revealed his impact on the fate of both worlds goes far deeper.
What sets Chrono Cross apart from a lot of other games is its characters. Most JRPGs stick to a central cast of no more than ten. Cross breaks that tradition by introducing 45 different characters, each diverse in their own way and having a story arc to explore. There is Kid the Australian-accented thief who first befriends Serge, Harle the jester who accompanies her deep French drawl with an air of mystery, Greco the pro wrestler, Fargo the pirate captain, and Razzy the fairy among many others. One might think such an overload of personalities would weigh the game down but somehow that never happens. Each story is able to enrich the main plot as it goes. It is a remarkable success given it's unique approach.
Adding to the allure of the two worlds is an incredibly overlooked soundtrack by Yasunori Mitsuda, one of the few connections the game maintains to Chrono Trigger. In a six month period he constructed an amazingly diverse list of tracks that moved from bright to dark, Far Eastern to Celtic and so on. Mitsuda wanted to enhance the beautiful scenery of the game's worlds with each track. A favorite story involves the ending song "Radical Dreamers - The Unstolen Jewel" bringing game director Masato Kato to tears. It ended up winning the Gold Award for Playstation game music in 2000 and was so good Square released it again in 2005 by popular demand. To top it off, the main theme titled "Time's Scar" was rated as the Best Video Game Music of All Time by Hardcore Gaming 101.
Did the Chrono series deserve deeper exploration like Final Fantasy?
Why do I write about this? It is about expressing how lucky I was to have played this game. What some may not understand is it happened by complete accident. Where I used to live was a video store that I frequented. They had a solid gaming section, especially in the Playstation department. At the time I had just made it through Final Fantasy IX, another underrated title for another day, and was interested to see if there were any other JRPG type games I could at least try. Lo and behold I stumbled upon Chrono Cross. The rest is history. Here I sit, 13 years later hyping it as if it were released last week. It isn't a perfect title. None are. Instead it is what gamers want: thrilling, challenging, diverse, and beautiful to the senses. The only drawback is not enough people know about it.