Monday, August 6, 2012

Chrono Cross Part 1

"Chrono Cross" is probably going to be the single most troublesome game I've had to review.  Last week I was ready to just savage this thing with a hammer, saw off its limbs, and kick it into the tallest Martian volcano I could find.  Because there a crap load wrong with "Chrono Cross":  its battle system is a pitiful mess of bad ideas, there are too many friggin' characters and most of them suck - both in terms of raw fighting ability and the fact almost none of them are developed, and as a sequel to "Chrono Trigger", this is a huge insult.  "Chrono Trigger" was probably the best-made JRPG ever made.  I mean, its so good that I can't even make up a coherent sentence describing it.  Its battle system, its storyline, its characters, all were just perfection, nothing felt unnecessary, nothing felt tacked-on, it was all engineering balance, design perfection.  And as for this game, its a mess.

BUT - that's a big "but", its in all caps - "Chrono Cross" is not quite the hideous failure I thought it would be.  Actually I think I have enough energy to go all the way and finish this thing.  Because as bad as the ideas are around "Chrono Cross"'s battle system, its still something of a very interesting game.  I mean, the game doesn't work, but its something of an admirable failure.  I can respect a game like "Final Fantasy VIII" on some level because even though the Junctioning system was confusing as all Hell, it was at least an experimental attempt at innovation*, if still a huge mistake.  More importantly, "Chrono Cross" is a beautiful game, perhaps the single prettiest game on the old PlayStation.  You can tell with every location and every character that a lot of work was put in.  And yeah, the storyline is inferior, but it is still an epic RPG adventure that keeps you engaged as to whats going to happen next.  Ultimately it really helps when you stop comparing this game to "Chrono Trigger" and just try to enjoy the wonderful scenery and excellent soundtrack.

What we have here is a game form the Golden Age of Square.  Back in the PlayStation era, Square was making all kinds of innovative experimental RPGs, like this, FFVIII, "Xenogears", "Parasite Eve", and "Vagrant Story".  Since then the now Square Enix has been riding on endless cheap mediocre Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest spin-offs**, then they whored out Kingdom Hearts like you'd never believed, and lately has gotten even lazier in that now most of its games are actually made by Eidos.  "Final Fantasy XIII-2" is my Exhibit A for why we should appreciate games like "Chrono Cross", because while that's a failure for being lazy, completely recycled, and then left it all on a cliffhanger so they could sell more crap like DLC, this is a failure because director Misato Kato and his team simply had too many creative ideas.  There was too much love put into this game, too many things to deal with, and the final product is something of a mess.  So its a failure, but a remarkable failure, I feel.

Weirdly there are people out there who say that "Chrono Cross" is a better game than "Trigger".  Uh-huh.  Those people are what I call "totally insane".  "Cross"'s successes are mostly in tone and presentation.  As a pure game its pretty terrible to play, if you just skip the storyline you're left with a clunky frustrating battle system full of weird ideas that could have been interesting on their own, but working together make for a horrible experience.  So before I can taught about anything else, I need to discuss the battle system, because WHAT WERE THEY THINKING??

First of all, forget about "Chrono Trigger", that's going to make things a lot easier.  The battles are no longer streamlined or efficient or even attempting to be fun.  Actually, "Cross" is probably the only JRPG that goes out of its way to make you hate the battles.  For one, despite the game's fantastic majestic score, the main battle theme is this nightmarish shrill screeching of a track, just endlessly awful.  But don't worry, you only have to listen to this song throughout the entire goddamn game.  Also, "Cross" is the only JRPG where for the most part, the regular enemy counters do not matter.  They represent no real gaming threat, and usually they don't give EXP, so there's no tangible benefit in fighting other than collecting GP.  Luckily there are no random encounters and the enemies never ambush you like they did in "Trigger", so for the most part you can cheerfully run right past nearly enemy in the game, and you'll have missed nothing but wasted time.

The battle system of "Chrono Cross" is this huge labyrinth of unnecessary complexity.  You get the sense that every major person involved in the development of the game had one idea for the battle system, and they threw them all together without really thinking how any of this would match up.  One guys suggests that EXP be static, that you only really get major stat gains from a boss fight.  Interesting idea, it makes sure that the player cannot either be too weak or too strong, but combine that with the fact that if you're strategic you get a free heal after every battle, the main battles are now pointless, not even representing a threat.  They keep a three member party system and force you to use the hero all game, but somebody else wants 45 party members, so that means you'll never use most of them, and for the most part it makes no sense to use them.  One guy builds this huge complex Element Grid for the magic, and another guy builds this weird combo attack system (I'll get to that in a second), and another guy makes it so that you need to land attacks to use magic.  Then some fucking idiot puts a Stamina system.  Throw those three things together and you have what may be the worst single JRPG battle system I'v ever seen.

Meh.

Let's start what you'll see first:  attacking.  I don't know why basic "Attack" commands couldn't have been left alone as a single button and single effect of your character running up and hitting the enemy.  It would have been fine.  Instead, you'll see you get three separate attacks with a percentage next to them.  What the heck does this mean?  Well, it means that weaker attacks are more likely to hit, stronger attacks are less.  You need to land weak attacks first so that you can use stronger ones.  However, if you miss - and you will, A LOT - that means your combo for the most part is ruined.  You can maximize your chances for a strong attack, get it up to like 90%, and there's still a chance you'll miss.  So you can just lose whole turns.  Worse, you need to land attacks in order to open up your magic grid.  So if you miss several times, you might not unlock the magic you need that turn.  Guess what?  You're boned.  The attacking is so damn annoying, but its only the beginning.

The Element Grid is at least something that isn't actively annoying at every second.  You don't have MP, what you have are slots in this grid where you can place Elements - which are both spells and basic healing items.  (There is an Item slot on your menu, but that's only Key Items, and trust me, you'll never get used to this.)  The Items are Items, use them and they disappear, I don't know they were thinking throwing them into the Element Grid.  Elements can only be used once per battle, but you can equip like fifteen Cures.  Your grid is opened up by landing attacks.  Every attack you land, you unlock one column on your grid.  Every element has a specific column it works best at, so you want to put them there, but you can put them in different columns.  But your character also has special innate Techs - remember those? - which also act as Elements.  When you use an Element, you then need to land more attacks in order to open up the Element Grid again.  By the way, there are DualTechs in this game.  But in all the time I've played, I've found one.  And only one.  There are maybe twelve DualTechs in this whole game, just forget about them.  The positive is that if you end the battle with your Grid open, you can use the Healing magic within that Grid to fully restore your party after every regular encounter, making them entirely unable to weaken you at all.

Also, there is a literal elemental system in this game, because every Element has a color.  Blue and Red are weak to each other, White and Black are weak to each other, and Green and Yellow are weak to each other, basic.  Hit a Red-color enemy with a Blue Element and you get more damage.  As you use more Elements, you influence the color of the battlefield.  In the top left corner you can see the battlefield's innate preference.  Use three elements of the same color and then that color becomes stronger.  Also, there are special Elements called Summons, which you can only use if you get the Battlefield to be fully colored to their element.  So if you use blue three times, you might be able to Summon a Frog for a strong attack.  But for the most part that's hopeless because enemies use Elements too, so you'll rarely use Summons.

Now for Stamina.  Stamina can go fuck itself.  I'm still not sure how it works.  At the beginning of the battle, you have seven Stamina points.  Light attacks cost one, medium attacks cost two, strong cost three.  Use all seven, your turn is over, sounds basic.  Then then there's magic.  Magic costs a full seven Stamina points.  But luckily you can dip into negative stamina, so you'll probably want to drop a few attacks before using an Element.  Now for reasons that don't make much sense to me, every time your allies attack, you get a Stamina back.  So if you just cycle around all three characters doing nothing but attacking, your Stamina will never run out.  But its a RPG!  You'll need to use magic.  Use too much magic, and suddenly your Stamina will end up in something useless like three or four.  So you need to waste a turn Defending in order to get it back up to seven.  I hate Stamina so damn much.  You have no idea.

What's also endlessly frustrating is that the enemies can interrupt your turn.  In fact, they almost always interrupt your turn.  Its awful.  You you're pounding away at your combo, then suddenly the enemy moves, and I'm pretty sure the percentages drop back to where they started.  So screw that noise.  The enemies should wait their damn turn.  If they want to move, move after I've gone.  This is a turn-based RPG, get some patience.

Ultimately strategy is nearly nonexistent.  Boss fights usually are just exorcises in finding a character with a color that hurts your enemy and then unloading with the best Elements you got until they drop.  Heal sometimes too.  For the pointless complexity around this game, the strategy never gets beyond a Pokemon battle with a Gym Leader.  Water beats Fire, remember that.  Later in the game you can do things like cast a spell that basically bypassing the stupid percentage thing, but that's way later.  And there are some crushingly difficult boss fights in this game too, like the infamous battle with Miguel in the Dead Sea.  Trust me, this was insanely hard, I had to fight this guy about seven times until he finally dropped and it was to the damn wire.  This is probably the most difficult single boss fight of any JRPG, and I only survived due to luck.

Speaking of luck, you can run away from boss fights.  So if things aren't going your way, just flee, heal up with your item-elements, and start over.  Its a lot smarter than eating a GAME OVER, trust me.  Running has a 100% chance of working, so you can go the whole game without losing, if you're lucky.

I guess some people were having fun playing with the elements and missing constantly, I'm sure there's some rhythm to the battles that I don't understand, but honestly, I don't care.  "Chrono Cross" had the possibility to be a truly excellent game, something just fantastic like "Chrono Trigger".  But instead it made this ridiculous embarrassing battle system.  So even though there are things that work really well in "Cross", I can't really recommend it as a game.  Because its a terrible game, it isn't any fun to play.  But as an experience, its something more.  That's what I'll be discussing next time.

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* But still, "Final Fantasy VIII" doesn't play like a Final Fantasy game, which is what I bought.  They should have named that game "Time Romance With Gunblades" or something.  So I played FFVIII like it was one of the other six Final Fantasy games I played before, was massively confused about everything - the lack of equipment, the stupid magic system, the awful Card game, and eventually just spammed Limit Breaks and GFs forever until I accidentally made the enemies too strong to defeat because I tried level grinding - which is what you're not supposed to do in that game because SURPRISE the enemies scale with you.  For that reason I will always hate FFVIII.  I'm not saying don't innovate, but I mean, stay a goddamn Final Fantasy game!

** And the only spin-off they've made lately that's apparently worth a damn is "Final Fantasy Type-0", which NEVER GOT RELEASED HERE.  Goddammit.  Right now, as far as I'm concerned, Square Enix's last hope is "Bravely Default: Flying Fairy".

12 comments:

  1. Jonathan BedfordshireworthingtonAugust 6, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    Ya know, I was just thinking about this game when I was plowing this chick last night. It was pretty hot, no joke. Hell, it almost distracted me from thinking about music policy (an area which I'm currently boning up on, heh).

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  2. wow...you just said something good about final fantasy 8 that has nothing to do with Edea. Thats new

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  3. Actually, one of the developers of Type-0 said they'd like to release it in America "sometime soon," from what I remember.

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  4. See Blue I told you to stay away from this game. If your a fan of the Chrono Trigger then this C=game will shit all over everything that you loved about that game. And you know what the saddest part is? You can see the potential. The great possibilities that Chrono Cross could have achieved, but just fell epically short of something that could have went down in the history of game kind. But you Can see the love that went into this game and for that I can give it a nod of respect and nothing else.

    BTW Why doe's every one have so much trouble with Miguel? I found him, and all the other bosses, incredibly easy. The only reason he took out my other players was because I was trying to trap some elements from him.

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  5. When are you going to review Xenoblade?

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  6. I've never played Chrono Cross, but the music in it is beautiful. I particularly like the ending theme "Radical Dreamers". The instrumental arrangements done by Eminence Symphony are especially lovely - I'll send them to you if you'd like.

    The story of "Radical Dreamers" is kind of interesting, actually. It's the name of a game Mitsuda and Kato worked on before Chrono Cross. It was intended as a gaiden to Chrono Trigger, but the production was rushed and they were never satisfied with it. Some of the music in the latter was derived from the former (including "Radical Dreamers"), along with parts of the story and themes. From one botched game to another - no wonder Chrono Cross is such a mess.

    Why is there a fake ILHI up there?

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  7. I'm not a big Masato Kato fan myself. Chrono Trigger's story was enjoyable, but nothing revolutionary. Chrono Cross's story was terrible, his few contributions in Xenogears were the worst parts of the story (Chu-Chu and that stupid crucifixion scene) and his few contributions to FFVII were just ripping off the good parts of Xenogears. The only really great thing about Chrono Cross for me is the music, but even then I found Mitsuda's work on Xenogears, Xenosaga, and Shadow Hearts all far superior.

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  8. @Anon: Final Fantasy VII was mostly written before Xenogears, and Kato's work on them was mostly done around the same time. I don't think you can say he ripped off Xenogears while contributing to VII. He used the same themes, those of identity, whether destiny was set in stone and if that mattered, and the question of the meaning of life. These themes form the root of almost all poular fiction, from video games like those mentioned here, to plays like Hamlet, and modern films such as The Dark Knight Rises.

    Also, Kato wrote what is frequently touted as the best part of the original Chrono Trigger, the sequence in Zeal in 12,000 BC. In a way, Radical Dreamers and Chrono Cross are really continuations of THAT story. Chrono Cross' point isn't to be a direct sequel to Trigger, it's to clear up the one question Kato left hanging in his work on the game: what the hell happened to Princess Schala. In that way, I think, both stories are a success.

    Chrono Cross is actually one of my favorite games. I don't know if I like it more than Trigger, but in general I dislike saying certain games I love are better than others. It's impossible for me to choose one favorite. Granted, the battle system is a little unwieldly, and yes, it basically amounts to a rock-paper-scissors-esque game of blue beats red, white beats black, but that's what Pokèmon's like, and I still enjoy those games from time to time. Unlike Pokèmon, though, Cross comes with one of the best stories told on the original Play Station, and the main characters are pretty well developed. There are certainly too many of them, I'll admit that, and to this day there are probably a handful that I've still never used, even though I've played the game at least once a year since it's release.

    I honestly think the reason people dislike this game so much is because they go in to it expecting it to be exactly like Chrono Trigger. It's not. I don't really see why that's a problem for RPG fans, though. Final Fantasy VI and VII have nothing to do with each other, storywise, but they are still both excellent games. Cross DOES continue the story of Trigger, even though it doesn't seem that way until about halfway through the game, and, at the same time, it introduces it's own plot. There are a LOT of easter eggs for diehard fans of Trigger as well, which, if you play the DS remake of Trigger, were even done retroactively, so now Trigger foreshadows Cross directly. I'm not saying the game doesn't have flaws, or that it ties every plot thread left hanging from Trigger in to a bow and concludes the series in a completely satisfactory way, but I don't think that precludes it from being an amazing game in it's own right.

    If you have a friend who's excellent at playing basketball, you can't be pissed off when her little brother doesn't match her skill. But, if you take the time to get to know him, you'll learn that he's got more skill than his sister in other areas. Trigger is the big sister and Cross is the little brother: both great at some things, both lacking in others.

    There's also a huge plot point that pisses off a lot of Trigger fans, who never get to the end and see the resolution and are all really worked up for no reason, but I won't discuss there here because I don't know if Blue finished the game or not and I don't want to spoil anything.

    Damn, I wrote enough in this comment that I might as well have just done my own blog post. lol mon

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    1. And I think were most people stop caring. When you compared Final Fantasy 6 to 7. If your a fan of the FF series and when you play a new one you don't expect to play the EXACT same game as the last FF you played. Each one can stand on it's own and don't have to reference each other outside of cameos or name titles. Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross are different. Cross is a DIRECT SEQUEL to Trigger and as such they only mention the former game in bits and pieces until the end of the game where it all is suppose to come together. And when you play a Sequel to a game sure the battle system doesn't has to be the same as the original, but just completing changing the whole thing to THIS is just blasphemy. If Cross was a stand alone title and made little had nods to Chrono then it would be a mediocre game with great music and graphics. But it's a DIRECT sequel that basically didn't have anything to do with Trigger.

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    2. I apologize, my comment last night came off as a bit rude.
      As far as Xenogears's story having an affect on FFVII, Xenogears was actually written before the final draft of FFVII, as Xenogears was originally submitted to be FFVII. Kato was working on both games, and when he wrote the section of FFVII where Cloud is regaining his memories, you can see very clear influence from working on Xenogears as well, even directly referencing Xenogears. The reference was partially lost in translation though. Kato also referenced Xenogears in Chrono Cross.

      Anyways, I actually do enjoy Chrono Cross. I was a bit of a sour mood last night when I made that comment. I just really didn't like the presentation of the story, dumping the plot in huge, spread out chunks. The presentation and pacing could have been much better. I still really enjoy the story, the graphics are beautiful, and the music is outstanding. I actually recently replayed the game when it was released on the PSN. I just feel Kato's writing is a bit sloppy, but still entertaining.

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  9. Diebuster is to the original Gunbuster what Chrono Cross is to the original Chrono Trigger: highly debated "not true sequels!!! rage!", loved by some and hated by others.

    I for one greatly enjoyed Chrono Cross.

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