I suppose the heavy philosophizing "Chrono Cross" blasts you with roughly every scene might be very thrilling to a teenager, since those angsty folks by nature believe themselves to be specifically hated by the entire race. Don't tell me it isn't true, when you were a teenager, you thought everybody was out to get you. And if you've never gotten over adolescent obsessions with invisible audiences, start a blog, where you can have a real life invisible audience just for you! So when "Chrono Cross" repeats an endless theme of how humanity is totally wretchedly evil and the planet is scheming to murder us all*, a certain audience might nod and say "yes, humanity is evil, wow, I never thought of that before, this game is so deep." While my reaction is something more of a "cut the hippie bullshit and let me fight this next boss already!" Just a difference of temperament, I guess.
On the other hand, I kinda feel bad bashing "Chrono Cross" the way I seem to. These reviews come off a bit more negative than I think I actually feel towards this game. If it were a bad game, I'd regret playing it, I just think its a mistaken game, and there are lessons to learn from its mistakes. Its also clearly a game that the development team cared deeply for, just like in "Chrono Trigger" there is a whole secret Developer's Room ending where you can sit back and have a drink with the design staff's digital avatars to celebrate a wonderful journey. That leaves me feeling like the one guy at the party not having a good time, which trust me is a terrible feeling. I can appreciate the labor of love that went into this game's story, environments, characters, even battle system. The only problem is that the storyline is confusing, as I've mentioned before the battle system is not fun, and I get the sense the great ideas and great artmaking that went into "Chrono Cross" were simply let down by the other parts that do not work. Which is a real shame.
First of all, characters. This is one of "Chrono Cross"'s most well-known mistakes, having a playable cast roughly the size of two average elementary school classrooms. Its a huge mistake because you have three characters slots to use in battle, one of which has to be the Hero. So there are dozens of characters you'll collect, and honestly, you aren't going to use all of them. Its just overwhelming how many pointless characters there are in this game. Do you want to know how many characters there are? Do you really want to know? Okay, I'll show you. This is the entire cast:
Now huge casts aren't necessarily a bad thing in an RPG. I mean, I had army of characters about twice as large as this in "Tactics Ogre" by the end (most of whom I never used either, honestly). But the difference there is that "Tactics Ogre" lets you use ten characters in battle at once, while this lets you use three. I wish they at least let you use four characters in battle, since that way you could get a nice spread on your elemental options. Like, I wanted a Blue character since Blue elements have the best healing spells. And I wanted a Red Character since they have this spell that can boost your attack percentages to 99% every time. But I couldn't fit both because I had to use Glenn, who is easily the best character in this game aside from Serge. So no option. "Final Fantasy VI" has sixteen playable characters, but it also has a four-character party, you can switch out Terra, and they made it a central feature of several dungeons that you could use several parties at once, thus letting you use up to twelve party members. So its not like a huge number of characters is a bad thing, its just poorly implemented.
I guess the developers limited it down to three in order to limit the technological burden on the PlayStation, this might also explain why the battles are dull row-based affairs compared to the free moving "Chrono Trigger" combat.
If you're very much interested in character-based storylines, forget it with "Chrono Cross". Your hero is a mute, and he's really the only character with a serious arc that links up with the main plot. There are forty-four other people, but the majority of them are just weirdos you collect involuntarily. Like, there's one scene where no less than four characters suddenly join up with you. How many of those four characters did I ever use in battle? ZERO. I didn't need any of them! Worse, Serge is just obscenely more powerful than anybody else in the game, and that was before I gave him the Mastermune, the most powerful weapon in the game. There are maybe two characters that can rival him for damage output, so really the third slot in your party exists mostly to heal, or just to fill up space. Which is why I put Fargo there, he's a Blue elemental so he can use the best healing spells, and he has a Steal tech. It also really hurts the cast that thirty out of the forty are weird joke characters or stupid cute anime things or they talk in some terrible annoying accent.
Oh yeah, accents. Most characters in this game have some kind of odd accent. This is so that they can speak generic dialog in scenes but still sound somewhat distinctive. So you can take Kid to some scene and she'll say the lines in an Crocodile Dundee accent, or you can take Irenes the Mermaid there and she'll say the same lines but with lots of random Umlauts over the vowels. Misato Kato did this so he didn't have to spend hours writing distinctive reactions for forty-five characters. Sometimes characters will have unique reactions, or you need to have a certain character in your party to make an event happen, but the game will tell you who you need, so there isn't much point in experimenting.
Anyway, despite having collected about half the playable cast, I'll now do a character breakdown using only characters I ever seriously used in battle:
Serge is the hero. He does Hero stuff. He's your MVP from level 1 to the final boss, so even if you could switch him out, you would never want to. Like Crono, he doesn't know how to talk. So when he gets hit with Captain Ginyu's Body Change attack and switches bodies with the main villain, everybody immediately realizes something is up with Lynx because suddenly the Dark Lord is unable to speak. Lucky.
Glenn is the Frog-replacement. Notice they both share the same human name. And like Frog, Glenn is a warrior knight who eventually picks up Sacred Swords and becomes nearly as strong as the Hero. Glenn has no accent, is not a joke character, and is never annoying, but is a solid force of death-making. So you'll want to use him. He also has a crazy big brother. That's is all for him.
Kid is supposedly the main heroine, the game sure insists it enough. She's this Aussie thief girl who you keep running into, and depending on your choices is either a party mainstay or totally ignored. Like, for me, I used GameFAQs, so I knew that I had to refuse her offer to join me on the beach to the get Leena. Then I knew I had to leave her to die to get Glenn. In the later two-thirds of the game she is out of your party entirely, I don't know if you can even get her back. But I didn't try either. She's only good as a Thief, her attacks suck. And I'd like to pick my own main love interest, thank you very much.
Leena is your childhood friend. I used her for awhile until I realized that her attacks would never get any better, so she's really only good for Blue healing spells. When I got a better Blue elemental character I never used her again. Her holds her hands behind her back like Marle did in "Chrono Trigger", so that was nice.
Harle is this clown-girl who follows the main villain around for awhile. Then when you switch bodies with him, she decides to follow you because as far as she's concerned you're Lynx. Harle is the third best playable character despite not having incredible game-breaking swords like Glenn or Serge. She speaks in a silly French accent, but even so, I found her to be easily the most interesting character and considerably more attractive than Kid. So if this game were made by people who cared about me, I could have chosen her over Kid. OH NO, how dare I even consider having some choice in Misato Kato's unbelievable epic goddamn storyline! So Serge spends a whole scene pining after some girl he barely knows, Harle is forced out of your party by a few bizarre plot twists, and she becomes part of the second-to-last boss. Nice. Why couldn't the Turnip be a traitor? Somebody that WASN'T one of the best fighters I had? Goddamnit.
(Legal Notice: Kid's tits may not be quite as large in actual game.)
Fargo is this pirate dude that smokes a lot. He kinda looks like Danial-Day Lewis' character in "There Will Be Blood". He's that Blue elemental I replaced Leena with. Then I spent the rest of the game using him.
Karsh is this green-elemental soldier with rockstar hair that I used for awhile when
Guile is this mysterious magician who I recruited because I remembered that in the game's development, he was originally supposed to be Magus, the Dark Lord from the first game. Unfortunately they cut this detail out in order to make room for all the other idiots, which is perhaps the dumbest storyline decision of any RPG ever. I mean, if Magus were in this game, he'd actually have a major role to play especially with the last twists to the storyline. Instead Guile is just really boring. He was for a time the best mage and a decent attacker, then that ended.
Norris is boring.
Radius is old and boring.
Poshul was the first playable character I ever found. And also the worst playable character I ever found. He or she is a goddamn poodle, and I found it by accident. Its worthless in battle, and I only took it along because I needed a second character to restore Serge's stamina bar. And just in case you thought this character didn't suck absolutely, it does, because it also has a speech impediment. Fuck Poshul. If this were "Final Fantasy Tactics" I'd have found a way to kill it off permanently and drink its blood.
The Rest I never used so who cares? I suspect that each of these characters were very dear to whichever member of the staff suggested them, but seriously? An alien? A skeleton? A goddamn turnip? Screw off.
The plotline of "Chrono Cross" was at least an interesting collection of ideas, though many of them do not appear to actually work out. A lot of the backstory to this game is difficult to figure out and you just sorta got to accept what the game says, no matter how offensive it might be to your "Chrono Trigger" experience. For example, Guardia has been conquered, the original playable cast is either dead or time memories or something, the Masamune is evil, and Lavos is back thanks to various Timey Whimey things. The secret to this storyline is to ignore the "Chrono Trigger" stuff and pretend you're playing a totally different game, which is easy to do since there is not a single "Chrono Trigger" element until just about the halfway mark. And the game doesn't even try to connect the events of the two games until the second disc.
At first you're just this kid Serge who has stumbled onto Another Dimension where he was killed as a child. These two universes are mostly the same, but have several key differences so as to create Dual-World Gameplay. Yeah, that's the big innovation Misato Kato came up with to replace time travel, Dual-Worlds, something Zelda had been doing for nearly a decade before this. Whatever, its an interesting twist that explores the time travel theory of infinite branching worlds... if only there were more than two worlds in this game. Anyway, while you're exploring these two worlds, you get caught up in this battle against the evil Cat-Mage Lynx and the long chase to find the Frozen Flame.
Ultimately, however, most of what you actually do in this game makes the situation considerably worse. Because you play right into Lynx's hands, so he steals your body, and then can go to the Frozen Flame. You then have to chase him for the next third of the game, while dealing with Dragon Gods and this one utterly impossible boss named Miguel**. Then you get your body back, and its Disc 2 time. Previously this game was just a normal RPG if somewhat silly with all the human-hating stuff and full of random philosophical ramblings, then in Disc 2 things go completely insane. If you haven't played "Chrono Trigger", now nothing about this game is going to make any sense.
You fight no less than three bosses who come out of nowhere and seem like the Final Boss. The first one is FATE, the evolved form of Mother Brain who has been manipulating history to get the Frozen Flame because... um... I don't know. Lynx actually is Mother Brain and they both want you dead because you're important... somehow. You kill FATE, and this makes all the Dragon Gods who have been helping you up until now fuse into one big Dragon God, raise a dinosaur city of the sea, and declare war on humanity. Turns out FATE defeated this weird dinosaur timeline that existed before Lavos landed, and now that timeline wants revenge. The Earth wants revenge too because it somehow summoned these Gods to fight us. This is of course, all explained to you in a huge text drop right before you fight the Dragon God. Then you kill that, and there's yet a third Final Boss, the new Lavos. Lavos has fused with Princess Schala (that girl you couldn't save in the first game), and has somehow acquired the power to do... something. So you use the Chrono Cross (whatever that is) on Lavos, he lets Schala free, and then I guess you Retune the universe and then there's a really weird text drop and the game ends.
That's it. Its really not clear at all what happened at the end of the story. I got the best ending, so I was told repeatedly that somebody would "find me", presumably its Kid since she's apparently my one true love. There's some talk that the point of evolution is to become a sperm cell to impregnate the planet and make the universe evolve. This does not make any more sense in context. Then there's a shot of modern Japan and depending on the ending, Japan is either destroyed by the Dragon Gods or in the Best Ending you run into some girl on the street. Then Serge wakes up and its all a dream.
YEAH, ALL A DREAM.
Okay, it might not actually be all a dream, it could just be that since I Retuned the Universe to create a perfect world, nobody else remembers what I did. Well, they never quite explain what this perfect universe is, or what it looks like, or if anything I did during this entire game even matters. I'm not a prude either, I can dig a storyline that doesn't quite give all the answers and leaves a mystery for you to ponder. But this... I have nothing from this! I don't know what any of this was supposed to be. I get the sense like there was some kind of impending deadline that forced Misato Kato to push all of his most interesting ideas right to back of the game and rush to fit it all in. On the surface, "Chrono Cross"'s storyline sounds like it might be really cool: robot Gods, dragon Gods, alternate dimensions, the spirit of the Earth hunting you down, Lavos returned, and a turnip. If all of this could have been fit together into a more coherent storyline instead of no less than three info dumps where the game has to explain for about an hour why anything is happening, it could have been a great game. Maybe if the final bosses weren't all just random monsters out of nowhere like Necron from "Final Fantasy IX".
Also, I'm being surprisingly mature about the number of twists in this game that are more or less direct BETRAYALS of "Chrono Trigger". I'm keeping the fanboy glasses off.
The battles are never actually this adorable.
On the other hand, "Chrono Cross" is probably the best-looking game on the PlayStation, with set pieces nearly as beautiful as FFIX. Its utterly gorgeous from beginning to end, with excellent music, a lovely world, and the clear hand of a lovingly-crafted game. And there is a very impressive adventure here, it holds everything that a proper RPG should have: an expansive world, large-scale visual effects and setpieces, and a few surprising twists. There is a lot to like here, at its foundation, "Chrono Cross" is not a bad game. I can see why staff members would be able to take pride in what they achieved in the secret Developer's Room ending. I cannot imagine for a second the staff of "Final Fantasy XIII-2" ever wanting to show their faces to the players, that game lacks any evidence of a creator's love.
However, I cannot recommend "Chrono Cross" to humans. I recommend the soundtrack disc to humans, there's plenty to enjoy there. But as a game, it isn't fun to play. As a story, its far too confusing. And as a sequel to "Chrono Trigger"... WHY THE FUCK DID THEY KILL OFF THE MAIN CAST? OFF-CAMERA TOO?? WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?? WHERE IS MAGUS? WHERE IS AYLA? WHERE IS ANYTHING THAT I LOVED? YOU FUCKED IT UP, YOU MORONS.
* I think at some point Misato Kato forgot he was writing a "Chrono Trigger" sequel and instead started making a "Final Fantasy VII" sequel. Of course, the ecological world-spirit of Gaia and humanity's nature with this being was just a thing Square was really obsessed with from roughly 1997 - 2001. They even found a way to apply it to the real world in "The Spirit's Within"... and movie going audiences had no idea what they were talking about so the movie was a huge flop. However, the notable difference with FFVII and "Chrono Cross" is that FFVII ultimately decided that humanity could live in harmony with the planet while "Chrono Cross" decides we don't deserve to exist. Or something. I, like the rest of the world, don't actually understand the ending.
** There's a theory that Miguel is actually Crono from the first game, which would explain why he's so ball-crushingly hard. In typical fashion for this game, Miguel is never even hinted at, then you run into him, and he turns out to be hugely important, but he has to explain why he's important. Then you fight for poorly explained reasons.