I wrote about Chrono Cross about a year ago, playing it for the first time in a few years. I haven’t changed my thoughts much since then. The one thing I will note is that while the storyline starts out poetic and dreamlike, it eventually starts falling apart at the seams. Square’s team could keep that tone going for a while, but not for the entire length of this 30 or so hour game. That doesn’t really matter to me; the aesthetic of the world and the easy flowing energy of the battle system make the game just easy for me to play.
There are definitely games with clearer focus than Chrono Cross. The battle system may flow, but its ins and outs aren’t exactly intuitive. The story starts out kind of vague, then degenerates in incomprehensibility. Compare it to its predecessor Chrono Trigger, which has a seemingly simple battle system that even when the depth of the dual and triple techs is unveiled it is still limited by each characters small spell pool and its plot has a pretty simple through line. Chrono Cross is an utter mess. Still, it is a mess with some fine ingredients. While it doesn’t present itself clearly, I enjoy teasing out what everything means even if ultimately it means nothing.
Largely that turns out to be the case with Chrono Cross’s story. Vague foreshadowing resolves into vague, meaningless conclusions. Fortunately, the story in each little set piece largely works. The larger plot is where all the incomprehensibility reigns. Kid gets Serge to help her break in to Viper Manor to steal the Frozen Flame. What the Frozen Flame is isn’t clear at that time, but the breaking in and attempted theft has a pretty clear story. Then you must save Kid by finding a Hydra Humor, so you go to the Hydra Marsh. Again, it is a clear little episode. The connecting tissue for most of these episodes is weak to nonexistent, but the episodes themselves are fine. In the end, though, it doesn’t add up to a truly worthwhile story.
The plot grand rambling ambitions are not aided by the bloated cast. The cast is one of the things I love about the game, but even I can’t deny that having about 30 unnecessary characters you can get to join your party hampers the game’s ability to tell a story. When you could at any point put a baby dragon and a skeletal clown in you party instead of Kid or Leena or Glenn, then yeah, your story isn’t going to be the same. But there is also no denying how much fun it can be to build a party around said dragon or clown, or maybe a luchador priest or a mushroom man. It is not conducive to storytelling, but it is conducive to wacky fun.
The biggest reasons Chrono Cross is on my Top 10 games list are the music and art. Look at the examples of prerendered backgrounds in this post. Amazing, right? And the music needs no defense. Honestly, no matter what the story was, no matter who the characters were, I would enjoy playing in these tropical locales with the amazing music playing. It is simply perfect.
The aesthetics combined with the goofy characters and fun battle system, it makes for a game that is simply a joy to play. That is, of course, dependent on one’s ability to tolerate the slowness inherent in PS1 RPGs. They must load. But since I grew up on that, it doesn’t greatly bother me. Chrono Cross is a game that have glaring, numerous flaws. It would never appear if this list were about the games I felt were the best made. But Chrono Cross is better than the sum of its parts. It is like a fragmented dream, it doesn’t quite make sense, but you find yourself endlessly trying to piece it together anyway.