Crossing My Chronography

Long time no update.  Well, no, I’ve updated 3 times since the last entry – they’ve just been doing things in the “life” category of blog.  Noticing this blog is about gaming, I had second thoughts and decided to mark those entries private.

Today, I’m here to blog about my recent adoration of Chrono Cross, the some-ways-worse, many-ways-better sequel to Chrono Trigger for the Playstation   10 years?  Has it really been that long?  Remarkably, I not only had the same copy of the game I played back then, I even kept the hint book (it kept up remarkably well, with still-vibrant colors – well done, Brady Games).

When I reviewed Ultima 7 awhile back, I found the game to be worse than I remembered.  However, playing Chrono Cross now, I have to say that the game is actually much better than I remembered.

Well, okay, it has dated in one aspect: the graphics.   Long ago, I booted it up on a copy of Bleem and discovered that there was actually a whole lot more graphical detail in the game than you can see – it was unplayable due to emulator efficiency, but you could actually see the faces on the character models standing about the towns.  In order to make the game playable at a decent framerate on PS1 hardware, they muddied it a great deal, what you actually end up seeing is a radically pixelated version – there’s a feature to improve if they do a port to a higher-end console.  At least the backgrounds, combat effects, and most of the cutscenes remain gorgeous.

Aside from mere cosmetic concerns, Chrono Cross pushes a rather impressive set of features that humble most games even today.

  • It has a JRPG combat system more advanced than the vast majority of even new titles.  You have 3 characters out at a time, and you balance stamina expendicture against odds of hitting against generating energy for using your elements (you rack up quite a few customizable elements) against innate elements against residual elemental field balance.
  • It has a great deal of replayability in that the plot actually branches at several parts of the game depending on which characters you recruit and a “New Game+” feature that gives you plenty to do, including 12 endings.
  • There’s 45 characters you can recruit.  You connect less with the characters than with the smaller cast in the original game, but these characters are really no slouch – they run a remarkable gamut of interesting concepts and there’s a generous amount of attention spent assuring they each have a unique (though often corny) flavor to them.  What other game can you build a party that includes a large shaggy dog, a space alien, and a fairy?

And so on.  Really, it’s no wonder this game pulled a 10.0 from GameSpot, a 92.22% critic average across 39 major syndicate reviews to date.  I think it probably deserves a bit more than page 3 on the “best game ever” breakdown on GameRankings.  It’s probably mostly the lack of the same memorable character connection from Chrono Trigger that dragged Chrono Cross down that far.

In terms of game designer considerations, it’s important to realize that Chrono Cross very much had a focus of being awesome from the start.  Here’s a game where they struck an excellent balance between depth of combat, replayability, and variety of characters.  I think a developer who is paying attention to this can learn a lot about how much of these things is too much and how much is too little.  Of course, being a feast for the eyes and ears helped the game along, too.

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