GREETINGS! IT IS 2000, AND I JUST STARTED PLAYING CHRONO CROSS FOR SONY’S PLAYSTATION. SISQO’S “THE THONG SONG” IS THE FUNNIEST THING EVER TO HIT THE RADIO. HIS CAREER IS REALLY GOING PLACES, AND HE’S GOING TO BE A SUPERSTAR FOR THE NEXT TWO DECADES, EASILY.
I AM TYPING THIS FROM A SECRET UNDERGROUND LAB AT STANFORD AS PART OF A SERIES OF EXPERIMENTS WITH ELECTROTEMPORAL FLUX THAT WILL SEND THIS MESSAGE OVER A DECADE INTO THE FUTURE!
Fine, I’m not at Stanford, I’m trying to hide my shame at just starting a game that’s more than ten years old. How do you judge graphics and load times on a system that’s outdated by two generations? You don’t.
You only play Chrono Cross because you get immersed in the experience, or because you suffer from a perverse form of masochism.
For about the first four hours, I thought this game really had something. It worked its little heart out with the foreshadowing, hints of a Great Conspiracy, and constant parallels drawn between the flow of time and the flow of ocean currents that were as subtle as a flying half brick. It drew me in and made me want to watch the story unfold.
I didn’t care about the slightly clunky control system, or the way the display flickers dangerously whenever I switch back and forth from the status screen. Instead of wrestling with the controls to be sure the character slowly checked every backdrop, object, and artistic irregularity before triggering the next cutscene, I relaxed and enjoyed the story. It was a departure from the way I approached a normal RPG, and it was liberating.
That was a huge mistake.
Mostly, I blame the combat system, which is based on a warped idea so deranged that it’s either a bleak atrocity or a flash of genius — like thinking you should get high from anti-seasickness pills so that you don’t get a hangover afterwards*.
Chrono Cross lets you skip everything but the boss battles.
Fine, you can’t skip everything, but enemies are visible and you can avoid them to skip combat. Some of them are in unavoidable locations, but mostly you can dodge and weave your way straight through to a dungeon’s final battle. Since characters only gain levels by winning boss battles, the incidental fights with minor monsters are a waste of your time.
Meanwhile, the spell system is set up so that you can adventure without stopping to rest. Spells are equippable and traded between characters, and you meet certain conditions to activate them in combat. At the end of each fight, you can use any activated (but uncast) spells left over to heal your group.
This means you could spend an infinite amount of time fighting in dungeons; each battle activates the healing spells you can use to be ready for the next one. Boss battles require a little more strategy and more carefully chosen spells, but you could spend hours taking on the rank-and-file monsters — if only you got something from it.
That’s how I ended up facing a wall just four hours into the game, stuck fighting a difficult boss battle with no way to get my characters tough enough to survive it. I had to check a walkthrough (don’t judge me) and learned that I had been doing it wrong. You ARE supposed to be struggling with the interface to scour every inch of the game.
It turned out that I had missed at least four recruitable characters and left a lot of treasure by the wayside. Chrono Cross throws enough characters at you (I’ve found 18 at the moment) that you can miss a few here and there without falling too far behind, but you also skip big chunks of plot if you’re not running down every last clue and conversational aside. Even when I tried to correct my mistakes and move forward more cautiously, I still did it wrong.
I’ve already committed genocide against one race and doomed a second race to extinction through my thoughtless actions and clueless inaction, respectively.
8 hours later, I am faced with a choice: Do I focus on enjoying the story, which means I miss out on huge chunks of it as I hamfistedly blunder onwards? Or do I try to see as much of the game as possible, fighting the controls, the load times, and the unclear directions to collect all the necessary objects and trigger the required cutscenes?
* This doesn’t work**, so don’t try it.
** Not that I’ve tried it. I’ve just been told that it doesn’t work by, um, reliable sources.