A few months ago, I waxed poetic about Chrono Trigger for it’s 20th anniversary. It’s been two decades and that game is still considered one of the finest creations in industry history. The gathering off future icons like Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yuji Horii, Akira Toriyama, and Yasunori Mitsuda was a once-in-a-lifetime event that is still unparalleled in gaming. Considering how popular Chrono Trigger was, a future sequel or successor was basically guaranteed for Square. Yet would they be able to bring their super team back for another go? History proved that it wasn’t possible, but four years later a few individuals from the game, including writer Masato Kato and Mitsuda, were able to put a follow up out into the wild. That was Chrono Cross, and August 15th marks the 15th anniversary of its North American release.
To be perfectly clear, Cross is not a sequel to Trigger. Yes it does have similar ideas and characters, including Lavos, Schala, representations of Crono, Marle, and Lucca, and the idea of each fighter boasting their own elemental strengths. However, pretty much everything else is different. You can play Cross without ever touching Trigger and you wouldn’t miss a beat. Unfortunately, that hasn’t prevented Cross from being lost under its predecessor’s shadow. That was bound to happen no matter what followed Trigger. As if to prove this point, look at how much the games have changed over the years. Trigger has re-released on the PlayStation, Nintendo DS, iOS, and Android. It’s insanely easy to get your own copy. Cross, on the other hand, has only stayed on the PlayStation. Its most recent change was getting put onto the PlayStation Network in 2011. Cross is also dirt cheap for sale online while Trigger still goes for close to or far above retail price.
It’s obvious that one game gets more attention than the other. However, that doesn’t mean Cross is bad. It’s actually very, very good. Despite bearing the same brand as a critically loved hit and featuring a fraction of that title’s manpower, Cross still succeeded in being an incredibly compelling adventure. The parallel universe spanning journey of Serge as he teams up with any of the game’s 45 available fighters to save time from being devoured was absolutely superb. It’s not quite Crono running through the annals of time to stop Lavos, but it’s certainly still daring and willing to get completely bonkers.
How Cross juggles parallel worlds concept is definitely a point of praise. True, there are a few few confusing plot elements, but for the most part the strong writing makes it work very well. The game’s main two worlds, aptly called Home World and Another World, have a few big differences, but there is one that sets off the story. In Another, Serge was drowned by one of the game’s antagonists Lynx. Serge survived in Home however, and it’s when he incidentally travels to Another that chaos ensues. People cannot understand how Serge can suddenly be alive, and many view his sudden appearance as a threat. Serge trying to find answers on this new world is how he learns his destiny, and how the fates of both Home and Another rest on his shoulders. Along the way he meets people who either only live in one world because they were killed in the other, or people who live in both but feature radically different personalities. It’s really cool seeing all of the changes and how Serge just being alive can completely alter reality.
The game’s massive cast of characters was very different as well. Most JRPGs of this style only feature a core group of characters that you must pick from, usually about ten or less. Cross however has a roster of 45. It is impossible to get every character on one playthrough, but that just prompts someone to play again to see what they missed. You can also carry over your previous completed game to a new adventure, starting off with extreme strength and later having access to every character you already unlocked. So with enough effort, it is possible to have everyone in one game. Only three characters can be used in battle though, and that’s where several combat elements from Trigger are carried over like double and triple techs. If the diversions from Trigger were too much for fans, the combat still had enough similarity to keep people comfortable.
The music was something else entirely. A great soundtrack can honestly make or break a game. Far too often do great title’s come out with subpar music and it seriously hampers the experience. Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu created an incredible composition for Trigger and it contributed greatly to that game’s legacy. Cross brought Mitsuda back for round two and the man overwhelmingly delivered. This game’s soundtrack is easily one of the finest to ever exist. Everything from solo acoustic guitars to full on orchestras are used to accent your world saving adventure. As you visit the different versions of each town, the music changes profoundly as well, which is even more impressive. Just imagine creating an entire piece of music, and then having to re-write it with a completely different tone and sometimes different instruments while maintaining the overall quality unique that one location. It’s not easy! Mitsuda pulled it off in spades and delivered a soundtrack that seriously stands the test of time.
I’m a big fan of Chrono Cross, if you can’t already tell. I actually played this before I ever touched Trigger and I have no regrets with that. This game is a lot of fun and probably one of the best JRPGs I’ve ever played. What hooked me the most was both the combat and the soundtrack. For the former, it was nothing I had ever experienced back in 2000. Final Fantasy VII turned me onto JRPGs only a few years prior and those PlayStation games were my only door to this genre. Cross showed me a style that was both familiar and brand new, and finding a way to navigate that was a huge part of the appeal. Finding the right characters to do this was exciting too, though I’d always fall back onto my main three: Serge, Glenn, and Kid. As for the soundtrack, I’m an unabashed fan of video game music and this is obviously no exception. I actually have it on my iPod and listen to it fairly regularly. I’ll honestly never forget the day my brothers and I noticed that we were listening to actual acoustic guitars, complete with the sound of fingers sliding on strings, and being amazed. This is how soundtracks should be.
Cross may not get the same sterling reputation of its predecessor. It’s not accessible on multiple consoles and no one is going out there exclaiming at how it radically changed the way a JRPG is played. That doesn’t have anything to do with quality though. Cross is an incredible game that deserves to be played by anyone who’s a fan of either the genre or Trigger. You’ve had 15 years to do this so there’s no better time than the present! There was plenty of talk about a follow-up to Cross as well, which makes sense since it’s been done before, but nothing has come to fruition. Should a new installment never come, we can take comfort that the Chrono series can live strong with two, absolutely amazing games.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his classic video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.