Kinda Half-Assed Chrono Cross Review (PSP)
I had never played Chrono Cross when it had originally come out in 2000 (in North America, at least), so when I emailed Square Enix asking for a copy of this game it was to look at it from a modern perspective. To see if, after all the changes and arguable improvements made to the genre of the JRPG, Chrono Cross still held up as a good game. Unfortunately, I don’t think it does.
Now, I want to preface the actual “review” part of this review by saying that I am reviewing this game after playing 5 hours of it. I know that isn’t really enough time to get a proper handle on the game, but I don’t really want to play anymore of it. I am at a point where the main conflict is basically setup, I got a party and I understand enough of the systems to know whether or not I like the game. If you disagree with my opinion of the game citing what happens after the first 5 hours then I will gladly hear what you have to say. If you think that I am just a JRPG hating asshole who has been pussified by modern gaming, two things: 1) You are probably right, 2) Go fuck yourself.
In Chrono Cross, you start out as one would expect one of these games to start out. You are a young child, living in a small village without a care in the world. You hang out with your childhood friend, who I am guessing at some point might be a love interest because Japan, who whips you into killing dozens of defenseless lizard babies. You know, regular kid stuff. But after all that horseplay and animal skinning, a huge wave and some magical runes appear. You wake up on the beach, childhood friend gone. You return to your village to find that you have been dead for 10 years. This sets off a fight for your life as the military that polices the state you are currently in tries to hunt you down.
You travel this world in two different ways. There is the overworld where you travel form area to area and the individual areas themselves. And this is where my first major problem with the game. You can only control your character’s movement in this game with the d-pad. No analog control at all. Do you know how frustrating it is to try to move in a 3D world with movement controls based on a 2D axis? And the weird thing is is that in a few of the areas the axis shifts slightly. So holding up will move you forward in some areas but others it moves you forward and to the right or left. It is really annoying to get used to moving a certain way then have it shift just slightly so that it feels foreign again.
Now while that is kinda awkward, what’s even more awkward is using that kinda weird 3D movement to tranverse 2D environments. Every area in this game is made up of 2D sprites, and while they do look pretty good it is sometimes a pain in the ass to get around on them. As the name might suggest, it is kind of hard to tell depth in 2D. In one area I spent like 10 minutes trying to climb up a fucking log because of the aforementioned messed up controls and because I couldn’t figure out where the thing was point out the farthest that I could climb. It gets especially weird when you have areas that try to have depth. The game has a fixed position camera that scrolls as you move, so when you are moving into the background the camera stays the exact same distance away the entire time so your character gets smaller and smaller as the approach the horizon. How far the area goes back is never really conveyed that well either. Every time I had to go through one of these areas and where I was heading was at the very back I just kinda ran at it until I couldn’t move anymore then started mashing the X button until something clicked.
Now, let’s talk combat. The thing that originally drew me to this game was three words: No random encounters. The thing the turned me off of Square’s other popular JRPG series Final Fantasy as well as the Pokemon franchise is that I absolutely fucking hate random encounters. There is nothing more frustrating to me than to be walking along, get within spitting distance of your destination, then have 5 enemies jump up and attack you in a row. Every time that happened I just ripped my shirt in half and screamed to the heavens. In Chrono Cross the enemies are all on screen and moving around, making it possible to avoid fighting them all together. But, of course, you will have to fight.
The fighting system in place in this game is par for the course for a JRPG. You have standard physical attacks and more powerful magic attacks. The attack process is a little weird to me, though. Each character has 7 stamina points which are used for both physical and magic attacks. When you attack an enemy with a physical attack a menu of attacks appears. The menu consists of 4 options, 3 numbered attacks and Elements (the magic in the game). Each attack, numbered 1, 2 and 3, takes that many stamina points to attack. Each attack also has a hit percentage next to it. You can attack until you run out of stamina, switching from physical attacks to Elements mid attack which takes up however many stamina points you have left. But one thing I didn’t really understand was the turn based nature of it. Sometimes during an attack I will use up all my stamina points before the enemy does anything, but other times I barely get two attacks off before the enemy comes in and starts attacking. There was combat tutorial near the beginning but I skipped over it since I didn’t know it was a combat tutorial until I got far enough in the game to miss it and a tutorial for something that is a core part of the gameplay I don’t think it should be hidden in some little nook like a side quest. If this was a game with simpler game mechanics (i.e., run, jump, shoot) I could forgive them for not having a tutorial at all. But this is a JRPG which, in some cases, can have a dozen systems in play throughout the game. If the player is not clearly shown the basics of those systems it can severely cut down a players enjoyment of the game.
One aspect of the combat I really did enjoy though was the Elements. Each character in your party is given a certain number of slots to allocate Elements to for use in combat. Characters can have up to 5 levels of Elements (at least from what I have seen) with fewer Elements in each level as you go higher. These levels are powered up with physical attacks. Attack something 5 times, get all five levels. This is great because it means I didn’t have to do any micro-managing of the characters’ mana as well as health, which can get a little annoying sometimes. However, you can only use each Element once per battle, which I understand. Since you can reach the highest level of Element you have in 5 hits it would undercut most of the game’s difficulty if you could just power up to full and keep spamming your most powerful magic attack over and over again until you won. This keeps things pretty well balanced, making sure you are using your Elements well and not just using every Element you have to take out a single frightened komodo pup.
I mentioned it above but I do like the looks of the different environments. The sprites are really well drawn and each area does manage to feel different from the others you have been to. But the characters walking around on those environments looks bad to me. Since you are playing as polygonal character models there is a certain amount of disconnect between your characters and the environments they go to. Also, the edges of the character models are really blocky, just adding to that disconnect. In the areas where you have to run into the background the further from the camera you get the worse you look.
When the game goes into a combat arena, the environment becomes polygonal as well. When this happens, the frame rate noticeably drops. Plus, since this game was originally developed in 1995, the ground textures all kinda look like shit.
Some games stand the test of time. Even with outdated graphics and tech, they manage to deliver fantastic and enjoyable experiences over and over again. Chrono Cross is not one of those games. Sure the magic system is cool and the 2D environments look alright, there isn’t enough to make me want to play anymore of this game than I already have. Most of my problems with the game are things that have been bred out of most JRPGs. JRPGs have free roaming cameras now, full 3D environments, analog movement and while I didn’t mention this above, modern JRPGs also have maps and quest logs. I found myself getting lost a lot and completely forgetting about quests, even the important ones. 5 hours of this game were enough to make me realize that I didn’t like it. Maybe if I had played this game when it first came out I would have been more charitable and actually the damn thing before writing this review. But as it stands, Chrono Cross is a game with one or two interesting things, but nowhere near enough to make it worth finishing.
Final Score: 1/5