I keep coming back to this conundrum. I enjoyed Chrono Cross, loved its atmosphere and its setting, I liked the battle system. But at the same time, I believe that these are also among the things that make Chrono Cross a bad sequel to Chrono Trigger.
Spoilers obviously follow.
Why is the game not using a battle system similar to its predecessor? It’s like the entire world follows different core mechanics in the sequel. It does not feel like the Chrono Trigger world at all because that had magic and triple techs and stuff like this. And levelling.
And while the island setting was wonderful and memorable, it simply was not what I wanted from a Chrono Trigger sequel. A Chrono Trigger sequel should allow me to revisit the locations from the original game. After all, Chrono Trigger had such a complex world with a long history that you saw go through changes … I didn’t explore it in detail and save it from destruction in order to just … ignore it! I want to see how the passage of time affects this world. What happens to Zenan Bridge or to Medina in a non-Lavos future?
I would have loved to see how the world developed without Lavos. A year 1999 where the world wasn’t destroyed, and a year 2300 that wasn’t a toxic wasteland.
Chrono Cross pretty much pushed this stuff aside. Worse, the game told you that Guardia had been destroyed some years ago, Crono, Marle and Lucca were dead, and you are supposed to do nothing about it. In Chrono Trigger, you hear about a great catastrophe and then you set out on an adventure to prevent it! It sets up the plot. You change it. The overall feeling is one of fun, despite the looming apocalypse.
Chrono Cross does not let you change anything about Guardia’s destruction or Lucca’s death, just uses them as a sad backstory for Kid. And especially: as an excuse for why none of the old cast is actively involved in the story.
Chrono Cross feels like it wasn’t really willing to be a fully committed sequel. It did not want to further develop the old world or bring back any of the old cast. It did not want to come up with stuff for them to do, or imagine their future, so it got rid of them in the laziest way.
Well … at least there is an explanation for Crono, Marle and Lucca’s absence. But Magus was originally meant to be in Chrono Cross – he was in Radical Dreamers, and Chrono Cross is essentially a remake of this, and it is all about his personal quest. He should have been the one character to be there. But Magus was removed in production because it ~would have been too complicated to fit him into the story, or some such nonsense.
Too complicated! Preposterous!
Why would you even want to make a Chrono Trigger sequel about Schala, but leave out Magus? What’s the point? I want to see these two interact. I want to know what she thinks of him and what he thinks of her. I want the potential awkwardness. I want to see his further character development and I want to see Kid deal with her complicated identity and family legacy. Radical Dreamers touched on this dynamic a little, and Chrono Cross should have expanded on it. But that did not happen because, well, because they chickened out.
Chrono Cross would probably have felt much more like a sequel to Chrono Trigger if it had been a little more about Kid discovering the secret of her identity and exploring Schala’s past, while (re-)building a relationship with her “little brother”, coming to terms with what kind of person he has become, what role he has played in the history of the world, while he is also redefining himself. A real, direct, emotional connection to the original game, character-driven and building on its events.
Instead, Chrono Cross threw in a lot of irrelevant in-jokes and superficial parallels to evoke memories of your favourite things from Chrono Trigger. The Masamune showed up, and some characters were clear hommages to the Chrono Trigger cast: like a purple-haired scientist named Luccia, a young fighter named Glenn, a cave girl who looked exactly like a younger Ayla, etc.
God, the insane number of characters in Chrono Cross was just a weird gimmick that added nothing to the game. It really would have been preferable to focus on a core cast of characters that actually mattered! And tell Kid’s story properly, without having to leave out huge, important chunks – in favour of a playable mushroom and a visual kei rocker.
Chrono Cross had just one job as a Chrono Trigger sequel: to explain what happened to Schala. CT has a really neat and satisfying ending, but it leaves one loose end concerning Schala’s fate. And Chrono Cross ties up this one loose end, but in the process, opens up so many new questions and leaves you with so many uncertainties and the general sense of just not being done yet, it’s ridiculous. By the end of Chrono Trigger, the only thing I didn’t know was what’s up with Schala. By the end of Chrono Cross, the only thing I did know was what’s up with Schala. Everything else The game put in doubt. I don’t know what’s going on anymore.
There is more need for a sequel post-Cross than there ever was pre-Cross. And that’s why Chrono Cross is a bad sequel.
In all fairness, I have to say that Cross has some great ideas. The idea that changing the future in Chrono Trigger did not just save the world from destruction, but also wiped out a whole timeline and possibly did some harm that way, that is a fascinating concept. I really liked Karsh (he had great hair and comfy-looking clothes, and fought with an axe! What’s not to love?) and that Escher-style location was a delight.
And the soundtrack is amazing, of course.
But the story … It just feels incomplete. The game left me thinking: Well, now I want to play a third Chrono game where Kid finds Magus and wants him to help her save Guardia from destruction, which would be just the sort of dramatic irony to cap off his story.