Chono: Cross-Trigger

Is Chrono Cross a Successful Sequel?

Be sure to continue the fun with our Chrono Trigger 25th Anniversary Celebration by checking out all our other posts!

Chrono Cross is available on Playstation and on PSN for PSP, PSVita, and PS3.


Welcome to, as Beej and Austin have discovered, the second North American release date of Chrono Trigger. Our week of coverage for the game’s 25th anniversary is over, sure. But what better way to follow up than by covering its much-contested sequel (or really, follow-up), Chrono Cross?

I will start out with this: being completely honest, I had to stretch a bit to figure out why it was so hotly contested.

Not why people did or didn’t think it was good. Tons of people have championed its objective quality since then. Why people thought it did or didn’t work as a Chrono game in particular. Much less a Chrono Trigger sequel.

To be clear, I didn’t play Chrono Trigger until about eight years ago. While I definitely appreciate its charm, it wasn’t a formative experience or the edge of the curve or anything. Likewise, Chrono Cross is way past its context for me – so far that I bought a secondhand copy to play on a handheld.

Naturally, I don’t have any innate memory of what the temperature was on Cross right before release. From bits and pieces, it sounds like people wanted a Chrono Trigger sequel that more-or-less directly followed the first game’s story. How much of that was buzz on the AOL-era internet and how much was actually in the text of the advertisement? I can’t know. I wasn’t there.

But what I can say is what kind of follow-up Chrono Cross looks like now, standing outside that context:

It looks like something that shares an awful lot of blood with its more popular sibling.

From Timeline to Timelines

Step away from Chrono Trigger with me for a second. What’s is the cultural touchpoint around time travel? No, not H.G. Wells.

It’s Back to the Future.

And the key tool used throughout the first Back to the Future story is cause-and-effect. Push a guy out of place on the wrong day, and you cause a hypothetical child to never be born. Crash your car in the right spot, and a future shopping mall has a new name. It’s a fun toy to fiddle with, and absolutely the same set of widgets that Trigger was playing with.

And, coincidentally, their sequels evolve in the exact same way. The prescribed script of Back to the Future II might ease you back into its waters perhaps a bit more gently than Chrono Cross does, sure. But you could easily argue that Chrono Cross‘s drastically different tropical setting serves as an early warning that it’s deliberately doing something new with the essence of Trigger. Just take the fact that every new game you start has a notable tweak to it – it’s advertising the new mission statement right from minute one, if you care to look.

Because where do you go after you’ve already played out direct causality, the most basic, poppy, and fun version of a mutable-time-stream fiction? You go for the most basic, poppy, and fun version of a Type-3, “many alternate realities” fiction. Adventure One caused a contradiction or an unintended consequence; it takes a much trickier Adventure Two to mitigate those effects. And that’s the exact-if-eventual crux of Cross.

Chrono Cross's place as a Chrono Trigger sequel, summarized.
“In another time” is absolutely key as the shared theme across Chrono titles.

The themes are all still there.

And that doesn’t just apply to Cross‘ over-arching subject matter. Echoes of the original are everywhere in this game. Most notably, they’re present in music cues throughout the game’s fantastic soundtrack. You want to communicate that two games in a series go together? Have them share a victory fanfare.

Setting aside the largely-unplayed Radical Dreamers, it’s hard to argue that their stories are entirely divorced, either. Directly or indirectly, every member of Trigger‘s famous party can be found in Cross – save perhaps cavewoman Ayla. The same basic cause of Trigger‘s conflict is shown to drive the plot of Cross. And, to keep us dangerously-close-to-but-not-in spoiler territory, the climactic solution of each isn’t that far off from the other.

Rather than Cross not following up on Trigger at all, it seems the point of contention is how well the two are connected.

And, in the interest of fairness, let’s look at the core reason why folks still have legitimate beef with Chrono Cross:

A straight Chrono Trigger sequel it ain’t.

Without veering into spoiler territory, while Chrono Cross does build on its predecessor, how it does so isn’t immediately apparent. It takes until around hour eight for a face from Trigger to show up – and even then, you could write it off as a reference as much as a tie-in.

It’s possible that some players didn’t reach the point where the story of Trigger becomes a clear force in Cross – but that’s a dangerous assumption. Rather, given the benefit of the doubt: it’s a real switch for the connective material between the two to play out vaguely, off-screen, as previous context to an ongoing plot. Even if you appreciate that more removed form of storytelling, it’s still tough to watch your much-beloved party take the back seat. Especially the stars of such a runaway hit.

For that matter, Cross’ approach to characters feels out of line with Trigger. The original game features a small-but-rich group of characters designed by world-class artist Akira Toriyama. Its successor, on the other hand, drowns you in a largely-interchangable cast of forty-five. And while designer Yasuyuki Honne is no slouch – I adore his work on XenogearsCross‘ cast just isn’t as iconic. A few leads definitely get the time they’re due, but just a few.

And the gameplay… doesn’t follow. Chrono Trigger had some issues – it leaned into area-of-effect skills in a system where you couldn’t easily re-position characters, for example. But it certainly wasn’t broke. Still, Chrono Cross saw fit to build in a new direction. Its battles have a rhythmic ebb and flow between risky, mounting attacks and releasing potent spells. Without sacrificing classical turn-based combat, it moved in a more active direction, encouraging constant tactical trade-offs. In a lot of ways, Cross can feel like Square dipping their toe into the water of more active combat; an interesting hybrid, but people expecting more of Trigger‘s battle system weren’t going to find it here.

Generally, people expecting to find a lot of the exact elements of Chrono Trigger weren’t going to find them untouched in Chrono Cross.

But do you know what?

That’s fine

Not every sequel needs to be direct, or even make similar decisions to its predecessor. You could even look at the three biggest JRPG franchises on the market at the time. Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Shin Megami Tensei were all already working with faint connections between their titles at best. Console hardware was still growing explosively; gameplay needed to explore in that space to keep up.

And that’s what Cross was, whether or not that’s what people had their hearts set on.

And “Another World” is exactly what it delivered.

But Is It a Successful Chrono Trigger Sequel?

I’m not going to pretend it’s a major find to treat Chrono Cross as a successor rather than a direct sequel. That’s been done enough already that I knew the score going in.

And that’s probably the exact problem: I did my level-setting ahead of time.

It may seem like cheating a bit to say “this story is good if you take that into account”. But I’d actually point to that as a form of fairness. It’s disingenuous to approach a story on terms other than its own.

If you get hooked up on “the G-forces inside Tony’s suit would kill him”, you’ve already closed your mind off to nearly every comic book adaptation in recent memory.

Likewise, expecting every story in the same sandbox to be an “chapter two” of the one that came before is going to cause yout to miss some swings.

So maybe Chrono Cross isn’t a successful Chrono Trigger sequel in the most direct sense. But it is successful and what it’s trying to be, which is a successor.

And approaching it outside of its original context certainly helps the story set its own expectations. They might be different than yours, and that’s fine. But it’s unanimously better to have that laid out up front.

Be sure to continue the fun with our Chrono Trigger 25th Anniversary Celebration by checking out all our other posts!

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