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Chrono Cross Review – Is It a Successful Chrono Trigger Sequel?

Chrono Cross: Radical Dreamers Edition is a remaster available on Switch, Xbox, Steam, and PlayStation 4/5.

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?

Allow me to say this upfront: being completely honest, I had to stretch my mind a bit to figure out why this game is so hotly contested.

Not why people did or didn't think it was good. Tons of people have championed its objective quality since it came out. However, I needed to dig into 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 well into the 2010s. While I definitely appreciate its charm, it wasn't a formative JRPG experience for me or anything. Likewise, Chrono Cross is way past its ability to be nostalgic 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 Chrono 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 Chrono Cross looks like now, standing outside that context: it looks like a solid RPG that shares an awful lot of blood with its more famous sibling.

Sequels, Time Travel and Alternate Universes. Oh, my!

Step away from Chrono Trigger with me for a second. What 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 never to 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 Chrono 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 Chrono 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 the very first minute–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 obvious next step: “many alternate realities” fiction.

Adventure One (Chrono Trigger) caused a contradiction or an unintended consequence, and it takes a much trickier Adventure Two (Chrono Cross) to mitigate those effects. And that's the crux of the contested follow-up/sequel because it takes a while for that to become apparent in the second story.

Chrono cross's place as a Chrono Trigger sequel, summarized.
<em>In another time is <em>absolutely key<em> as the shared theme across <em>Chrono<em> titles<em>

Chrono Trigger's Themes Are All Still There.

And that doesn't just apply to Chrono 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.

How can you 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 Chrono Trigger‘s famous party can be found somewhere in Chrono Cross. Except perhaps cave-woman Ayla. The same basic cause of Chrono Trigger‘s conflict is shown to drive the plot of Chrono Cross.

And, to skirt the edge of Spoiler Territory, the climactic solution of each isn't that far off from the first game, either.

Rather than if Chrono Cross follows up the events of Chrono Trigger, it seems the point of contention is how well it does so.

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

Chrono Cross Is Not A Straight Chrono Trigger Sequel.

Without going into spoilers, while Chrono Cross does build on its predecessor, how it does so isn't immediately apparent. It takes until around eight hours of gameplay for a face from Chrono Trigger to show up. And even then, you could write it off as a simple reference as much as a tie-in or actual appearance.

It’s possible that some players didn’t reach the point where the story of the first game becomes a clear force in the second. But to be quite honest, that’s a dangerous and belittling assumption.

So, to give the naysayers the benefit of the doubt: it’s odd for a “sequel” to have the connection between games play out vaguely and off-screen. Simply lore and context to a larger, ongoing plot. Even if you appreciate that more distant and subtle form of storytelling, it’s still tough to watch the much-beloved party from Chrono Trigger take the back seat.

For that matter, Chrono Cross' approach to characters feels out of line with Chrono Trigger, too. 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 Xenogears), Chrono Cross‘ cast just isn’t as iconic. A few standouts definitely get the time they’re due, but just a few.

And the gameplay isn't an update or iteration of Chrono Trigger, either. The original game has 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 broken or even close to bad.

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

Generally, people who were/are 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: Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Shin Megami Tensei. All of these games already work with faint connections between their titles at best. And when Chrono Cross was released, console hardware was still growing explosively and gameplay needed to explore just as much to keep up.

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

"another world" map in chrono cross
<em>Another World is exactly what it delivered<em>

Is Chrono Cross a Successful Chrono Trigger Sequel?

I'm not going to pretend it's a major revelation to treat Chrono Cross as a successor rather than a direct sequel. That's a part of the discussion enough 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 any terms other than its own.

If you get hooked up on “the G-forces inside Tony's Iron Man suit would kill him,” you've already closed your mind off to nearly every comic book adaptation out there. There's logic and then there's internal logic to storytelling.

And it's the internal logic of Chrono Cross that makes it a successful game, not the direct, meta-logic we expect to see in a direct sequel. Expecting every story in the same universe to be the “next chapter” of the one that came before is going to cause you to miss out on some high-quality content.

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: a successor.

And approaching it outside of the context of Chrono Trigger certainly helps the story set its own expectations. Those expectations might be different than yours, and that's fine. If you're looking for a direct sequel to Chrono Trigger, you will have to keep waiting. But if you want a really good Chrono game, grab the remastered Radical Dreamers Edition and have some fun.

Geek to Geek Rating: 4 out of 5 Alternate Dimensions

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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

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