Part 21: Bonus Update, Part 1: Chrono Cross
Before we explore the DS content, a quick recap on why it exists: Chrono Trigger's loose end of what happened to Schala was used as the jumping off point for a sequel, which made at least one or two narrative leaps and didn't arrive at that conclusion as gracefully as we might have liked. When Square ported CT to the PS1, they added the anime cutscenes we've grown to acknowledge, a bestiary and endings list, and a new coda attempting to pique interest in Chrono Cross, which they hoped would be a similar success. While Chrono Cross did receive fantastic reviews and sold as well as something with "Squaresoft" on the box would be expected to, the link between them still seemed rather rough. As such, in creating the DS rerelase of CT, Square decided to help bridge the gap even further. We're going to take a look at this, but first it's worth going over what the gap is that needed to be bridged:
The final boss battle in Chrono Cross sees Serge, its protagonist, fight a fusion of Lavos and Schala (yes, that's Schala) in the Darkness Beyond Time. This is strange for a sequel to a game wherein Schala was Schala, and it's natural to question how Chrono Cross works if this is the way it ends up. Take a deep breath, it's time to read some words:
Lavos, when it landed, brought with it something called the Frozen Flame, essentially a network between it and anything else. Humans' discovery of this network allows us to use magic, which works extremely well until it doesn't. Come the Ocean Palace, Lavos' timey influence sends everybody scattered to different times, but the new lack of future apocalypse means Balthazar's sent to a far better future where he can make wonderful things. The rest of the scattering proceeds as it normally would.
Schala, it turns out, isn't sent to another time at all, and Lavos, it turns out, isn't killed when we fight it and kill it. Instead, Lavos is sent to an alternate dimension from being hit with our swords, and Schala is pulled to that same alternate dimension from Zeal. A Dragon God, which will come into play in a bit, also occupies this dimension, and Schala is torn between either having the three of them become BFFs or not destroying all time. Deciding that the best option is obviously both, Schala does a couple of things:
1. Somehow cause an electrical storm in 1006 AD.
2. Make herself a daughter-clone who looks nothing like her and might be Australian, sending that daughter-clone back to 1004 AD such that it will one day defeat her because of what she plans to do next.
3. Change her hairstyle and lose thirty pounds and ten years (again, yes, that is her in the picture above. Yes, that's set after CT).
4. Merge with the Dragon God and Lavos to become the Time Devourer and aim to destroy this and all other universes now and across all of time, just for fun.
Balthazar somehow works with Lucca to figure out that the latter part of that happened, so he decides to save Schala by creating the Chrono Cross. To do this, he builds a research facility called Chronopolis and designs FATE, a retooling of Mother Brain, to oversee it. Balthazar's plan is to create this time crossing by doing some magical sciency stuff to the Dragon Tear, a relic that exists in 1000ish AD; in what clearly follows from the genesis of that plan, he and FATE spend a hundred years poking the flame in various ways. Fed up with this, the flame shoves Chronopolis back to 12,000 BC, where, choosing the start of an ice age as the ideal place for this, they opt to make a new civilization and one day manipulate its people into doing some things.
Not realizing they could probably save themselves the trouble and rescue Schala right then, the scientists who went along with Balthazar on this "Seriously guys, I really want to spend trillions of G-Dollars saving some girl I knew" plan decide to blatantly do exactly what that civilization was destroyed over and manipulate the world for personal gain. All this (to use the scientific term) time fuckery makes the Entity rather depressed, and it decides to teach Balla a lesson by doing the same exact thing. The Entity displaces a civilization of alternate dimensional über-Reptites and their cyborg Dragon God and requests that they fight those scientist jerks from Chronopolis in the cosmic equivalent of shaking some bugs in a jar. The scientists wipe out the dragon civilization with fighter jets in what is unfortunately shown as a single still image during an infodump, and then the Entity gives up and doesn't do anything more.
FATE, the weird Mother Brain thing who acts as the humans' God cyborg, uses the Frozen Flame which by this point is just a "do everything" button to break the Dragon God up into several constituent parts. The original not-split-up Dragon God somehow gets sent to that alternate dimension, where it merges with Schala and Lavos in the event which inspired Balla to do all of this, which in turn prompted the Entity to summon the Dragon God, &c. I love time travel stories, don't we all?
FATE decides to terraform a magic archipelago called El Nino, memory wipe everyone in Chronopolis, and create magic Time Diamonds to control everyone's thoughts so that it can get in on the "Guide humanity towards my own ends" game as well. It lets the dragons live there and hangs around watching until 1006 AD.
Where's Crono during all this? Well, remember how Dalton got sucked into a portal and was never technically dead? Turns out, Dalton is summoned to Porre in 1005 AD. Vowing to do something or something, Dalton amasses an army and takes over Guardia, something Magus and 90% of the Mystics couldn't do. The comic relief villain succeeds in destroying the kingdom, including slaughtering Crono and Marle. Now married, the two failed to vow that they wouldn't let his golems do them part.
While Dalton's casually killing the cast, Lucca survives due to having moved away to build an orphanage wherein she's raising, among other kids, Kid. Kid, Schala's daughter-clone, was found as a baby wearing a pendant in 1004, and Lucca decided that the best toy for babies is supreme power over time and death. She begins work on a series of Time Eggs (C. Triggers) free of that "any limitations" design flaw, and gives one to her favoritest orphan child to help her when she teethes.
Two years later, a non-Kid kid named Serge is attacked by a panther demon in the islands that FATE made. Schala (this is the Schala in another dimension with Lavos and Dragon God, not the Schala with the device that lets her control death and time) decides to control death and time, saving Serge by making an electrical storm that both temporarily shuts down FATE and Chronopolis and whisks Serge and his father right there. Serge's dad tries to cure him using the deus ex machina'd frozen flame, and, not only does this work, it makes the flame decide that it loves Serge so much it will only work for him. FATE, spurned by the flame's cruel rejection, brainwashes Serge's dad and decides to enact an absurdly overcomplicated plan. Serge and his father somehow get back to the island and nobody speaks of this again.
Anyway, FATE sits around for four years and then plans to get its revenge, fearing that, unable to one day provoke the flame into sending it backwards in time, its existence will be paradoxed and it will be sad. In 1010 AD, FATE has Serge's dad drown his son.
In 1015 AD, the orphanage is burned down by Harle and Lynx, who I'll get to describing in a bit (yes, they could have worked in this event with the destruction of Guardia, but that would have made all this easier to follow, so tough). Kid, now homeless, runs into a time traveling Balthazar who tells her to travel through time. Not knowing she's Schala, Balla wants her to save Serge so he (Serge) can get the Dragon Tear so that he (Balthazar) can save Schala, so she listens to what the strange man is telling her and uses her Time Egg at last. Doing this leads to a split in dimensions: in one, Serge was killed; in the other, Serge is alive.
FATE uses both the panther demon and Serge's dad to construct a biological avatar for itself which, due to not understanding the taxonomy of cats, is called Lynx. Lynx plans to take over Serge's body and go to Chronopolis so that FATE-in-Lynx-in-Serge can tell the flame "Hey, that FATE's a pretty cool guy. You should go spend all your time with him." To do this, Lynx joins forces with Harle, a biological avatar of the cyborg Dragon God who FATE kind of destroyed. Harle plans to double-cross Lynx and actually use the flame to help the Dragon God ( herself?), but for now plans to help FATE kidnap Lucca in the hopes that she can also help their plan. When Lucca refuses, she finds herself out one orphanage and also her life, prompting Kid to save Serge from past-half-Lynx, which is honestly probably a good thing for Lynx/FATE's plan.
Why was that so low on illustrative screenshots of events? Because that is not the story of Chrono Cross. That, readers, is the backstory to Chrono Cross, and none of that occurs within the game. The plot of Chrono Cross involves warping between those dimensions in a purely self-contained RPG until all of that comes up on disc 2.
Chrono Cross is not a bad game, but it is an absolutely terrible sequel. 90% of it has no connection to its predecessor, but the part that does is so interwoven and complex that you have no hope of understanding without Chrono Trigger fresh in your mind. CC doesn't work as a stand-alone game because of this reliance, but it also fails to reward fans of the first due to how much is pulled out of nowhere and utterly divorced from its logic.
As for the game itself, the developers took care to avoid simply making Chrono Trigger II. The element-based battle system recalls Chrono Trigger's but has an identity all its own, the environments are beautiful and varied, and the game is simultaneously polished and experimental. While Chrono Trigger's soundtrack is one of the best gaming's produced, Chrono Cross' is arguably the best.
Really; I'm serious.
On the other hand, the game attempts to have 45 playable characters, perhaps the complete antithesis of Chrono Trigger's small and intimate cast, and it works about as well as you'd expect. Most of the characters have only two unique lines of dialogue and otherwise adapt generic reactions using an "accent generator" which reduces personality to mere caricature, and you'll never end up using more than a specialized few. The game is far longer than it needs to be and spends most of its time vomiting morals about how nature is wonderful while utterly refusing to make sense. It's much less consistent than Trigger, and the final boss can only be defeated if you paid attention to a pattern of colors hidden at points in the game.
As a whole, I honestly don't have a strong opinion of Chrono Cross. It's a good RPG that did several things poorly and could have been great had it tightened its focus a lot. I think it's a poor sequel, but in no way did it ruin my enjoyment of Trigger, and in no way do I begrudge its existence; all I regret is that the team felt a need to make a CT sequel at all, when it could have been a far stronger game if allowed to be its own. I've considered LPing it, but I ultimately don't have much desire to work through it again. If you want to see the story firsthand, The Dark Id's excellent LP can be found here.
So, how about that DS port?