The girl who stole the stars, trapped within a memory, and the journey for her thoughts may cost you everything – here’s why Chrono Cross is the best game ever made.
The opening sentence above is not what most people would expect out of a video game. I meet many people even today who are surprised that video games can have a story at all. And yet to me, the story of one girl is one of the many reasons why I consider Chrono Cross to be the best game ever made. Released in 1999 for the PlayStation, this game is a piece of art. And so if you’re a gaming aficionado, or just someone who likes deep stories, read on. A lot of my readers enjoy reading posts that reveal a lot about who I am, and if you’re in that category but not a huge gamer, give this one a read anyway – it might show you a bit more about what makes me tick (particularly the last section of this review).
Chrono Cross was the second sequel to the landmark title, Chrono Trigger. Chrono Trigger, originally released on the Super Nintendo, is considered one of the best games of all time in its own right. And I played Chrono Trigger to death. A game with 13 endings, an amazing soundtrack, a perfect sense of progression, a powerful story, artwork by Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball fame, interesting dialogue, great graphics… man, any sequel trying to compete with the success of this title had a lot to live up to. And in truth, Chrono Cross never really did, from a commercial standpoint anyway. Many players were turned off by too many characters, its initially unrelated story, or some other reason. But let me reason with you here and explain emphatically why Chrono Cross is the best game ever made.
What an opener
Man, where to begin? Probably at the beginning, and Chrono Cross begins with one of the most epic openers to a video game, ever. It opens with some immediately captivating words that begin the tale from a man’s journey – “Where did it all begin? When did the cogs of fate begin to turn?”. Then bam, you’re hit by the powerful chorus of Time’s Scar, the main musical theme of Chrono Cross, and presented with a stellar FMV cutscene overview of the entire game.
Following this, the game begins with you scaling the top of some giant fortress, attempting to retrieve a magical artifact called the Frozen Flame. Oooh, mysterious. It throws you in with a highly leveled main character, and with some of the aspects of the story you’re about to get hit with later in the game. It sets a precedent of what to expect, of the great heights (literally) the game’s adventure will bring you to, shows you the characters who are going to matter, and introduces you to the game’s very unique battle system.
A world where you no longer exist
Many people have wondered the thought, “I wonder what life would be like if I just disappeared?”. Well, Chrono Cross is a game about just that. You play as Serge, a 17 year old young man who lives with his mother in the small island village of Arni. You live a fairly simple life, with a childhood friend named Leena, with whom you have reached the age where things are turning from childlike friendship into something far more. During “that” conversation with her by the beach, you are suddenly swept away through a mystical portal, bringing you to a version of the world in which you died at the age of 7. All the people are the same, but now they’ve moved on without you, as if you were never there.
This dynamic is central to how Chrono Cross absolutely draws you in. After allowing you to see what bonds Serge has with the world around him, the game throws you into the same world, but without you. As Serge, you have to travel the world to discover how this divergent dimension exists, what happened 10 years ago, and by traveling between the two dimensions, unravel the mysteries of what’s happened.
The whole time, you are filled with a sense that this is about far more than just you.
Yes kids, this is actually a Chrono Trigger sequel
The initial hour or two of this game threw a lot of people off the scent, because there really aren’t any ties at all to the original title present at all. Where are the familiar faces? Where is anything representing the last game at all? A few more hours in, you get treated to a few snippets here and there. Oh, that guy is named Glenn, and he kind of looks like Frog who we met in Chrono Trigger. Oh look, the little town of Porre has now become an empire that has taken over the whole world with its military. Hey, Guile kinda looks like Magus. Omigosh, Lynx called me the Chrono Trigger. Wait, is that the Masamune?! WHY IS IT RED?!
As the game builds, and it admittedly does have a slow build, it turns out to be one of the best types of sequel you could ever ask for. This isn’t a direct sequel to the ending of Chrono Trigger – it addresses one of the unresolved side plots from that game as its central issue.
And yes, many of the cast of Chrono Trigger feature heavily here. While Crono and Marle, the two main characters of Chrono Trigger, are now dead (they get killed in the PlayStation ending of Chrono Trigger), Lucca, Robo, Belthasar, Magus, Spekkio and even Johnny the racer all feature here. The Masamune plays a big part of the story. And the shadow of Lavos still looms large…
A great battle system
Let’s talk about the gameplay. The only complaint I would have here is that they overuse the battle theme in every battle. I wish more bosses had their own themes.
Outside of that, Chrono Cross has a great take on the ATB battle system that most people have experienced when playing Japanese RPGs like Final Fantasy, or even Chrono Trigger before it. In Chrono Cross, you are given a stamina meter of 7, and with that 7, you have a number of options available to you. You can attack with a physical attack with a strength of 1, 2, or 3, or you can use any Element (kind of like magic spells) you want, if you’ve charged up enough physical attacks to use them. You have a party of 3, with Serge always your main character. Each Element has a type, with certain types being effective against others, and each character being a certain type themselves, multiplying their attack and also their weaknesses around that Element.
So on your turn this round, you could hit them with a strength of 1 up to 7 times, or hit them with two 3 strength attacks, followed by an Element, or… you get the idea.
The bosses are also great, ranging from pretty easy to stupid hard. Bosses are the primary way to level up in this game, with each boss defeat giving the player a new level of growth they are able to level up to, until the next boss battle. This keeps the emphasis on the story and prevents things from getting more easy or difficult than the game wants it to be at the time. Plus you have all the usual item equips and shops and crafting you’d come to expect from a game like this.
Can you defy Fate?
A flashback to the story for a minute here, and this is one part of the story that blew my mind. The entire game, you are constantly spoken to about fate. When you return to your original dimension, you hear comments about it all being fate. Later characters and bosses tell you that it was fate that you would destroy them. Even the save points are called Records of Fate, where you receive instructions on what your fate should be.
Now, a bit more on the story. Serge encounters a blonde, wild spirited girl named Kid, who seems to know where to go to help Serge find his answers. They travel to towns and across dimensions to discover that when Serge was 7 years old, he was bitten by a panther during a thunderstorm. His father and a friend take a boat to try to find healing for him, but the storm blows them into a place called the Sea of Eden, where a time fortress known as Chronopolis is hidden. Built by Belthasar, one of the Gurus of Zeal from Chrono Trigger, Serge touches an item known as the Frozen Flame (which is a piece that fell off the final boss from the last game, Lavos), the source of power of Chronopolis, and is healed in one of the dimensions. Having touched the Frozen Flame, the time fortress now recognizes Serge as its arbiter, and the computer is locked out from its own power source, causing major chaos.
The name of the computer system? Fate. Fate is literally the name, the primary task, and the god complex that this computer system has, as it constantly makes changes throughout history and the dimensions to preserve and guide the future it believes to be true. And so, Fate seeks you out throughout history, trying to bring you back so it can regain control of the Frozen Flame.
That is, in one dimension. In the other, you die, and Chronopolis is destroyed by a phenomenon known as the Time Crash, which completely reverses the events of Chrono Trigger in the previous game, reviving the impending destruction of the world.
Yes. Complicated. But beautifully so. In essence, one of the main driving quests of the game is literally a full blown exploration into the idea of fate – one of my favourite topics for sure.
Guys, the soundtrack. Seriously
Okay. I’m just going to say it.
This is the best soundtrack ever produced. Ever.
Yasunori Mitsuda crafted literally an entire world’s worth of music. Every track represents a musical style from a different country, with orchestrated tracks giving way to upbeat African drumming, to distant islands, to dreamlike melodies. Reminiscence (featured above) is such a moving song to me, bringing up so much every time I listen to it. The Girl Who Stole the Stars, Prisoners of Fate, and Radical Dreamers are all amazing. In truth, all of it is amazing. If nothing else, get the soundtrack.
An honourable mention to the Super Nintendo game, Radical Dreamers, which was the first sequel to Chrono Trigger. A bunch of these tracks come from that game, and Radical Dreamers is an amazing game in its own right. If you liked those Choose Your Own Adventure books, then make sure you get a hold of Radical Dreamers. It’s like those books, with the lore of Chrono Trigger. Unreal.
Like all good stories, this one is about a girl
Which brings me back to the story, and the most amazing part of this game. So you’ve traveled the dimensions, you’ve learnt of time fortresses and time controlling supercomputers and alternate futures where reptiles are the dominant species. You’ve met 45 different characters who’ve joined your party, from generals, to painters, to battle-hardened soldiers, to childhood friends. You’ve discovered how you died, how the dimensions were split, and you realize your goal has to be to restore the dimensions and prevent the catastrophe of Lavos from the last game from being restored.
Right? Well, actually…
The whole game is actually about this girl, Kid. There are lots of shallow side characters, sure, but that’s only to emphasize how much this game is really about Serge and Kid. She seems so rough, so ready to get back at life for taking so much from her. And yet, at some early points in the adventure, you find out she has hopes and dreams, and has a past she doesn’t quite know how to deal with. And through the game, we discover that past.
In the game Chrono Trigger, in the year 12000BC, in the magical floating kingdom of Zeal, a crazed queen, driven by the promise of eternal life, forces her daughter Schala to perform a ritual using the Frozen Flame to connect with the alien being known as Lavos, which will eventually destroy the earth. Schala has a gentle and generous spirit, hates seeing the pain of her mother after losing her husband, and wants to do anything she can in the interest of helping her family and her kingdom. She is absolutely dominated by the wishes of her crazed mother, with her quiet spirit overwhelmed by her wishes. When the ritual wakes Lavos and causes him to destroy the kingdom instead, many of Zeal’s top staff are sucked away through time by the process. The three Gurus of Zeal are encountered in different time periods by the player in Chrono Trigger, but Schala is sucked away to a time period we are never told about.
Until Chrono Cross.
Driven by the despair and shame of what she did at the behest of her mother, she arrives at a place called The Darkness Beyond Time. Because of her shame, the remnants of Lavos, the alien who was defeated in Chrono Trigger, is able to use her vulnerable state as a host to keep itself alive and grow back its strength. Schala’s shame makes her a prisoner to Lavos. From her place of despair, Schala observes the horrors of man across time, which only deepen her pain. One day, she sees the boy Serge after being bitten by the panther, and screams across time to try to save him. In the process, she creates the storm that blows her father off course, and also sends her conscience in the form of a baby girl to that dimension in the same motion, ripping time in half and splitting the dimensions.
Kid. Yep, there’s your big fat link to Chrono Trigger right there, fanboys. This event is also shown in the PlayStation ending of Chrono Trigger.
Kid is found by Lucca, one of the main characters in the first game, and brought into her orphanage. Tragedy strikes when this poor girl who has already been through enough has the orphanage burnt down, and her “Big Sister” Lucca killed. The pain of loss is so poignant in Kid’s life that her actions have all been an attempt to reconcile her past through revenge and keeping busy. Eventually, she is unable to cope with the weight of her past, and she goes into a coma.
After a series of quests, Serge becomes powerful enough to enter into Kid’s thoughts. Here, he finds Kid trapped in the pain of her memories. It’s a profound moment, watch below:
I bet you didn’t know video games could do that to you. After you help her confront her memories, you are ready to go and rescue Kid’s true self, the princess Schala, and set her free to live her life.
It’s a love story of the greatest magnitudes, and one that gets me every time.
“I will find you… Even if I have to search the world over”.
There are so many more things I could say about why this game is brilliant. I haven’t mentioned some of the other great segments in the game, like the unforgettable journey to the Dead Sea, the restoration of the Masamune, sneaking around Viper Mansion, the relationships between the characters, the other homages to Chrono Trigger, the multiple endings… but I will just say…
Chrono Cross is a game that moved me like no other game I’ve ever played in my life. Even to this day, the themes carried above touch me at a heart level (not even exaggerating here). I guess what it is is that I recognize just how real the issues of shame, despair, loss and redemption are in my life and the lives of those around me. And sometimes it isn’t enough for us to just be with people. But sometimes, the people in our lives are trapped. Trapped inside a memory. Lost in their thoughts. Unable to get free. And sometimes we really have to go there with them and reach them in those deep places, the places we don’t let any light into, and help them find their way home.
I will find you.
Brilliant. Seriously, check the game out. Even if you don’t play it, just give it a watch. There’s enough people on YouTube who’ve posted playthroughs of the entire game for you to get all the best bits. I would recommend playing Chrono Trigger before it (which you can get on your Android or iOS device for like $10 nowadays) so you fully feel the weight of the story.
And that one was a bit longer than my usual writings, but this game means a lot to me, and I had a lot to say on it. How about you? Did you play Chrono Cross? What’s your favourite game, or story, of all time?