I like Chrono Trigger. I don’t like Chrono Cross.
For one, Chrono Trigger has a battle system that is just tactical enough to be interesting. See, Square games have a problem where the battle system is just a matter of portioning out your attacks in an efficient pattern, ‘cause nearly every monster will take 2 hits from your strong guys to kill, and 2 of your weak guys are more-or-less equivalent to one of your strong guys, so you just have them all target the enemies in such a way that you’ll finish in the minimum amount of time. You save the magic for the enemies that are annoying. Once you’ve got this pattern figured out, battles are just a chore.
Chrono Trigger starts there, but adds some stuff onto the framework. There’s lots of exception-based abilities for monsters, which will force you to use other things – like specific magic, specific party configurations for a specific location, and occasionally specific equipment – if you want to win the battles as efficiently as possible. Also, the enemies move around on the field, which has an impact on the usage of your area-effect attacks. I only wish that your own characters could also move on the field. Combo attacks, unlocked as characters learn new techniques and you try new party configurations, also make time management important: the game uses Square’s famous Active Time Battle system, and all the characters involved in the combo have to be ready in order to perform the combo. The end result of all this is that the most efficient battle plan changes over and over through the course of the game – making it a continual exercise, not a constant chore from the first.
(Also, boss battles don’t last three hours. I hate it when Square pulls that shit. In this game, if you do it right, boss fights take like five minutes, tops.)
At first glance, Chrono Cross also has an interesting combat system. However, the stamina thing, effectively a set of action points whereby you can divide a character’s attacks between a set of weak but accurate, strong but inaccurate, and moderate attacks for varying point costs, didn’t really have that much impact on anything – in fact, it boiled down to that whole strong-guy, weak-guy thing I mentioned earlier, except each “attack” consisted of multiple strike commands. The elemental field system was neat for a while, but it was either way too easy to take command of the elemental field, or way too hard – and usually it was too easy in weenie monster fights (when I mostly use standard attacks) and too hard in boss fights (where tactics ought to be encouraged, not smacked down). The elements were just FF7’s materia all over again, which I hated in FF7 and hated in Chrono Cross because it made it feel like there weren’t any real differences in the character’s abilities, which makes effective team management a lot less engaging. Also, there weren’t any enemies that I thought were cool.
I also kinda like the stories and characters in Chrono Trigger (except Ayla. I hate cavemen in these games for some reason). Sure, it’s another save-the-world quest, but you only find out that the world needs saving because you time-traveled in order to run away from the cops. And you only figured out how to time travel on accident. Plus, you get to mess with history and see how your actions have affected later eras, which is pretty cool. Particularly because you get to make things better.
I also hated most of the characters in Chrono Cross (with the exception of Harle, because I have a thing for harlequins). They were too bizarre, and there were also way too many of them to keep track of. No, actually, the number of them wasn’t to blame, because Suikoden (which I’ll talk about at some point) must’ve boasted somewhere around 30 times as many characters as CC, and it never bothered me. Maybe it’s because in CC I have no reason to care about all these weirdos (I’m looking at you, Mexican wrestler who tends the graves*, bizarre plant/bulb thing, and cute squishy alien!).
But here’s the real reason that I don’t like Chrono Cross. As I said, in Chrono Trigger, your actions make the world a better place. In Chrono Cross, it seems like no matter how hard you try to fix things, the world only gets more and more fucked up, and it’s all your fault. I mean, in CC, you wind up having to destroy an ecosystem. I tried to get around it, but there didn’t seem to be any other way. In CT, you get to save an ecosystem. You don’t have to, it’s not required, you get to do it just because you want to help. CT felt exciting and rewarding; CC just left me feeling cold and sorta ashamed.
I never finished Chrono Cross, so, I dunno, maybe it got better. I lost interest somewhere in the third act or so, which is a problem I have with a lot of Square games. Chrono Trigger is, in fact, one of the few Square games that I’ve ever finished, so that’s pretty good.
* Which, on paper, is AWESOME. How they went wrong on that I’ll never know.