Chrono Cross – Import Only
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Let’s jump back to the later months of the year 2000. I’m a 9th Grade student with no job, no money and a lot of free time to burn, especially with a lengthy holiday break coming up. All I have to my name are a chipped PlayStation and the few Squaresoft games that had made it to Platinum status, dropping the price to around $40AU. The PSX was my introduction to this genre, a clichéd route made even more so by Final Fantasy VII being the first. I have a friend who trades and copies PlayStation games, because trading pirated material was more accessible than downloading it. He is very excited about his latest acquisition, Chrono Cross. A game we Australians weren’t supposed to be able to play, which made it seem even more desirable – a ‘forbidden fruit’ of the gaming world. I pony up my $10 and buy a copy from him, eager to quench my JRPG thirst.
While some regard it as the disappointing sequel to Chrono Trigger, the seminal SNES JRPG that I’ve never actually played (don’t @ me), Chrono Cross is a stellar experience in its own right that simply made the mistake of being too different to its predecessor. Set in the tropical archipelago of El Nido, Chrono Cross follows the journey of Serge, a teenage boy who finds himself in a dimension parallel to his in own in which he died 10 years previously. What stands out to me most after revisiting it briefly on my PSP for this piece are the bright, colourful visuals which have aged much better than some from the PSX platform and the soundtrack by Yasunori Mitsuda, sections of which have apparently seared themselves into the recesses of my brain. There’s something else that stands out to me as well, however, and that is the siren song of nostalgia calling to me from nearly two decades past.
There’s nothing particularly spectacular about the period of my life in which I played Chrono Cross, mind you. What it did feature, much like Chrono Cross, is simplicity. My responsibilities were few and far between, I lacked any real complications – a quiet period of youthful indulgence in lengthy games. Chrono Cross, like many PlayStation One era titles, seems quaint and simplistic compared to modern games with the added dimension of familiarity and comfort for those like myself who partook in its joyful nature at release. Much like a well-loved book, whose characters feel akin to old friends we catch up with now and again, Chrono Cross stands static in time and serves to highlight how dramatically I have changed in the intervening years, while it remains frozen, timeless – one might go so far as to say pure in its steadfast refusal to move forward. The nature of reality ensures we can only know and take comfort in what has happened, while the future is forever tinged with the fear of the unknown, the unforeseeable. By being thrust into a world where his past is torn away from him, Serge himself is unable to seek solace in his memories, rendered false as they are by his stumbling into a parallel dimension. Thus is the seductive magic of nostalgia exposed, a yearning for the simple, the familiar, the unchangeable.
I can feel the keening pull of this force as I spend more time with Chrono Cross. Mechanically, it’s robust enough to weather most criticism, designed as it was to discourage grinding, random battles and other ‘design features’ that I have long lost sympathy for in JRPGs, which now serve as a poor design choice rather than one necessitated by hardware limitations. The wealth of recruitable characters, lack of EXP points and on-screen enemies all serve to further highlight why I fell in love with this game. Of course, many of the systems and other elements of Chrono Cross that caused me to see it as revolutionary at the time of release had been done before, I just lacked the knowledge and experience of the JRPG genre necessary to know it. Despite this, I still feel that Chrono Cross is one of the few JRPGs from the fifth console generation that has stood the test of time in spite of its use of now primitive, pointy 3D models.
While I’m usually one to scoff at nostalgia in most forms, I have to admit that there are certain works that have stuck with me and continue to resonate to this day, even upon revisiting them. Chrono Cross is one of them, and I implore anyone with an interest in JRPGs to go back and give it 30 hours of your time.
Stephen del Prado
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