It’s a pretty close fight between music and the battle system for my favorite thing about Chrono Cross. It’s like deciding which is my favorite sushi roll, when really I’ll eat and enjoy just about anything rolled in rice. That said, I am partial to asparagus rolls as of late. Anyways, I’m not sure which has the sharper edge in Chrono Cross, but let’s muse about how the fights go for the time being. Tomorrow can be all about the tunes.
Battles are turn-based, unlike the previous Chrono Trigger, which was kind of turn-based, but also depended highly on a time counter to determine who could attack first or next. Think that was called the Active Time Battle. That made those fights tense and a fight for control, but things are much more lax in Chrono Cross. You can totally stay on a single menu screen for as long as you like, planning and plotting your next move until you actually do it. I’ve read this system shares some similarities to Xenogears, but I’ve never played that.
Basically, at the start of battle, every character begins with 7.0 Stamina points, which are used for attacking, defending, and using slotted Elements. There are three types of attacks–hard, medium, and light–and each attack costs 3.0, 2.0 and 1.0 points, respectively. You basically have to make the choice of using up more points for hard-hitting attacks with a smaller chance to hit versus weaker attacks that will definitely land more often than not. Making choices like these also builds up your Element meter, which determines what level spell you can cast. It’s a fantastic balance of strategy and risk/reward.
One of my favorite aspects of the combat system is that, after each battle is over, you can use any or all healing Elements to restore your team’s HP so long as you have enough stamina points left at the end of the fight. This made progressing a faster process as one did not always have to go into the menu after every fight and use a bunch of potions–Tablets, here–to get everyone back up to snuff.
Each Element spell comes with a number, like 1 plus or minus 7. Each vertical bar in a character’s Element grid represents one level of magic, with the column on the far left being Level 1. The number before the plus and minus sign is the preferred level for the spell to be equipped, and the number after the plus and minus sign is the range that spell can be equipped. If you end up equipping a spell higher than the preferred Level, that spell will be more effective, doing more damage–and vice versa. A character can equip any color Element spell, even though each character focuses on a single Innate color. This only means that spells of the same color as the character will be more effective and others less so. That might have all sounded like crazy-speak, but it is quite easier to grasp once you begin slotting certain Elements on the grid and playing around with what to put where.
However, not every part of Chrono Cross‘ battle system is amazing. Their summon Elements, which brings forth a giant monster to do big damage to your opponent, which was all the rage in other RPGs at that time, like Final Fantasy VII and Legend of Dragoon, are not worth the effort. First, to be able to cast them, you have turn the whole field one single color and then still have enough time and points available to cast the summon Element, which usually is only slot-able in level 7 or 8, before an opponent casts a different color Element to squander your plans. I think I used FrogPrince once, and never bothered with any other summon Elements, as you really are better off just casting normal Elements. Another part of the battle system I could not grok was Traps, which are Elements that capture an enemy’s Element. However, this process was never a guarantee, and again, just like with summons, you are actually fine without them.
Evidently, there are combination attacks in Chrono Cross, but I never had one happen in all my hours battling PortalGheist and ShadowCats. Which is a shame as I enjoyed these greatly in Chrono Trigger. To do a combination attack, both–or maybe even all three–characters must have the required Element level, as well as at least one Stamina point available. After the attack, both techniques which make up the attack will be exhausted, though I don’t know what that actually means. Looking at a list, most of these combo attacks require LV 5 and special LV 7 Elements, which is often late-game stuff and kind of a waste to even go after. Think this aspect could have been way better televised, but obviously these attacks are not vital in completing the game.
It’s a combat system of choices, most of which don’t matter when fighting the general enemies scattered across the map, but many boss fights require you to be heavily aware of what Elements you have slotted, their color, what types of attacks you should be doing, and when you need to conserve your levels for healing, reviving, or building up for a high-powered GravityBlow. It makes the longer battles more certainly interesting and remains one of my favorite combat systems in an RPG ever. I think Final Fantasy XII‘s is a close second, but that’s about it.