At the start of Chrono Cross, the story is quite thin and easy to follow. One day, Serge–place your vote on how to say his name!–slips into an alternate world where he drowned ten years before. From there, he’s determined to find the truth behind the incident. Along the way, he teams up with a spunky, wise-crackin’ thief called Kid searching for something called “the Frozen Flame.” Their goals will align quickly thereafter as they cross paths with a cat-man called Lynx who is up to no good, as cats are wont to do.
However, once you switch from controlling Serge to controlling Serge-stuck-in-Lynx, the plot becomes nigh incomprehensible. By the end, the whole thing has fallen apart, so evident that the game throws info-dump characters at you left and right in hopes that these will help shine some light on the mystery of your reasoning for saving the world. Unfortunately, they don’t–they only muddy the water more. That’s a big problem with time travel stories; eventually, trying to see everything in a straight line takes some explaining. I guess it all comes back to predestination, but I don’t really know. In truth, I sat here typing for ten to fifteen minutes, trying to summarize all of the plot in Chrono Cross, but ended up deleting everything because I can’t make any sense of it. Chronopolis, FATE, Project Kid–you win. All I know is how to slot Elements, fight bosses, gain upgrade stars, and recruit characters.
Also, still not exactly sure what went down with Harle. I mean, one minute, she’s a main player in my battle party of three, and the next she is some Dark Moon dragon I have to kill and then that’s all there is to her story. Boo on that.
And here I am now, telling y’all that Chrono Cross has quite possibly the worst ending ever. Now, understand that there are over ten endings to see in this game, but the majority of them are only watchable during New Game+. I’m talking about the two endings you can get on your first playthrough, both of which suck time-balls: the “fake” and “real” endings, as the community has come to call them. You can defeat the TimeDevourer in two different ways. The first is to just defeat him, which garners you the “fake” ending of credits and a song; the second involves casting Elements in a specific, color-coded pattern, and then using the Chrono Cross special Element to restore time. I only learned of this trick from the Interwebz, though the game gives you some vague clues about this technique, which is harder than it sounds as the boss, at any time, can cast a colored Element of its choice, disrupting the pattern. Do that right, and you free Schala from Lavos (I think?), and then get to sit back and read a bunch of obtuse, archaic white text on a black screen before reuniting with Leena as she finds Serge passed out on the beach, implying it might all have been a (radical) dream. Back to more throwaway text, a pretty song, and a video clip that maybe shows Kid looking for Serge, even in modern times. It felt pretty unspectacular, but that might also stem from my inability to follow the story coherently. For those curious enough, you can watch the whole thing here.
Main plot aside, there are some small additional stories to learn about. Namely, you can gain some heavy insight into S.S. Invincible‘s captain Fargo’s family, the Arni elder Radius has a secret past, and Marcy, a creepy kid that has somehow risen to the top of the Acacia Dragoons. Granted, these side stories are not actually very in-depth, but they help flesh out the characters slightly more than others. Like Janice, the bunny-based girl that just wants to collect monsters, because she’s in a videogame.
Kind of like with Chrono Trigger, I don’t think the story is the strongest part of Chrono Cross. It is there because something has to be there, and it offers the player the power to move between dimensions and see how people and places change, but the how and why is quite convoluted. If only the game had been as simple as finding some komodo dragon scales for a pretty girl’s necklace, as simple as stopping Lynx, the bad guy, from doing the bad thing, and going home to Arni, a peaceful fishing village, to spend the rest of your days listening to the ocean and baking in the warm sun. Instead, it went deep, too deep to surface, and lost me halfway down.