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When you hear the words Final Fantasy, you immediately think of the name Square as well. The two are as inseparable as Siamese twins. Eight chapters old, with numerous spin-offs to boot, Final Fantasy is the reigning champion of the role-playing genre. For all of Final Fantasy's peerless reputation, however, there is one game deep in the heart of Square's hallowed library that transcends even that mighty series. The name of that game is Chrono Trigger. Arguably one of the 16-Bit era's crowning moments, Chrono Trigger will forever have a place in gaming history as one of the most critically acclaimed, commercially successful RPGs ever made. It's also one of the most important RPGs ever made, as it brought together the creators of the two most popular and successful RPG franchises of all time (Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest) to form a "dream team" of sorts, that was in fact called "Dream Project."
For years now, gamers have been clamoring for a sequel. Recently, rumor spread on the Net of a new sequel to Chrono Trigger that was in development at Square, to be unveiled as a playable demo when Legend of Mana was released in July. Much to everyone's surprise, the rumors turned out to be true, and just days before the release of LoM, Square announced Chrono Cross. Square's most anticipated sequel in years had finally become a reality.
The first thing you'll notice about the game is that Akira Toriyama (Chrono Trigger's character designer, also known for his work on Dragon Ball Z and the Dragon Quest series) is not involved with the project. The second not-so-obvious thing is that Yuji Horii (scenario scripter for Chrono Trigger, also from the Dragon Quest team) is also not involved. These two creative forces are instead working on Enix's upcoming RPG masterpiece, Dragon Quest VII.
So where does this leave Chrono Cross? It wouldn't be a stretch to say that fans of the original may find this incredibly disappointing. After all, with the two people responsible for the overall feel of Chrono Trigger off on another project, what--pray tell--is left besides a loose association in name only? Well, for starters, the rest of the original Chrono Trigger team is still intact, meaning the programmers, game artists and composers remain the same. So people fearing the worst for their beloved sequel can breathe a little easier. A little.
Another significant change from the first Chrono is that the game has changed from super-deformed 2D sprites to polygonally modeled, 3D characters on prerendered backgrounds. And following the same path as Final Fantasy, Chrono Cross features a completely new 3D battle engine. During normal rounds, your characters are able to execute an unlimited number of physical attacks. What dictates the intensity and frequency of your attacks is your stamina bar. When you begin, it sits at a relatively modest 7.0. While it is likely to go up as you increase levels, what you should know is that if your stamina bar dips below 1.0, you'll have to select "Defend" as your option so your characters can rest. The number of hits you get to use depends on whether you choose weak, normal or strong attacks. There's also a command called "Element" that lets you use elemental attacks (basically like magic spells). Elemental attacks allow you to use fire, water, wind and earth attacks, as well as healing and restorative spells. In addition, certain attacks, called "X" attacks in the demo, allow two or more characters to team up for a cross combo (similar to Chrono Trigger).
The demo showcases a trio of new characters: Serge, Kid and Glenn (whose characteristics and abilities are strangely reminiscent of Glenn from the original Chrono Trigger), who start off in a non-descript dungeon, allowing you to familiarize yourself with the battle system. After this initial warm-up, you witness a short but intriguing cinema, and wake up from the apparent dream Serge was having. You are now free to explore the seaside town he lives in, talking to people and meeting friends. An old-school pal of his will ask him to retrieve three animal skins for her. Unfortunately the animals are still wearing them, so this will lead to quite a few battles since they won't be so willing to give them up. A number of light puzzle-solving elements present themselves during this exercise, hinting at the direction Chrono Cross will take. After you've found the skins and taken out the boss, Serge meets up with his lady friend on the beach, where they reminisce about old times.
Unfortunately this is where the demo concludes. Following their lengthy dialogue, a large number of teaser scenes from later parts of the game cycle past, offering a glimpse of the variety in store (see sidebar for some interesting tidbits about these scenes).
It's a long shadow cast by Chrono Trigger, and it will take some mighty impressive offerings to dim the memory of that 16-Bit title released back in 1995. Nevertheless, CC had better be a jaw-dropper if it hopes to capture the spirit of exploration that made Chrono Trigger such a time-travelling joy. Scheduled for release this winter in Japan, Chrono Cross has been confirmed for a U.S. release sometime in 2000. If Chrono Cross lives up to expectations, the next year will truly be a great one for Square Soft. With the release of Final Fantasy VIII, followed by Final Fantasy Anthology, Chocobo's Dungeon 2, SaGa Frontier 2, Dew Prism, Legend of Mana and now this, Square will be on a roll. Top this off with the oft-rumored release of Final Fantasy IX next year, and Square might just be unstoppable.
In other, semi-related news, word out of the Far East is that Square Soft is planning to rerelease the original Chrono Trigger for the PlayStation, just like they did with the three Super Famicom Final Fantasy games (IV, V and VI). If this is indeed the case, then it's great news for the legions of Chrono Trigger fans out there who were never able to get their hands on a copy. This would also be great news for gamers who were too young to experience the game, giving them a context in which they might better appreciate Chrono Cross. A refurbished Chrono Trigger with new CG FMVs would be a great addition to any gaming library, without the high price tag associated with cartridges during the old 16-Bit days. Stay tuned for further details. It looks like a safe bet that CT will be coming to the PlayStation soon.
Download Chrono Cross
Square's Chrono Cross, like its predecessor Chrono Trigger, arrives at the end of its system's hardware cycle. Perhaps it will also duplicate Chrono Trigger's success.
Chrono Cross' hero Serge is thrust into a parallel world where he died 10 years ago under mysterious circumstances. He is helped by the spunky adventurer, Kid, and opposed by the enigmatic Yamaneko. While not a direct sequel, the story often references events and characters of the first game. The battle system, like Grandia's, combines features of real-time and turn-based engines. Characters have "stamina" bars depleted by weak, medium or strong attacks. Attacking builds up an element, or magic, bar. Casting magic knocks the character out of action temporarily. Balancing attacks, magic and defense is engaging.