Alright, so we’ve met Kid and kicked her to the curb like a bad habit (this time; no telling what’ll happen in the future), and we’ve established very briefly that Serge the ghost boy is being sought after by the Acacia Dragoons, a military organization that is the de facto government of the El Nido archipelago, for some reason that we’re not really sure about. A good question to ask at this point is how the Dragoons managed to hear about Serge less than a day after he arrived in this other dimension (unfortunately, the henchmen who get sent to arrest Serge have no idea what’s going on either).
That’s not going to stop our intrepid heroes from packing up and heading north to the port city of Termina, which is where the Dragoons have consolidated their power. Along the way, they go through a mountain pass where we learn some interesting facts about the world that we’ve entered: ghosts can hang around and inhabit their remains (evidenced by the discovery of a talking clown skull who has amnesia but would like to join you in your adventure if you could just help him find the rest of his body) and there are dragons (or at least, there have been dragons in the past, since there’s a giant dragon skeleton that the clown skull is hanging out in for funzies).
Sometimes it’s really hard to imagine that this is supposed to be the same world as the one in Chrono Trigger.
Moving on, we arrive in Termina where Kid catches up to let Serge know that she’s scheming a big heist at Viper Manor, the fortified compound where the Acacia Dragoons’ leader General Viper lives. She’s planning on stealing the Frozen Flame, which no one seems to really know anything about besides the fact that it’s legendary and presumably valuable. Naturally, because this is an adventure story, Kid convinces Serge and company to go to Viper Manor (but I still don’t want her traveling with me; I know deep in my heart that Serge is a murderous cad who’s going to stab Kid in the back, and the only thing that holds him back from his urges is to put space between them; it’s like an odd expression of rape culture), but she offers no help in explaining exactly how he’s supposed to make his way inside.
Fortunately, this is the first of a couple major decision points in the game. There are three ways into Viper Manor, and each method requires recruiting a different party member. Unfortunately, the three party members you can recruit for this section are kind of awful, and whichever two you don’t recruit get locked out for the remainder of the game. It’s kind of an interesting judgment that the game forces you to make: I’m not impressed with any of the characters on offer, but they do have a pretty clear hierarchy in terms of suitability for the Viper Manor sequence. At the same time, each character has associated with him an introductory sequence that’s different depending on who you recruit; the objectively worst character of the three happens to have the shortest infiltration sequence, while the best of the three has the longest. I went with the middle option, who’s not a great character in the short term (his element grid is underdeveloped at lower levels with significantly fewer slots for spells than other characters) but who develops into a pretty powerful mage in the late game; he also allows the player to take a relatively short path into Viper Manor.
Inside the manor, there’s a lot of running around doing vaguely video gamey type things (there’s a dragon feeding game that’s pretty much impossible to beat on the hardest difficulty until New Game +; naturally, the reward for beating the hardest level is only really nice if you can do it on your first playthrough) that extend your time in this dungeon kind of arbitrarily. You get a chance to meet some potential future party members, but no one is recruitable at this point, and finally we’re given a little bit of an explanation of just what the heck is going on with Serge (thanks to the convenient plot device of the Prophet of Time, who apparently gets to come and go as he pleases among the Dragoons and is a callback to one of Chrono Trigger‘s three gurus Belthasar).
It turns out that Serge has fallen through a sort of dimensional wormhole into an alternate timeline that branched off from the moment where Serge nearly died ten years earlier. It’s not clear why yet, but that was apparently a significant enough crux in the time stream that Serge’s appearance in this alternate timeline has caused ripples that could have far reaching effects. At least we now have an inkling of why the Dragoons have been after him.
Of course, shortly after this (first of many) exposition dump, we get to meet our primary antagonist, Lynx, and his curiously French minion, Harle.
Recruited Party Members
Guile – This guy’s something of a fan favorite because he’s the aborted attempt to include Magus from Chrono Trigger as a recruitable party member in Chrono Cross. Unfortunately, because of the massive number of characters that the writers included, his development got crowded out, and the idea that he was Magus in disguise was pretty much erased from the game. Apparently, fan speculation about Guile led to Square Enix incorporating additional material in a new ending for the Nintendo DS port of Chrono Trigger that suggests Guile actually is an alternate timeline version of Magus whose memories were erased after he attempted to rescue Schala from Lavos. He also has an inverted element grid, so he has a ton of high-level spell slots but only a few low-level ones, which means he gets better with age (though he really sucks for the Viper Manor episode because he has a grand total of four spell slots plus his unique level 3 technique).