I’ve played a lot of RPGs since I was a kid. Mostly it’s been stuff by Square, but I do like to think that I’m pretty well read in terms of the breadth of games from other developers too. Given that, I’ve seen a lot of RPG conventions play out, and one of the big ones that most games hold on to is the idea that whoever your protagonist is, you never get to take them out of your party. Usually this isn’t a big deal, because the protagonist is designed with better than average stats in comparison to the rest of your party so their constant presence doesn’t really cost you anything in gameplay terms. Chrono Trigger did something really interesting in beginning its final act with the death of the protagonist and then leaving it up to the player whether or not they would revive this character and then continue to use him in their party (given that Chrono is a silent protagonist and his involvement in the plot is largely situational rather than essential, this was a relatively easy thing to accommodate within the story). Chrono Cross, being a game that its developers envisioned as related to Chrono Trigger but not directly following in its footsteps, goes for something similarly unique in how it plays out its second act.
Serge has been trapped in Lynx’s body and thrown into a pocket dimension following the events at Fort Dragonia, and that means that the player is suddenly faced with the task of playing the next few dozen or so hours with the face of our villain. Lynx is treated as a distinct character from Serge in the game’s code, so while his stats are likely identical, he has his own techs and a different innate color, which necessitates revamping the character’s element grid (which you’ll likely do anyway, because Serge’s element grid doesn’t carry over after you’re switched to Lynx, which leads to another one of Chrono Cross‘s big flaws, which is the chore that is setting up element grids from scratch; adding one or two new elements to a pre-built grid is engaging and requires a modicum of thought, but filling the twenty or thirty slots that characters have accrued by this point in the game is more tedious than anything).
Add with all of these mechanical setbacks the various small narrative touches that emphasize we are now playing as Lynx (everywhere the character’s name is listed in menus, it’s now been changed to Lynx; Harle, who shows up shortly after you start exploring the dimensional vortex, insists that you’re Lynx and all of your memories of being Serge are simply a result of disorientation; everyone you meet in El Nido is terrified of you and refuses to believe you’re anyone but a six-foot-tall nightmare cat man). Of course we’ve just been playing as Serge for the last thirtyish hours, so it’s kind of a hard sell, but the game really tries.
The point I’m driving at is that switching over to Lynx is a jarring event both narratively and mechanically. I like what it does, even if I find the realities of rebuilding my party from scratch (oh yeah, Lynx is dropped off by himself, so you have to start over recruiting party members; again it’s a nice narrative punch that works well with the gameplay inconvenience that leaves me cursing this whole section of the game on a practical level) frustrating.
Still, it’s something that isn’t quite like any other game I’ve played, and I like that.
Recruited Party Members
Sprigg – Sprigg is undoubtedly the one bright spot in all the awfulness that we’re going to be dealing with in the next section of the game. She’s an old Mystic woman (the race of sentient monsters from Chrono Trigger who comprised Magus’s medieval army) who’s been trapped in the dimensional vortex for an unspecified amount of time. She has an awful Cockney accent that’s kind of adorable, and she has the unique ability to transform into enemy monsters that she has killed in battle and make use of their unique element grids (if only she had unlimited use of elements like monsters do). Later in the game, she’s able to mimic Slash, Flea, and Ozzie (they make a cameo as a bonus boss) if you defeat them using her. As Slash, she can actually perform a Triple Tech with Serge and Kid. She is, in a word, amazing, and best of all, she forces her way into your party, so it’s impossible to miss recruiting her.
Harle – Since we’re now Lynx, and Harle is bound to serve Lynx, she forces her way into the party. I’ve discussed her a little bit previously, and she’ll continue to be plot relevant for the rest of the game, so I’ll reserve any in depth discussion here other than to note that for a character who has to join you, she’s quite strong (if only she weren’t the same innate color as Lynx so I wasn’t constantly having a conniption over color redundancy in my party).