Revisiting Chrono Cross (Part 17)

It’s been a long road, but we’ve finally made it to the end of Chrono Cross.  Serge and friends are ready to confront the Devourer of Time and use the Chrono Cross (I may not have mentioned this, but the eponymous item is necessary in order to get the good ending, and of course it’s not acquired through the course of the main plot, so you could overlook getting it) to weave the various broken timelines together into a cohesive whole that ensures Lavos’s destruction in the future and frees Schala from her prison in the Darkness Beyond Time.

It’s kind of a big deal.

Naturally, because this is a story about the ramifications of time travel, things end where they began on Opassa Beach in Home World where a trio of ghost children who resemble Chrono, Marle, and Lucca from Chrono Trigger (they actually represent dead timelines; don’t ask) await with a massive info dump for all the plot points that the writers didn’t work into the actual story (we finally learn the true origins of Lynx; he wasn’t just an avatar of FATE, but also the repurposed body of Serge’s father Wazuki, who had been driven insane by his contact with the supercomputer; why this revelation is dropped into a chunk of text which the characters don’t react to is befuddling to say the least) for reasons that I don’t fully comprehend but which can probably be summed up with “they ran out of time.”


I don’t think this game is great, but it really did have some potential that got smothered by obligations to its predecessor. (Image credit: Chrono Compendium)

Following all the revelations, we get to the actual boss fight, which is actually a minor puzzle fight.  You have to cast elements in a specific preset color order before you activate the Chrono Cross, which ends the fight and launches the good ending sequence (alternatively, you can just beat the Time Devourer to death, which results in a non-ending where the monster just escapes through a portal to another dead timeline where it still exists).  This mechanic is both pretty irritating and pretty ingenious, not because of the puzzle of the color order (that pattern gets repeated regularly enough throughout the game that it’s pretty easy to notice and remember), but because of the way you have to manipulate the battle system.  In purely mechanical terms, you have to know how to build a specialized element grid for your three party members that will allow them to cast seven spells back-to-back without getting interrupted by the boss, who may or may not use a technique that will disrupt the sequence.  I want to admire the way the puzzle requires intimate knowledge of the spell system, but I’m also annoyed that it’s such a crapshoot if you can’t put together the precise setup (I had to kick Sprigg, who I’ve used nonstop since she joined up midway through the game, out of my party because her element grid lacks any level 1 slots, which are essential to safely casting the Chrono Cross sequence without fear of interruption).

Successfully solving this weird little ending puzzle grants the good ending, which involves all of the events of the game being essentially undone as Serge gets deposited back on Opassa Beach with Leena at the moment just before he was pulled into Another World the first time.  When you think about all the things that you accomplished, like the reunions between friends and family who were separated across the two timelines, the good you did for the demi-humans, etc. it feels like a pretty crappy way to end the story.  We don’t get to see anything else beyond the scene on the beach where Serge apparently remembers everything that happened and Leena (and by extension the rest of the world) doesn’t, but I suppose it’s possible that the restored timeline involves a meshing of events from the two dimensions that optimizes positive outcomes for the entire cast (the ramifications of such far reaching changes are probably too much of a headache to explore, and would likely lead to another break in the timeline akin to Serge’s death).  There’s also a coda involving Kid apparently wandering through Tokyo (because dimension hopping!), which is probably supposed to be a commentary on the multiversal nature of the Chrono series and a cute wink at the idea that our reality is a variation on the game’s story.

All in all, it’s a weird ending, and I’m not sure I entirely like it.

Of course, that assessment kind of covers the game as a whole.  It’s a very ambitious title that set out to explore some really complex themes about causality and responsibility, but the end result is mixed at best.  Parts of the game are incredibly rich and interesting while whole other swaths are just lackluster and kind of frustrating.  I’m guessing that a large part of the failed aspects of the game stem from a perfect storm of unrealistic expectations (it’s impossible to overstate how big a deal Chrono Trigger was among JRPG fans in the late ’90s) and flawed execution.  Masato Kato, who was the director and primary scenario writer for Chrono Cross had a very particular vision of what he wanted to do in this side story, but I expect that demands for a direct sequel complicated and contradicted that vision.  The parts of the story that are clearly fan service (like the entire sequence in the Dead Sea and Kid’s hugely coincidental connection to Lucca) are a lot of fun on their own, but they never quite mesh with the rest of the world that Kato created in this game.  It’s like there was potential for a really interesting story here that could have flourished if it hadn’t been bound by an existing IP with that carried so much baggage along with it.

Heck, the very fact of the ending where Serge and friends get their lives rather pointlessly reset (and Serge gets the extra pleasure of knowing his life was reset!) so that Schala can finally have the happy ending she couldn’t get in Chrono Trigger is a great encapsulation of the game’s failings and its relationship to its older sibling.  Everyone loved Chrono Trigger and wanted more of it, and Chrono Cross really wanted to be something different, but it never fully came into its own because it was stuck in the shadow of its more popular predecessor.  Now this game’s legacy is as more of an obscure follow-up rather than a solid independent title that happened to share a universe with another really popular game.

Revisiting Chrono Cross (Part 16)

After the exposition bomb that is Chronopolis, Terra Tower is almost a welcome change of pace in terms of story as we get some time to process all the revelations that we got in the last couple hours of gameplay.  I only say “almost” though, because Terra Tower is so starkly absent any further plot developments before the boss fight with the Dragon God at the end that it becomes a slog of pure dungeon crawling and miniboss fights (there’s one scene about halfway through where the party gets contacted by a mysterious entity who’s been trying to communicate with Serge for a while; this person will be revealed after the final dungeon’s finished).  Though it didn’t particularly bother me on this playthrough, Terra Tower also has the distinction of being the one area in the entire game that lacks background music (there is a track that plays in the area, but it more simulates ambient sounds than any kind of song), which, after you get so used to always having good music playing while exploring Chrono Cross‘s world, is more than a little unsettling.

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Terra Tower began as Dinopolis, a Dragonian city from an alternate timeline that was pulled into the same dimension as Chronopolis to counter its effects on the planet. FATE eventually won and sealed the Dragon God away using the Frozen Flame. (Image credit: Chrono Compendium)

In the course of climbing the tower we do encounter Belthasar one last time, and he explains how he’s been manipulating the conflict between FATE and the Dragon God in order to harmonize the world’s timelines and prevent the creation of the Devourer of Time (a creature who gestates in the Darkness Beyond Time as the synthesis of Schala and Lavos from an alternate timeline where Lavos wasn’t defeated by Chrono’s party).  It’s a major headscrew that comes out of virtually nowhere, and probably the most difficult plot point to wrap your head around, given the general lack of development prior to Chronopolis (at this point I think it’s safe to say that most of Chrono Cross‘s relevant plot gets stuffed into the last five or so hours of gameplay, which is unfortunate given just how convoluted the series of background events is).

Belthasar also takes some time to explain how the Dragon God is a sort of avatar of the Reptite-descended Dragonians, who were pulled into the same time period as Chronopolis from a different timeline (if you’re having trouble keeping track of all the alternate timelines, then you’re doing exactly as well as can be expected) after the Time Crash as a defense mechanism employed by the planet.

See, this is where that environmentalism motif that first appeared way back during the sequence involving the fairies and the homicidal dwarves finally gets drawn back into the plot.  In the Chrono universe, it’s posited that human evolution was jump-started by Lavos’s intervention in the natural processes of the planet when it first crash landed, and so humanity is actually an aberration from the planet’s natural life cycle.  This alien nature explains why humans tend towards subjugating the environment instead of harmonizing with it (the concept’s epitomized by Chronopolis, where a group of humans wanted to discover a way to manipulate the entirety of spacetime according to their own will).

This point about humans being an extension of Lavos’s corruption isn’t exactly a new one for the series.  Chrono Trigger‘s final battle with Lavos begins with the party realizing that Lavos has been manipulating the course of human civilization in order to feed its own power, so there is some precedent for the idea; it’s just that in Chrono Cross humanity moves from being unwitting pawns to being a metaphysical extension of Lavos.  Yep, we’re in cahoots with the bad guy.

This heel realization for humanity is an interesting one, because it highlights a general trend that comes up pretty often in JRPGs.  I recently read an article about a game development team based out of Cameroon who are working on a game built around story tropes that figure prominently in various African traditions, and one of the designers made an observation about the kinds of stories that RPGs from different regions of the world tend to tell:

“American RPGs are based on conquest or saving the world for justice or peace,” says Meli. “European RPGs, even if they draw upon Greek or Nordic mythologies, are often based on Christian philosophies and focus on prophecies of a chosen one. Japanese RPGs are based on the Hiroshima trauma. The hero tries to avoid a big explosion.”

That note about Japanese RPGs growing out of the Hiroshima bombing can expand a lot further, as I think the majority of Japanese sci-fi and fantasy of the last century has been influenced by that event.  It’s pretty well-documented in various cultural touchstones like the Godzilla movies, which deal with anxiety surrounding nuclear power, and Akira, which has as its starting point the eradication of an entire city following the exploitation of a poorly understood new technology.  The Japanese have seen firsthand that humanity has a serious destructive streak, so carrying it to its logical conclusion in Chrono Cross is not a difficult step to take, even if it’s not well-developed prior to this point in the story.  What is odd is that after asserting this version of human nature, the game backs off and moves forward with the plot about saving the timeline where Lavos is destroyed and humanity remains ascendant.  I suppose it would be too much of a downer for the heroes to reach the end of their quest and discover the best thing to do would be wipe out their own timeline.

Anyway, the party arrives at the top of Terra Tower (after many aggravating minibosses) and finds the Frozen Flame being guarded by the Dragon God.  A fight ensues (in which the Dragon God is improperly named the TimeDevourer) and the conflict between the rival factions of FATE and the Dragons is ended.

And still, even though this was the final dungeon, the game is not yet over.

Revisiting Chrono Cross (Part 15)

Now that Serge has his body back (after a curious minute long gestation period inside Home World’s Dragon Tear that leaves him reborn as his seventeen-year-old self), he’s finally able to enter the Sea of Eden.

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The room where we see that Chronopolis has been monitoring both timelines. (Image credit: Chrono Compendium)

The only problem is that returning to the entrance of the Sea of Eden shows that the way is permanently sealed, so even with a fresh new Serge body, we can’t get in this way.  In a move that’s somewhat counter-intuitive, the party has to return to Home World’s Dead Sea and use one of the portals that has opened up there (there’s really nothing that I found on this playthrough that indicated this was how you were supposed to access the Sea of Eden; poor use of NPC chatter to point the player towards the next objective has been a recurring problem throughout this game, and it’s particularly frustrating so close to the end where we should be gaining momentum).

Once we find our way to the Sea of Eden, we see that there’s a giant wall of water preventing access to the center of the area, so the party visits the islands located at each tip of the triangle.  This is a sequence that doesn’t really have any bearing on the story, but I think it’s a nice bit of thematic work.  As we’ll discover shortly, the place that’s waiting in the center of the Sea is Chronopolis, a research facility from the future that was looking to discover how to manipulate time.  The three parts of the external security system are labeled Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, the names of the three Fates in Greek mythology (fun fact: this is another aspect of the maiden/mother/crone trichotomy that keeps popping up in The Sandman).  It’s an appropriate motif to use for the guardians of Chronopolis, and it calls back to the recurring idea that fighting against fate is a challenging prospect.

Inside Chronopolis, we get the motherload of explanations.  This research facility was opened in 2300 A.D. to follow up on the work of Lucca Ashtear and Belthasar (Chrono Trigger‘s Lucca and the Guru of Reason, who invented the time machine Epoch), and in 2400 A.D. it was on the verge of a major discovery that would have allowed the researchers to manipulate time at will.  Something went wrong with the experiment, and the entire facility was catapulted ten thousand years into the past.  Now the El Nido archipelago didn’t originally exist when Chronopolis was built; the facility’s location, which was just empty sea, was chosen because of its unusual gravitational properties.  With the Time Crash (what the records call the event that displaced Chronopolis), the facility’s supercomputer AI, FATE, decided to terraform the sea with artificial islands and send Chronopolis’s inhabitants out to live on them, sealing the facility off.

So far so good?  Great.

Now, because Chronopolis suddenly existed ten thousand years before it was supposed to, FATE had to do something to prevent any time paradoxes that might cause Chronopolis to disappear from the future timeline.  So when it sent the researchers out to the islands, it wiped their memories of the future and sent out Records of Fate (the game’s save points) which acted as oracles for the inhabitants that subtly manipulated their decisions to keep anyone from choosing to leave the archipelago and interfere with the larger world.  This all worked out great for FATE until the incident where Wazuki and Miguel managed to slip past its defenses during a severe storm in their efforts to get Serge to someone who could heal him.

When FATE’s system rebooted following the power outage, a hidden logic circuit based on Prometheus’s AI (that’s Robo from Chrono Trigger) chose Serge as the new arbiter for interfacing with FATE’s primary power source the Frozen Flame (actually a splinter of Lavos’s body), effectively locking FATE out.

Now, because FATE had been manipulating El Nido’s entire population for millennia, and it was modeled on the Mother Brain AI (a megalomaniacal AI from Chrono Trigger‘s bad future who wants to destroy all humans and repopulate the world with robots), it didn’t take kindly to this interference.  Lynx, who is here revealed to have been a biological avatar for FATE, was sent out to track down Serge.  The first time he found Serge in 1010 A.D. he killed him, thinking this would reset the Frozen Flame.  This was temporarily successful, but then Kid traveled back from 1020 A.D. and saved Serge, splitting the timeline.  This created the paradox that caused the Sea of Eden to implode and become the Dead Sea in Home World, as the future for that timeline ceased to exist (apparently Home World is part of a timeline where Chrono and company failed to defeat Lavos, resulting in the bad future).  Also, because apparently the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is extremely limited in the Chrono universe, Serge retained arbiter status even in the timeline where he’s dead.

And that is how it came to pass that Serge got pulled through a wormhole into Another World where everyone was suddenly looking to capture him.

There’s a lot of really interesting stuff going on here with all the talk about alternate timelines and warped causality.  The essential motto of Chrono Cross seems to be that time travel always screws things up, while Chrono Trigger hewed more closely to the idea that time travel could only have positive consequences (I chalk this up to the fact that Chrono Trigger was envisioned as a rip-roaring adventure, while Chrono Cross was written to be much more meditative; it’s part of the reason most of the game feels like it lacks a compelling reason for Serge to continue his journey, because there’s just a ton of philosophical navel gazing).  Unfortunately, it gets packed in so tightly that it’s really easy to miss a lot of the finer points of what’s going on.

The more relevant points for people who just want to know what happens now are these: we get our final showdown with Lynx-as-Serge-as-FATE, Serge unlocks the Frozen Flame (which is kept in a capsule labeled “Project Kid”; no, I do not know what Kid has to do with this future project, because once we get her origins explained it becomes very clear that she is not from the future) and snaps Kid out of her brainwashing.  Kid’s about to steal the Frozen Flame when Harle shows up and gives some interesting babble about Kid resisting her self destructive tendencies and not knowing what she’s doing (I’m not entirely sure what’s supposed to be going on there) before she steals the Frozen Flame.  The Dragon Gods get a little bitey with one another and merge into the Dragon God, which was apparently split and sealed into six entities by FATE because it would brook no competition, and we finally get the reveal that Harle was working for the Dragons this whole time, as she flies off with the Flame to Sky Dragon Island, which promptly transforms into the floating fortress Terra Tower.

And we were all so hoping that things would get simpler once we defeated Lynx.

Revisiting Chrono Cross (Part 14)

Harle’s departure is a pretty significant turning point in the story, although that doesn’t really become apparent for a while yet.  In the short term, it’s important to remember that Harle has a crush on Serge, but has also sworn to serve Lynx (or at least his body), and the meeting with Dark Serge and Kid at Hermit’s Hideaway has pushed circumstances to a point where Lynx needs to enter the Sea of Eden, Another World’s version of the Dead Sea.


Out of all the sad characters in Chrono Cross, Harle strikes me as the saddest. (Image credit: Chronopedia)

The only problem with that is that only Serge can enter the Sea of Eden for unexplained reasons, so we’re about to embark on the quest to finally restore the protagonist to his proper body.  I suspect it’s this necessary shift, where Lynx has to become Serge again after spending a pretty hefty portion of the game getting comfortable in his new body, that prompts Harle’s departure.  Yes, there are other, more complex reasons that we don’t know about yet, but on the interpersonal level, I think Harle realizes that she’s about to lose Lynx and she doesn’t want to be around to see that.  The scene where Harle explains that you have to seek the blessings of the Dragon Gods includes a moment where she asks who you would choose if it came down to her or the rest of the world.

This is an odd moment simply because it’s one of those false choices that don’t actually impact the story in any way.  You can take the heroic answer and say you’d choose the world (perhaps you just don’t like Harle that much; it’s understandable, since the majority of characters get so little development throughout the story), or you can say that you would absolutely choose Harle.  Here’s where you can tell that the game’s not quite able to handle the weight of the choice it’s offering the player; Harle thanks you for lying to her, completely precluding the possibility of following a narrative where Serge decides to forsake his journey.  This is in spite of the fact that up to this pretty late point in the game, we still haven’t been given a compelling reason for trying to stop Dark Serge from doing whatever it is he’s doing (there is the whole complication of needing to save Kid, but let’s be honest for a moment and acknowledge that Kid has that classic personality type of being too stupid for her own good in most of the situations where we’ve encountered her in this story).

Harle’s last farewell is a quiet scene on the deck of the S.S. Invincible (we just can’t get away from that friggin’ ship) where she explains sadness to Starky (or some other equally naive character that’s been recruited by this point, I’m assuming).  It’s a good moment, and one of the reasons that I like Harle as a character.

The next several hours are extremely light on story, because all you’re doing is traveling around the worlds looking for the six Dragon Gods so you can challenge them to fights in order to gain their blessings.  At the same time you may also be working on a sidequest to reunite Riddel with her beloved Dario, who is still alive in Home World, although he’s lost his memory.  It’s a long involved quest, and we learn a little bit about Riddel, Karsh, and Glenn in the process (Karsh and Dario’s relationship mirrors that of Radius and Garai right down to the sudden but inevitable betrayal because of the Masamune, except Karsh defeated Dario in fair combat after Dario attacked him with the Masamune).  The ultimate reward for completing this series of events (which require you to go back to Viper Manor with Norris in your party, because the Porre army’s still there and they’re under orders not to let anyone in) is a boss fight with Dario that’s very difficult unless you know to just continuously hit him with offensive elements that aren’t white or black so he spends all his stamina countering with debuffs that don’t hurt your party and then the Mastermune, Serge’s ultimate weapon (also, you can go claim Dario’s Einlanzer in Termina for Glenn, so he can now dual wield Einlanzers and become the game’s second strongest physical attacker after Serge).

All of this running around culminates with a trip to Home World’s Fort Dragonia, where Serge can finally reclaim his original body and all the people that were recruited before he became Lynx will rejoin.

Recruited Party Members

Leah – While tracking down the Green Dragon, the party encounters a young cave girl named Leah.  No one’s really sure how Leah ended up in the present, but she is nonetheless hanging out in the giant prehistoric wildlife preserve that is Gaia’s Navel, and she’ll join you in order to beat up dinosaurs.  Leah bears a passing resemblance to Ayla from Chrono Trigger, which makes sense, because it turns out that she’s Ayla’s mother.  She is unquestionably adorable and a really strong yellow innate character.

Miki – After finally finishing the Marbule subplot that was abruptly put on hold before we went tromping through the Dead Sea (you have to finish it to wake the Black Dragon), you can recruit Miki, the lead dancer of the Magical Dreamers.  I have no real opinion on her because I find most of the red innate characters to be really boring.

Steena – Steena is the chief of Guldove in Home World, and a Dragon Shaman.  She joins the party once you acquire the blessings of all six Dragon Gods.  I always thought that Steena had a lot of potential as a character, but because she joins your party right before you switch back to Serge and she’s white innate, I always found her to be redundant in good party setups.

Draggy – Back in the first two hours of the game we picked up a big egg in the Fossil Valley, and we’ve been carrying it around ever since.  Once you get to Home World’s Fort Dragonia, you can go to the basement and stick the egg in the last working incubator, which will hatch it, producing a baby dragon.  I don’t know anything else about Draggy because we’re at the point in the game where new characters just are not worth dealing with if you have a party setup that you already like.

Turnip – Turnip is an anthropomorphic Turnip who speaks in butchered Elizabethan English.  He can be dug up at Hermit’s Hideaway in Home World with Poshul in your party after freezing the burnt ground in Another World’s Hermit’s Hideaway.  He’s one of the last characters available to recruit, so naturally he barely gets any use because setting up new characters at this point in the game is a huge chore.

NeoFio – Technically you can recruit NeoFio much earlier, but because it took me forever to remember how to get back inside Viper Manor after rescuing Riddel (stupid Norris), she’s one of the last characters I’ve picked up.  She’s a literal flower child who was created by Luccia to be a new, better kind of lifeform.  I have literally never put her in my party.

Orlha – Orhla’s the bartender in Guldove.  She’s good friends with Doc, and she offers to join your party after you beat her up (it’s all a big misunderstanding, naturally), but not before Serge gets his body back.  I don’t understand why this matters, because she already trusts Lynx, but whatever.  Maybe she’s secretly really racist against demi-humans, despite the fact that she lives in the one town in El Nido where demi-humans and humans get along really well.

Revisiting Chrono Cross (Part 13)

So after the party is saved by a giant white dragon swooping in and carrying them away as the Dead Sea collapses on itself we’re left with a few odds and ends to tie up before jumping into the newly reopened portal at Opassa Beach and following after Serge to find out what he’s been doing in our absence.  Mostly it’s just a matter of going and collecting a few party members that we missed earlier (my resolution to play through the game this time without a walkthrough has held up pretty well, but it was bugging me that I couldn’t remember how to recruit a few characters I knew were available during this section of the game, so I looked them up).


This is a character you can recruit in Chrono Cross. Let me repeat that: THIS IS A CHARACTER YOU CAN RECRUIT IN CHRONO CROSS. (Image credit: Chronopedia)

A few trips to odd places around the map (including the bottom of the ocean to collect a piece of a spaceship) later, and we’re ready to get back to Another World.

Remember how things seemed really bad in Home World when we first got out of the dimensional vortex and learned about the Porre occupation of El Nido?  Well, it’s worse in Another World now, because we’ve moved from a dimension where the Porre occupation has been going on for years and most people are settled into that way of life, the invasion has just happened in Another World thanks to the chaos being wrought by Serge’s raging rampage of evil (everyone’s terrified of him, so let’s just enjoy the future prospect of getting Lynx back into his proper body and then having to deal with the fact that Serge’s reputation has gone to crap; our protagonist clearly can’t catch a break pretty much ever).

The party travels to Termina, where Porre soldiers now patrol the streets, and the formerly happy town is extremely subdued with hardly any civilians hanging out in the public spaces.  A brief stop by the town’s bar prompts recognition by the bar’s owner (I’m not sure, but I think the implication is supposed to be that because no one else was there to witness Lynx’s betrayal of General Viper in Fort Dragonia, the citizens who are loyal to the Dragoons think that Lynx is still on their side), which leads to a secret meeting with Karsh and Zoah, two of the Dragoon Devas.

There’s some confusion as Lynx tries to explain that he’s actually Serge trapped in Lynx’s body and Karsh explains that Viper’s daughter Riddel has been taken captive in Viper Manor by the Porre army, and then everyone’s on the same page and suddenly we’re friends with the Dragoons who spent the first portion of the game trying to hunt Serge down (to be fair, they were doing it because Lynx had ordered them to, and they didn’t yet know what bad news he was, but it’s still a little disconcerting).

We move on to a sequence that I think of as Viper Manor Redux: Electric Boogaloo which involves, among other things, fighting a giant cockroach named Roachester and beating up then befriending a Guldovan cook who has a case of Jekyll & Hyde syndrome.  Suffice it to say, the less said about this escapade the better.

Once all the dust settles and Lynx and friends escape with the rescued Riddel, everyone rendezvous at the burnt out Hermit’s Hideaway where the all the Acacia Dragoons join up before Serge and Kid arrive and make everything very unpleasant.  Kid is either very stupid or very brainwashed at this point, because she focuses entirely on the fact that Lynx, whom she has sworn to kill, is in front of her, despite the fact that her partner Serge is now dressed all in black and has been murdering people all across the archipelago.

Luckily, Fargo and his giant pterodactyl Polly swoop in and save everyone from certain doom (at some point, you just throw your hands up at the absurdity of the plot and run with it, because these kinds of left field saves are just going to happen all the time from now on).

And then Harle leaves your party forever.

Recruited Party Members

Starky – Starky is an alien from another planet.  While the inclusion of an alien is not outside the realm of possibility in a universe where Lavos is literally a giant space flea from nowhere, it’s at the moment where you recruit the little blue man that you say, “This game has gone off the deep end.”

Funguy – Funguy’s defining character trait is that he loves eating mushrooms.  Also, he’s really angry with Lynx for taking advantage of Funguy’s love of mushrooms by feeding him a magical mushroom that turns Funguy into a mushroom man.  As repayment for this terrible travesty, he swears to follow Lynx to the ends of the earth until things are made right.  Yes, this is a party member whom you persuade to join your cause through the power of hate.

Skelly – Remember that talking skull that Serge and friends picked up way back at the beginning of the game when they were first heading towards Termina?  By this point in the game, you can finally finish collecting the rest of its body, which restores the guy’s memory so that he runs off to see his grandmother in Termina.  Catch up to him there, and you can recruit a literal monster clown (who’s actually pretty pleasant) into your party.

Orcha – Orcha is from Guldove, and his two defining traits are the fact that he’s a cook, and he ate a magic seed that causes his dark side to emerge as the murderous Hell’s Cook at the sound of a special bell.  Beating him up before he’s about to eat (I guess?) Riddel causes him to have a change of heart and follow Lynx forevermore.

Grobyc – Grobyc is a secret weapon from Porre: a cyborg.  Besides Lynx he’s the strongest black innate character in the game.  He also was programmed with a few minor flaws in his directives, because he only obeys people who are stronger than him.  That means that (you guessed it!) after you beat him in combat he decides to be your friend against the orders of his direct superiors.

Karsh – Karsh is Zappa the blacksmith’s son and one of the Dragoon Devas.  He doesn’t have a terribly distinct personality, but he’ll get some development in a small sidequest in the near future.  His greatest defining trait is that he’s the strongest green innate character after Glenn, which means that you’ll only be using him when Glenn’s unavailable.

Zoah – Zoah doesn’t understand the concept of shirts, though he has mastered the use of helmets.  He also always talks in all caps, which is more endearing than you might think.  He’s another of the Devas.

Marcy – She’s only nine years old, and she’s terrifying.  Also, she’s Fargo’s daughter, which means that she has the distinct honor of being associated both with the annoying pirate family and the annoying Dragoon organization.  The game jokingly calls her the Diva of the Devas, but that seems like overkill.

Riddel – General Viper’s daughter and the one true love of Glenn’s deceased brother Dario.  She wears a pretty snazzy serpent head dress, but otherwise leaves no impression on me.

Viper – Remember when Lynx stabbed him in the back and left him to die?  He got better, and now he’s ready to help Lynx stop Serge.  Also, his ultimate weapon is shaped like an anchor, which is pretty cool once you get over how impractical the design would be for a real sword.

Fargo – Fargo has some kind of beef with Viper from way back, and he really wants to beat the old man to death over it, but he decides to set his vendetta aside in order to help Lynx out, because Serge and Porre are bigger threats than pretty much everyone else in El Nido.  His body type is described in the status screen as “macho.”

Revisiting Chrono Cross (Part 12)

I’m going to cover two story beats in this post, and we’re all going to savor the first one, because it’s one of those rare times in this game where a character gets some extra development after they join your party.

Following our conversation with the Safe of Marbule and his bequeathing to Lynx a fiddler crab, it’s now time to try to access the Dead Sea, which has been the objective ever since Lynx escaped the dimensional vortex and found that he was unable to travel back to Another World.  Of course, because nothing is ever simple in this game, we use the fiddler crab to open the way into the Dead Sea only to travel about ten feet before reaching a new roadblock: the Masamune.

Anyone who’s played Chrono Trigger will recognize the Masamune as the magical dreamstone blade that was forged by Melchior, one of the Kingdom of Zeal’s three Gurus and wielded during that adventure by Frog.  It’s apparently been through some stuff in the intervening four hundred odd years since we last saw it in action.  Now a sword that’s soaked in unbridled bloodlust (this is why you always stick to mundane, non-sentient weapons, people) the Masamune has earned a reputation as a cursed object that drives any wielder mad with power.

No, I don’t know why it’s blocking the entrance to the Dead Sea at this point; Radius, who remembers his last encounter with it from only a few years earlier, cast the thing away after it fanned his jealousy of his friend Garai into a murderous intent that ended with Garai’s death.  Radius’s shame over having murdered his friend drove him to retire from the Acacia Dragoons and seek penance as Arni Village’s chief.

All of this only becomes relevant when Radius explains that the only artifact powerful enough to counter the Masamune’s dark energy is the holy sword Einlanzer, which marks Garai’s grave.  Seeing as Garai was murdered, his ghost is restless, and the island where Radius laid him to rest has been corrupted by Garai’s anger.  In order to obtain the Einlanzer, the party is going to have to appease Garai.

Naturally, this means a boss fight, because the obvious answer to an angry ghost begotten by wanton violence is more wanton violence.

The less said about the narrative oddity about this boss fight the better, although I will note that Garai uses lots of white element attacks, which made me regret doing it with a party including two black innate characters.  For the first time on this playthrough I found myself nearly wiped out by a boss fight and forced to run away so I could start over (I’m sure it won’t be the last).


The most important thing to remember is that everything in the Dead Sea is frozen in time, even the water. (Image credit: Chronopedia)

Anyway, once Garai is appeased with a good old beating, he gives up the Einlanzer, and we’re finally free to enter the Dead Sea (cue Radius’s complete irrelevance to any further plot points; he still gets better treatment than most of the people who join you).

Now, the Dead Sea is probably my favorite set piece in Chrono Cross.  It happens close to the midpoint of the game, and it marks the beginning of what’s going to turn into an incredibly convoluted tangle of plot points.  All of that headache is in the future though, and for right now, we’re just going to marvel at the idea of an entire futuristic city frozen in time at the moment of its sudden, catastrophic destruction.

As we explore the ruins, we get a few bits of information about what’s going on.  This place is apparently a city from the year 2300, and it has in its records data about the Day of Lavos from 1999.  We know from Chrono Trigger that the Day of Lavos happens in the future, but Chrono and his friends travel to that point in the timeline and destroy Lavos before it can do any permanent damage to the world (the apparent prosperity on display in the city suggests that this has to have been the case, since this is not a remnant of the broken future that we saw in Chrono Trigger).  Unfortunately, there’s not much beyond that bit of information right now, so we’re all left with the question of what a city from 1300 years in the future is doing stuck in time in the middle of collapse in 1020.

One mystery that does get solved here is the fate of the Acacia Dragoons in Home World.  They’ve been missing for several years, and at the heart of the tower in the middle of the Dead Sea, we find all of them (Viper, Karsh, Marcy, Zoah, Glenn, and Riddel) frozen before what looks like a time gate.  Whatever cataclysm caused this city’s destruction, the Dragoons were present when it happened (for those savvy readers who’ve been paying attention, yes, that means that this future city has been around in the present for some time).

To go with the smattering of answers, we get a new mystery.  At the center of all the chaos, the party encounters an unassuming man named Miguel who is the guardian of the Dead Sea.  He recognizes Serge, even in Lynx’s body, and explains that this city is the place where he and Serge’s father Wazuki brought the boy fourteen years earlier after he was attacked by a panther demon.  Wazuki was desperate to save the boy’s life, and he found something that did just that, though Miguel doesn’t tell us what.  For whatever reason, Wazuki and Miguel were trapped in the future city, and Serge returned home alone.

At this point, Miguel starts to wax philosophic about the futility of fighting against fate, and then he says that he can’t let the party leave, so there’s a fight.  All there is to say about fighting Miguel is that he’s stronger than Garai, he has great unique boss music, and if you need to run away, he’s gracious enough to give you a minute to collect yourself before he tries to kill you again.

Once you defeat Miguel (because this is always how things work in awesome dungeons like the Dead Sea) the whole place becomes unstuck and the city’s collapse runs its course.  Fortunately, a dragon swoops in at the last moment and saves the party, so that’s kind of cool.

Revisiting Chrono Cross (Part 11)

I confess that at this point in the game, the narrative starts to get a little disjointed.  I know that Lynx wants to get to the Dead Sea because Harle has made some cryptic remarks about that being where he’ll find the answers he seeks, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why before we can go there we have to stop off in Marbule and sleep in an abandoned house.


Chrono Cross has lots of plot points that are really convoluted, but any time we set foot on either Fargo’s ship, I just feel like we’re jumping into something pointless in order to pad out the plot. (Image credit: Chronopedia)

No kidding, in order to advance the plot now, we have to go to this island that’s apparently abandoned and haunted, and sleep in one of the houses there on the advice of one of the local explorers.

Y’know, I don’t remember ever having this kind of trouble advancing the plot when I was playing through Final Fantasy VII.

Anyhow, in the middle of the night while Lynx and friends are crashing in the ghost town, Lynx is awoken by mysterious singing, which is coming from a mermaid who’s just kind of hanging out being all sad and mermaid-y.  She’s startled by Lynx and swims away, and the next morning everyone figures that maybe she went to the S.S. Zelbess, a cruise ship where most of the demi-humans from Marbule now work.

This leads into our second run in with Fargo, the man who was the leader of the pirates back in Another World.  Suffice it to say that whenever Fargo is involved in the goings on of the plot, it feels like a bunch of filler; the sequence revolving around the party getting stuck on the Zelbess after Fargo cheats them out of their boat is pretty tedious in a lot of ways, and it doesn’t even resolve the Marbule subplot at this point in the story.  We get a lot of soap opera antics where it’s revealed that Nikki, a glam rock star who has a contract to perform regularly on the Zelbess is also the son of Fargo and the sister of that mermaid that Lynx spotted in Marbule (apparently, Nikki represents the last best hope for reconciliation between humans and demi-humans, and he’s the only person with the potential to successfully sing the Song of Marbule, which will apparently exorcize all the ghost monsters).  There’s a bit in there where the party fights the Sage of Marbule, who’s essentially an almighty janitor (he fights with a pushbroom, and because he’s white innate, he hits hard against Lynx), but it’s kind of anticlimactic since the whole subplot comes to an abrupt halt after Nikki explains the plan to everyone, because the next step is getting Fargo to move his ship close to Marbule for the show.

Fortunately, the Sage gave Lynx a fiddler crab, which is what we needed to make our way into the Dead Sea.

As you can probably guess, I spent a good hour wandering around the Zelbess after it was time to leave because the only indication we get that we should move on is one throwaway hint from an NPC in Nikki’s dressing room (which is in the most out of the way place of the entire location) who says the Sage mentioned taking the fiddler crab to the Dead Sea before he took off.

There are some things about old JRPGs that are really nostalgic, but having to hunt for a single bit of NPC chatter that points me towards my next objective (when all of the story up to this point has been suggesting a different objective) is not one of them.

Recruited Party Members

Janice – This segment of the game carries with it a subtle emphasis that none of the local humans really trust Lynx, so most of his help comes from demi-humans whom he persuades to help him out.  Janice is one such demi-human, though she’s more or less completely oblivious to larger politics in El Nido, seeing as she’s a monster trainer who works in the arena in the depths of the Zelbess.  In order to get her to join you, you have to win three rounds against her trained monsters using your own stable; what monsters you have available to fight depends on what monsters Sprigg has learned to copy, so recruiting Janice at this point can be very easy or very difficult depending on how diligent you’ve been about making sure Sprigg learns new forms (I only regret that once Janice has been successfully recruited, you can’t do anymore monster fighting at the arena, because it’s kind of fun).  As a party member, Janice’s most notable characteristic is her weapon of choice: a carrot.

Sneff – Sneff plays a minor role in the Zelbess episode by turning the party into cats so that they can sneak around the ship and discover how Fargo cheats in his casino.  He’s a rather sad character who has a bit of a gambling problem and has accumulated a large debt to Fargo, although he’s eked out a decent life as a stage performer with a small group of friends whom he mentors.  Once Fargo’s dishonest tactics are uncovered, Sneff is able to win enough money from the casino to pay off his debt, and in gratitude, he offers to travel with the party whenever they need him.

Irenes – As the soap opera unfolds aboard the Zelbess, we learn that Fargo used to be married to a mermaid, whom he named his ship after.  She died tragically many years ago, and her death led to the estrangement of Fargo and her sister Irenes.  Because Irenes has never given up on saving Marbule in Home World, she pesters Fargo all the time, and with Nikki preparing to sing the big important song that will save the island, she decides to accompany Lynx.  Inexplicably, she has a pseudo-German accent and walks on dry land through jet bubble propulsion.  No, I don’t know where the bubbles come from.

Revisiting Chrono Cross (Part 10)

Following his escape from the dimensional vortex, Lynx finds himself back in Serge’s Home World.  A whole lot of stuff is about to open up to us to explore, and we’re about to learn more about the climate in El Nido in the world where Serge didn’t die.

In many ways, it’s not in great shape.

Much like in the Another World, Lynx has a pretty scary reputation, and most of the people that we encounter through this sequence express serious distrust of him.  Conversations with NPCs in Arni Village and Termina let us know that Lynx has been around for several years in this timeline (his appearance in Another World is relatively recent), and he used his influence with General Viper to undermine the defense of El Nido from the invading nation of Porre.  Also, Viper and the Acacia Dragoons all mysteriously disappeared several years ago, and Lynx has been missing for some time as well.

Given that we’re stuck in Lynx’s body for the foreseeable future, this provides a nice setup where the Home World, which we’ve been trying to return to for some time, feels much more alien than Another World, and the persistent antagonists up until Fort Dragonia, the Dragoons, suddenly become sympathetic (the Porrean army has instated martial law in El Nido, and outside of Arni Village everything has a much more somber, subdued feeling to it).  Perhaps even more confusing, because Lynx was acting as a double agent, the Porrean soldiers treat us with immense respect, so that the people who we would assume are our antagonists throughout this section of the game are actually quite helpful.

There’s a fair bit of wandering around after we get dumped into Home World, but eventually the disorientation passes and it becomes clear that Lynx’s next objective (after getting a boat) is going to visit the demi-human town of Marbule.  We’ll get into that entire diversion next time.

Recruited Party Members


Just remember: Radius doesn’t need that cane to get around. (Image credit: Chronopedia)

Radius – Arni Village’s elder, and the retired Acacia Dragoon whom we stopped to help in Another World when Harle burned down his house, comes along for the adventure after we deal with a case of mistaken identity (if it looks like a Lynx and walks like a Lynx…) that leads to a boss fight with the old man.  There isn’t much else to be said about him except that he’s one of only two characters that fights with a cane (the other is Sprigg), and that makes him pretty cool.

Zappa – We’ve encountered this blacksmith with the questionable (and inexplicable) Scottish accent in Termina in Another World, but his Home World variant has decided that with the Porre army moved in and the Dragoons all gone, he’s done with his smithy business.  The fact that Lynx is the person who apparently enable the Porre invasion doesn’t seem to concern him.  More important than the fact that he joins the party is the key item that he gives us, which lets us craft new weapons anytime we’re at a save point or on the world map.  Also, because he only has one good eye, his dialogue portrait is oddly asymmetrical, with the scarred eye inexplicably switching sides on his face depending on which side of the dialogue box his picture is placed.

Van – Van’s biggest defining feature is that he fights with a boomerang and so can attack multiple enemies at once (this is an odd JRPG convention that I’ve never fully understood, but we’ll go with it).  Besides that he’s just generally kind of sad, as in Home World he’s the son of a starving artist who just wants to be able to earn enough money for he and his father to live a comfortable life, and in Another World he’s the spoiled son of a rich merchant who’s bored with life.  At least Home World Van has enough pluck to go have an adventure with the scary cat man.

Norris – Because the only faction that is full of unmitigated jerks in this game are the dwarves, Norris is the obligatory Porrean officer who’s quite decent and wants to help Lynx out because he seems like he needs it.  Besides that I have nothing else to note about Norris.  He’s that boring.

Revisiting Chrono Cross (Part 9)

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 is not pleased with this turn of events. (Image credit: Chronopedia)

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).

Revisiting Chrono Cross (Part 8)

Alright, we’re finally going to tackle Mt. Pyre.  It’s… brief.  The high points here are that the party gets a tutorial on how to use summon elements (which are unnecessarily complicated most of the time; they can only be equipped by characters with a matching innate color, and can only be cast when the entire field matches the element color; naturally this means that in future boss battles where summons will be most useful, the conditions for using them will be extremely difficult to set up since most bosses like to screw with the field color in addition to beating up your party) and we get into a fight with a small dragon who carries around a spear like he owns the place.  There’s also a boss fight with the Acacia Dragoon Devas, who are friends of Glenn, and who chew him out for helping the fugitive Serge if he’s in your party (it’s kind of a nice character moment for Glenn, particularly given how rare development for anyone besides Serge and Kid is in the game’s central story).

And that’s it for Mt. Pyre.

It’s kind of anticlimactic after being forced into so many digressions when trying to follow Lynx and the Dragoons, but the next part makes up for that.

In the basin that’s nestled in the middle of the mountain range that Mt. Pyre belongs to, there’s an ancient fortress that looks pretty familiar.  This is the place that Serge dreamt about infiltrating with Kid back at the game’s start.  It’s called Fort Dragonia, and it’s a relic of the long dead civilization of Dragonians.  We don’t know much about them at this point other than they were in El Nido long before humans showed up, and they originated El Nido’s elder religion that’s centered around the six Dragon Gods (and because video game religions always involve a physical manifestation of their respective deities, we’ve already met one of the six Dragon Gods).  The purpose of Fort Dragonia is pretty mysterious, but it theoretically holds the secret to using the power of the Dragon’s Tear, so it’s up to Serge and friends to climb to the top so they can stop Lynx from whatever it is he’s trying to do, prophetic murder dreams be damned.


Fort Dragonia’s much bigger than it looks on the outside. (Image credit: Chronopedia)

You can guess that this does not go well.

Before we continue with the story, a quick note about the design of Fort Dragonia.  Compared to previous sections of the game, this is a really long dungeon.  Reaching the top involves unlocking six switches (one for each color element) in order to active the elevator that takes the party to their confrontation with Lynx.  Each switch is preceded by a small puzzle of some sort (nothing too difficult by console RPG standards, but a couple do require you to pay attention to some fun navigational mechanics), but just having a simple puzzle isn’t enough.  Remember that Chrono Cross‘s battle system is designed such that you can’t power level your characters, and boss fights are the only way to get stronger.  So what did the designers do with Fort Dragonia?  They put a boss in front of four of the switches you have to flip without giving you any warning that you’re walking into boss fights (the first time it happens is a little surprising, but after you get the pattern it’s easier to anticipate when you’re about to run into a fight).  This is the first dungeon where we run into this design element (there was a small taste on the Invincible with the back to back boss fights out of nowhere, but nothing like what’s coming in the future), and it’s not going away any time soon.  It’s probably Chrono Cross‘s biggest design flaw; the party needs to get stronger, but because only boss fights count for leveling up, every extended dungeon has to have at least a few bosses that serve no narrative purpose.  In a game that suffers from having some exceptionally long dungeons in its latter half, this is a major problem for maintaining narrative momentum.

Alright, so that wasn’t a quick note, but I think it helps illustrate my point about the boss fights.  They interrupt the flow of the story.

So Serge and friends arrive at the top of the tower where they face off first with General Viper (like the Devas, he has some choice words for Glenn) and then with Lynx (who finally betrays Viper by literally stabbing him in the back).  Now we’ve finally arrived at the moment that Serge saw in his dream.  I’ve done everything I can to try to avoid Kid’s involvement here; I avoided recruiting her for as long as I could, and I never put her in my party, but the game just doesn’t care about any of your precautions.  Fate says she’s going to be there for the confrontation with Lynx and Serge is going to stab her, so that’s what happens.

This is an interesting moment narratively because part of the early portion of the game’s appeal is the variety of choices that it offers you that have minor impacts on the story.  This scene is significant for setting up the game’s second act, and the player’s made to realize in no uncertain terms that their choices are just an illusion meant to ease them into the narrative that the game wants to tell.  Kid is there for Serge’s betrayal, and there’s nothing you can do about it, even though you’re playing Serge.

Of course, Serge’s vision of events was incomplete, and there’s more to the story than him simply stabbing Kid in the back and smiling over a blood-slicked knife.  At the top of Fort Dragonia, Lynx activates the Dragon’s Tear and swaps bodies with Serge.  We don’t yet know why he’s done this, but there’s a bit of palpable relief as we see that it’s not Serge at all who was destined to hurt Kid; it was Lynx.  Unfortunately, this realization is small comfort since Lynx makes use of the body swap to trick the party into attacking Serge-in-Lynx’s-body and then kicking him into a dimensional rift when he’s too weak to fight back.