The Chrono Series and its Compromise with Time.
Time has a way of wearing at things. Even the pyramids of Giza broadcast the effects of time to all that gaze upon their massive form. Time, unfortunately for gamers, does the same to the great videogame series of history. For example, the Ogre Battle series, once considered the creme de la creme, is now in decline on the three dimensional platforms. The Tomb Raider series; one of the modern classics of our time, is now stagnant because of a lack of innovation. The same problem plagues the Resident Evil line. And then we come to Final Fantasy. The greatest RPG series of all time willingly abandoned its roots when in entered the third dimension, and the result was Final Fantasy VII. The title's aesthetics were, of course, amazing, but the eye-candy came at a heavy price. The plot was lacking, and the characters weren't even close to the cast of its direct predecessor; the cast that burned Terra, Edgar, Sabin and Celes into the minds and hearts of gamers everywhere. And on top of all this, number seven was easier, presumably to attract new gamers to the genre. But after all that, after all the changes videogaming went through with the thirty-two and sixty-four bit systems, one classic RPG series has clung to its roots, while still allowing its branches to sway in the winds of change (Sophocles would have been proud). This series, is of course, the Chrono line. Where will this memorable series go in the future, and what was the impact of its past? The Chrono series has done plenty to our view of time, now I'd like to examine what time will do to the series itself.
The first installment in the Chrono series was a title that was immensely popular among RPG veterans, and undoubtedly brought many new players into the genre as well. Chrono Trigger drew praise from the most cynical of gaming critics to the average game player, and that praise was well deserved. There was no question as to the game's greatness. The title featured incredible aesthetics for a sixteen-bit RPG, boasting music still unmatched to this day. Never have I gotten so excited about playing an RPG than that early morning when I heard Glenn's theme for the first time, and never have I heard a song in an RPG that matches a character's persona so ideally as the theme of Janus. The ode to the black wind continues to send a chill down my spine to this day. The aesthetics featured detail never seen before in a videogame, period. Lush, stunning backdrops and picturesque sunsets that look as though they could have come straight out of the renaissance were commonplace in the title. The gameplay was exciting; boasting puzzles to be solved that challenged the mind, and battles to be won that tested the nerves. The puzzles were of course brilliant, but the battle system was what really shined in Chrono Trigger. Never before, and never since, has a console RPG featured that type of simplicity in its battle system. The technique system could be described as the perfect circle. The system was so brilliant and so difficult to master, yet so simple in design and lenient for the beginner. Each and every part of the battle system was so well thought out, the gamer needed not even mind the system after a while; for it became second nature. Strategy, interaction, and innovation; the three key components of an RPG's battle system were all present. The storyline featured an incredible amount of depth for the relatively limited number of gameplay-hours, or for any RPG, for that matter. The writers and scenarists of the game worked tirelessly to incorporate references and parallels to the bible in the game's plot and characters. Chrono Trigger was one of the first games ever to try to teach genuine lessons through its story, and this valiant effort should never be forgotten. The rarity of the effort put into Chrono Trigger simply doesn't dawn on everybody, but this title truly was a special game. The game exhibited not only gushing proportions of quality, but also an equal amount of historical significance. This title was the game that proved to Squaresoft that RPGs didn't have to be sixty-hour operas in order to achieve greatness. Chrono Trigger was about twenty-five hours long, and showed Square that all a game needed to be was meaningful in order to stand on the upper-echelon of great titles. Also, this RPG leveled the notion that console RPGs needed to be cold, frigid, and serious. This title was one of the first to poke some fun at traditional RPG gaming, while still retaining a meaningful plot. The game was one of the first titles to incorporate some humor into the storyline. Then, when the series made the jump into the third dimension, the playing field was changed.
Squaresoft had made attempts at 3D RPGs before, and highly publicized ones at that. Final Fantasies VII and VIII were perhaps the most hyped videogames in the history of the industry because of all of the eye-candy Squaresoft crammed into the two titles. They were touted as "the greatest of all time" while the pre-orders were still being estimated. My, what a mistake we made. These two titles turned out to be a letdown to the name of Final Fantasy, which was previously a harbinger of not only quality, but also greatness. The two games were responsible for the loss of some credibility in the minds of many die-hard gamers, but Squaresoft would soon do some damage control with the sequel to the greatest Final Fantasy game that never was. The game, of course, was Chrono Cross, and the reasons for its greatness were innumerable. For starters, the game was of pure gaming pedigree. The sequel to one of the greatest RPGs of all time, developed by Squaresoft and supported by the premium console of the time, Chrono Cross was hyped from the start. You were Serge, and your fate was to defy fate. The ultimate paradox summed up in a videogame. As I mentioned before, with this title the series would hold on to what made the original great, while still changing with the times. This attitude from the developers of Chrono Cross would produce the greatest RPG ever to be released on Playstation, or any three-dimensional platform, for that matter. We can talk about the aesthetics in Chrono Cross if you wish, but that really isn't the issue. Just for emphasis though, I'll say this: the visuals were incredible; with the greatest examples of natural beauty ever found in a video game, the sound effects are up to par, and the music is the best ever heard on the Playstation, period. That should suffice for all those graphic junkies out there, but now it's time to get to what really matters. First off, the gameplay was challenging. This used to be a standard component in any Squaresoft title, but with the release of FFVII and VIII, that all changed. In Chrono Cross however, the challenge was all there. The puzzles are even more present in this installment of the series than the original, and the battle system does not break the tradition of Chrono Cross' predecessor. The element system is complex, yet simple enough for any beginner to pick up. And what's more, this battle system is the first to inspire true strategic fighting in a Squaresoft title in years. The storyline continues on the original's plotline, and answers lingering questions Chrono Trigger left over for gamers to salivate over while the sequel was in development. What happened to Schala? What was to become of Lavos? All answered in detail. The game also creates mysteries of its own. I'm sure you all remember the time crash in Chronopolis. The inhabitants of that structure and the true purpose and meaning behind the structure itself were great mysteries of the series to be sure. The game featured a staggering forty-five characters, all of which were well developed. This was an incredible feat, considering not all of the handful of characters in Final Fantasy VIII were developed that well. The storyline is still brilliant, the writing is still fantastic, the gameplay magnificent, and the aesthetics on the cutting edge of current hardware. What more could any gamer possibly ask for? I consider this videogame one of the most influential of all time. Chrono Cross is the apex of the three dimensional RPG. Gamers knew this game would come, and when it finally did, it surely dropped some jaws. Gamers who were introduced to console RPGs with the latest Final Fantasy games finally got a taste of what a real RPG was. This title, in my opinion, was the one that proved to Squaresoft that they didn't need all the eye-candy in games to achieve megahit status. The game proved that quality was still rewarded in the industry, which had taken a turn for the worse in recent titles. Chrono Cross is the creme de la creme of the thirty-two-bit RPG.
So now that we're all caught up on the history of the series, it's time to move in the opposite direction. Where will the series go in the future? What is in store for this classic series years down the road? Will there be future installments of the Chrono line? Here's my take. Perhaps the biggest hurdle the series must overcome if it wishes to achieve longevity is its own storyline. The plot thread of the Chrono series is incredibly complex, making writing and creating future scenarios and characters all the more difficult. However, the real concern on this topic is that since the story is so grandiose, many gamers may be tired of the series sooner than I'd like to believe. The Chrono games do tend to resolve issues very well, but on the other hand, they do leave questions lingering for gamers to bat around, in the same fashion a hungry caged lion would fantasize about the savory steak he eyes on the other side of the bars. In my opinion, the Chrono series very well may get tiring within a few installments, hence the problem with building a series on the foundation of a continuing storyline. In all fairness, however, this theory has put Chrono Trigger on the fast track to greatness. Most RPG series aim to become popular with gamers within three installments, while the Chrono series achieved greatness with one; and immortality with two. Quite the achievement, but this kind of plot line could never survive for the amount of time that a series like Final Fantasy has. Another question plaguing the series is will it finally surpass the Final Fantasy line in terms of greatness, and will the series have enough installments to do so? The Chrono series clearly has had one of the most meteoric rises of any game series in history. Add to this, the Final Fantasy series has been around twelve years, and some would consider the series to be on the decline (debatable with the fast coming arrival of FFIX). Will the Chrono line eventually surpass its rival of the same company in the hearts of gamers everywhere? That all depends on the amount of quality sequels Squaresoft can cram into the 'fate defying, reality saving' theme. Once again, the whole storyline of the Chrono series is undoubtedly very difficult to write for, so giving you a magic number as to this would be difficult. In my opinion, if Squaresoft's brilliant team can insert two more games, which exhibit the greatness of their predecessors, then this series will be considered the finer of the two in years to come. This will be so, because no other series in history has a storyline with the kind of depth exhibited in the Chrono series. The meaning is true and sincere, and the absolute toil and meticulous effort put into the story of this series of games is amazing. However, as mentioned, the game's largest threat to the top of the RPG heap is its own storyline, because it's impossible to expect that the Chrono Series will have the kind of longevity of Final Fantasy. I don't think the series will be around twelve years. However, this will probably be all the series needs to convince critics and gamers alike that the Chrono series is a brilliant work of not just electronic gaming, but entertainment in general.
There it is folks. The Chrono series will flower beyond even the greatness it broadcasts today, and if given the time, will grow into something far greater than any series of videogaming we've ever experienced. The Chrono series should be considered on an equal plane with the Final Fantasy series in the eyes of history and gamers alike, so why does it continually take a back seat to Square's master series? It's not right, and the Chrono games are certainly masterpieces of electronic entertainment. Works of art, which teach lessons most novelists wouldn't know how to approach. So when we think of 'RPG,' why do we think of Final Fantasy? The answer is longevity. How ironic that the one thing standing in the way of the series' path to the top of the mountain is the one thing the series oozes; time.
10/22/2000 Bryan Keers