Chrono Cross is a terrible RPG. This is an accepted truth by most people who have played it, and it seems likely that those few pitiable wretches who believe otherwise are a danger to themselves, their minds unable to distinguish between pleasure and horrible agony.
But what MAKES it such a legendary example of poor gaming? Well, the reasons are actually comparatively few, just very weighty. The first I may some day get into, but not today--the fact that the story is about as convoluted, nonsensical, stupid, jumbled, and poorly explained as is humanly possible. I mean, I guess I HAVE seen one RPG plot that was even more tangled and silly, which was the inexplicable, stupid insanity of Robotrek. But in Robotrek's favor, as unmanageable as its plot was, that game wasn't actually trying to pass itself off as particularly meaningful or deep. Chrono Cross you're actually supposed to take SERIOUSLY.
The second, and really only other, problem with Chrono Cross is its cast. Like I said, not very many problems...but those problems encompass pretty much everything that matters in an RPG. The problem with the characters I've delved into once before, in my Chrono Cross's Characters rant, but that rant only really told half the story of why CC's cast just didn't work. And to be sure, a major part of why it didn't function was covered there--namely, how stupid and inane the plot-significant characters were. But the other half of the equation for CC's suckitude lies with the accent system.
See, it's like this. Chrono Cross has a lot of party members in it. A huge lot. As in, over 40 individuals that can join the party exist in this game. That's pretty much the biggest cast you're gonna see in an RPG whose title doesn't start with "Suikoden." This cast's size makes me suspect that Squaresoft really just wanted to have a huge cast for the bragging rights, not because it thought it needed all or even half of the characters for any purpose of quality. The suspicion of mine that this development decision was about quantity rather than quality is supported substantially by the fact that CC's cast wound up including a Mexican wrestler, a bobble-head alien, a talking clown skeleton, and an anthropomorphic turnip. It's a little hard to buy that a story's thematic narrative couldn't have been properly achieved without a walking vegetable swinging a sword around.
So once Square has its cast of mermaids, cyborgs, mutants, beach bum doctors, pirates, and more, it is faced with the enormous task of making them actual characters, personalities instead of just brightly-colored chunks of meat to fill your party with. Trying to give them all their own stories and side quests that develop them is a method far too time-consuming and competent for the writers of Chrono Cross, so almost everyone's defining scenes of characterization in this game are extremely short and choppy, a hurried assurance by Squaresoft that they haven't totally forgotten that the character exists, who's more a momentary distraction from the game than a part of it.
But that's okay! Because, you see, Squaresoft still has its secret weapon for character development, the ultimate tool for setting their characters apart and giving them personality and depth! And that tool is...the Accent System! What is that, you ask, or maybe don't since you would know if you'd played Chrono Cross and you wouldn't be reading this rant if you hadn't? Why, the Accent System takes one line of dialogue and adds one of dozens of different accents to it to make it different! Need a party member to say something, but don't want to write different lines of dialogue for all 40+ possible members? The Accent System fixes this problem in a jiffy! Just write one single line, like, say, "Serge, you are very dull," and throw it into the Accent System, and you're all set! Is the weird alien Starky in the party? He'll say, "Seeeeerge is veeeeery duuuuuull." Is Poshul, the talking purple dog, there, instead? She'll say "Thergy-poo, you are very durr." What about that foreign cook guy, Orcha? He'll say, "Serge, CHA are very dull." Hence, the Accent System makes writing party reactions and dialogue easy, allowing for one set of script to account for the words of 40 characters!
Yeah. Here's the problem with that. An accent should NEVER be the defining characteristic of a character.* Not in RPGs, not in ANYTHING. If the only personality trait that distinguishes a cave girl, a boxing bartender, a revered military general, and a rock star from one another is HOW they say words, not WHAT words they say, then your failure as a writer has brought shame to yourself and every human being you've ever interacted with.
Characters' reactions during a game's course help to develop them in small, and sometimes even big, ways. Even if they share a similar reaction, never should 2 different people say the exact same thing. Because if the only difference between 2 characters is whether they'll say a single sentence with a French or Olde English accent, you don't HAVE 2 characters. You have 1 character that can just change bodies. Each individual personality on an RPG's team that you want to develop through interactions with a plot in motion needs to have their interactions be genuine for them, needs to have the dialogue and actions tailored for them, not the other way around.
You want an example of how it SHOULD be, let's take a look at a couple other games. For starters, Dragon Age 1. As you go through the game, the members of your party will at times react to what's happening and offer their advice and opinions to the protagonist. What they say, how they react, depends on who is there. If the protagonist chooses, for example, to spare an enemy's life, Leliana or Wynne will approve of the decision, and make their approval known. Morrigan or Sten, on the other hand, may disapprove of this mercy, and say so. Each one will react in a way that is characteristic of THAT individual, rather than just have a generic response that they all parrot with different inflections. This, as much as the private scenes and conversations of character development, develops the party members of Dragon Age 1 and makes them memorable, unique, and worthwhile. In addition, there are certain moments where one character may react to a situation while the other party members may not, simply because the situation has more relevance to that one character. There aren't just uniform places where the characters have to convey something, there are also places where only certain individuals will have something to share. This further cements the individual aspects of each character.
A lot of games do this. And, provided that the people writing the game are reasonably good at what they do, it works well. Come to think of it, I seem to recall one game in particular that had its cast members react to things and say stuff in ways appropriately tailored to them, where even if the script called for any companion to have the same reaction as the others would at that point, they still had their own way of expressing the uniform reaction, the dialogue made for them as individuals. Now what was the name of that game, again?
Oh, yeah. Chrono Trigger.
So it's not like Squaresoft didn't have an example at hand to follow on how to use their characters. They did. It was the game that Chrono Cross was a sequel to. But no, they decided it would be a great idea to write one character's dialogue and then use it for 43 different characters, with the hopes that the player might be fooled into thinking there was some difference between any of these 43 individuals by a few mild grammatical variations.
And hey, I realize that it would be a ridiculous amount of work to have to write an entire game's worth of dialogue for over 40 characters. I do. But you know what the solution to that problem is? DON'T HAVE SO DAMN MANY CHARACTERS. This game wouldn't have suffered from not having a fucking talking voodoo doll in your party. None of its narrative "quality" would have been lost without the addition of the half-man, half-mushroom. This game didn't by any stretch of the imagination need even half of its playable cast. The answer was NOT to find a way to do LESS work than ever by using Babel Fish to cover their asses.
* Not that Squaresoft hasn't tried to have it that way before. I mean, take away the pirate lingo and Final Fantasy 5's Faris is about as bland and uninteresting as...well, every other FF5 character.