I have not been especially ambiguous regarding my feelings on Chrono Cross. Whether you look at it as an RPG in its own right or as a sequel to Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross is crap, through and through. There is just nothing good I can say about this game, no single characteristic or feature that can be praised.
In the approaching 10 year history of this rant blog, this is a momentous occasion, because today’s rant is the first time, and unless I’m very much mistaken also the last time, you will hear me say something positive about this game. Yet there is, in fact, 1 feature to Chrono Cross that is laudable. Can you guess which it is?
...If you guessed “the accent system,” I will find you and I will murder you in your sleep.
The answer is the Time Shifter, an oft-forgotten little doohickey that Chrono Cross awards to you after you’ve hated yourself long and hard enough to actually finish the game and start a New Game+. The premise of this key item is simple: with the Time Shifter, you can slow down the game (don’t bother; much like an obnoxious American speaking to a non-English speaker, going slower will not make the garbled mess that is Chrono Cross any more comprehensible) by holding the L2 button, and speed up the game by holding the R2 button.
This is a goddamn fantastic idea.
Let’s get the obligatory joke out of the way up front: blah blah great idea because the faster you can get through this shitty game the better. With that out of the way, though, I have to say, this would be a terrific feature for ANY RPG, if implemented the exact same way.
Look, you know my feelings on RPGs. I’m there for the story, the dialogue, the themes, the emotions, the characters, the humanity, the humor, the drama...you know, all the art of storytelling. To me, the battles, the stat and item management, the puzzles, the exploration, those are almost always just necessary evils I put up with to get to the good stuff.* I’ll tolerate all the time-wasting filler that stretches a 7 - 10 hour story into a 40 - 50 hour game to see a story and its characters through to the end, but the biggest reason I rarely replay an RPG, even a great one, is because it’s too much of a damn time sink to justify seeing the same story a second time, even considering how great that story may be. It’s part of why I so greatly appreciate the idea of your standard New Game+ feature--being able to replay a game with my endgame-leveled characters means cutting a hell of a lot of hours out of the process just for the fact that the fights are that much faster and there’s no need for level-grinding.
So just look at how great a Time Shifter would be as a feature in any other RPG! Any RPG with multiple endings, at the very least, should have such a thing, a device that can let the player fast-forward every battle and go zooming from 1 area to the next as they revisit the game to get its full experience. But even entirely linear RPGs with a single plot path and ending would still benefit to have a device like this for subsequent playthroughs, because it would still up the replay value considerably. If you’ve created an especially excellent story, people WILL want to experience it more than once, so it makes sense to make the process smoother for them.
There’s not much about Chrono Cross that wasn’t awful or intensely uninteresting, but the Time Shifter, at least, was a really good idea in game design, particularly for this story-driven genre, and I really wish it were a standard for the genre, or at least a common element like New Game+ is. Being able to speed up all the game’s filler would make it much more convenient to see an RPG’s multiple paths, it’d make it a lot easier for me to show great games to others, and it’d give the deranged developers of Chrono Cross something they could point to and say, “We actually did contribute something positive to the industry, see?”
* Almost, but not always. Sometimes the exploration of dungeons and other locations can be a subtle part of the storytelling process. A lot of the exploration in the Fallout series, for example, heightens the detail and lore of the game’s setting, which ties to the series’s signature examination of Americana, and I eat that shit up. Likewise, there are some occasions where the battles are tied strongly to the plot’s events and/or characters’ development (like, say, Zidane’s walk of angry existential crisis on Terra in Final Fantasy 9, or most final boss battles), and so are a worthwhile part of the storytelling process. And then there’s Undertale, where the whole battle system is a significant factor in the story and messages of the game.
But, y’know, the other 99.3% of the time, it’s just pointless filler.