Sunday, February 28, 2016

Chrono Cross's Time Shifter

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.

Well, almost.

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 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.


  1. I don't get why you're bored by the visual novel genre if gameplay is useles for you. Most RPGs are save the world affairs (which can still be varied) so you're limiting the types of stories you see. Ace Attorney gives you a lighthearted courtroom drama with inspiration from Agatha Chritie's novels, Ghost Trick's narrative escapes any obvious genre, 999 gives an interesting story that incorporates hardware into the plot as well as (or maybe even better than) Undertale and Steins; Gate is called superior to its anime counterpart (and its anime counterpart is commonly referred to as one of the best anime ever).

    But enough about my rambling.

    I think most o the time playing RPGs is alleviated if you use emulators since you can fast forward and use cheats (you can use cheat codes with devices like 3DS Powersave, but no fastforward). Cheat Engine for PC lets you speed programs up to be twice as fast as well.

    1. I get the sneaking suspicion that you're a person I've spoken with in the past about various subjects. Well, you're probably right and I need to give visual novel games another go. But I don't know when exactly that's going to happen with as many RPGs out there as there are, and my having no time as it is to play them thanks to student teaching. Turns out being a teacher is a pretty time-intensive job. Who knew.

      Yes, I have made frequent (constant, really) use of ZSNES's fast forward button, and similar features on other emulators. Extremely handy things. But I appreciate the Time Shifter on a higher level, because it's not just a feature of the program running the game, but the game itself.

  2. I bought Chrono Cross once. I played it for 30 minutes before I put down the co troller and ejected the disc from my playstation. I never played it again. I didn't like the battle system. That put me off.

    But i DID love the music to its opening sequence. (Scars of Time). I believe it's one good thing about the game! Opening sequences usually set the tone for the the game (like the wild arms 1-3, or suikoden 2-3, arc the lad 1-3, legend of mana, persona 2: IS & EP).

    But with chrono cross... ah never mind.

    If emulators weren't invented, i believe this would have been a great feature for any rpg

    1. Well, okay, I suppose the music in CC was also pretty damned good at times. Definitely not always, but it did have its moments, and you're right that the opening was one of them.

  3. Bravely Default/Second have a fast forward feature that can be used from the beginning, and goes up to 4x. This speed up also skips all summon animations. This compresses nearly all action phases into less than five seconds.

    It's pretty sexy stuff.

    1. Damn. I could almost lift my ban on SquareEnix for something like that.

  4. Chrono Cross is unironically one of my favorite games ever, but I do agree with every complaint you have. But I suppose whereas you enjoy storytelling above all in the RPG genre, my most desirable trait is atmosphere and the feeling of exploration.

    Chrono Cross has an INSANE amount of atmosphere. I know that from a storytelling perspective the Accent System is frustrating and makes the game's plot as wide as an ocean but as deep as a puddle, but from the perspective of a couple of tangent realities in a crumbling timeline that is destined and bound to fail. The huge cast and (almost) identical dialogue is symbolic of how futile the quest really is. Defeating Lavos rewards you with one of the worst endings in an RPG ever, a live action video of someone in Kid cosplay wandering through the streets of Tokyo. But this horrible reward is also symbolic, symbolic of the altered reality being righted. You've essentially saved reality at large from a timeline where Crono and the gang failed to stop Lavos in 1999. Radical Dreamers is another alternate timeline running concurrent to Chrono Cross, and is much better in the story department but rather lacking in atmosphere (it is essentially a text-based visual novel with some light RPG mechanics).

    I can concede that the plot and the way it's presented is largely nonsensical, cliche, and tiresome. But the environments that plot propels you to explore are so varied and attractive to the eye (even by modern standards!) that it's a game I find myself coming back to over and over again, regardless of its faults. Add to that the always acceptable and sometimes incredible soundtrack (glad to see we're in agreement there!) and I just can't help but love Chrono Cross.

    I can accept the lack of characterization of party members when I consider them as pawns in an inevitability, and the fact that most of the unique NPC dialogue in the game happens when you're on the path to the best ending seems to support this concept. The two universes in the shattered timeline are the real characters, echoes of a failure that should hit close to home to Chrono Trigger fans.

    It seems that I've gone on my own little rant right here in the comments! I just found your blog earlier today and I'm going to continue reading it. I enjoy what you've got going on here and your writing style is refreshing amongst most editorials about gaming available. You dislike some of the RPGs I hold dearest (specifically Chrono Cross and the Dragon Quest series) but I also agree with most of your grievances and love them for different reasons, so I appreciate the honest analysis.

    1. Well...I guess I can't deny that Chrono Cross did sell its atmosphere pretty darned well most of the time. I suppose that relates most strongly to the usually great soundtrack, which goes above and beyond at selling an atmosphere. The visuals and detail do their share, too, though.

      I think the idea of the crappier aspects of the game being symbolic is interesting, perhaps even a perspective I will adopt myself, but it shan't change my opinion of the game. Even if the low quality had been intentional (and it certainly wasn't), that doesn't really change anything; it still sucks.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment, and welcome to the blog! I hope you'll enjoy reading. It's always refreshing to come across someone who holds different opinions than mine, but has thought them through and can defend them to a similar degree. I look forward to reading more of your responses.