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 lard pirates dawt cawm  §  Chrono Cross in a Nutshell / by Spoony Spoonicus
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 ~Spoony Spoonicus on 02:18am 02/24/13 (02:33pm 02/26/10) in 1d9h53m41s  §  5420 eyeballs
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 Bustin' down plots like the T pities fools.
 anchors: none.
At least George Lucas can rest assured he's no longer the only person to ruin a classic piece of popular culture by doing everything wrong in the sequel...

Serge: I have an exciting and wonderful life in this fishing village, and I prove it by fighting the same two monsters over and over for days on end!
Leena: I'm here to partake in idle chatter, which unknown to you will affect whether or not you get an important item later in the game!
Serge: Yeah. Hey Square, next time you make a game, can you at least give some kind of clue as to what seemingly inconsequential things will have an impact on later events? And not AFTER the fact, like you do with a very important puzzle later on?

Seconds after Leena leaves, Serge gets sucked into an episode of Star Trek

Serge: All of a sudden, nobody recognizes me and everything I know is completely turned upside-down. It'd be kind of freaky if that long cinematic you watched a minute ago didn't immediately clue you in that something wasn't right.
Other Leena: You can't be Serge. Serge died ten years ago.
Serge: That's the big replacement for the time travel mechanic, huh? A parallel universe plot?
Other Leena: Yep. Everything is exactly the same except for you still being alive in the other universe.
Serge: Which somehow drastically changes the destinies of a bunch of people I've never even met.
Other Leena: You got it.
Serge: *Sigh* At least it's a better dynamic than Star Ocean 2's "choice of two protagonists with unique stories... who meet ten minutes in and never seperate for more than three minutes in the entire game".

Serge, feeling like depressing himself even further, decides to visit Other Serge's grave and gets attacked by some painfully unfunny dickweed soldiers. Thankfully, a thirteen year old girl comes to his rescue! Yeah, it doesn't sound all that intimidating, but remember, this is a Square game - a preteen with a butter knife is somehow a far better fighter than three trained, middle-aged soldiers wielding axes and spears.

Teenage Fanboy Sex Symbol Kid: Obligatory Cute Girl who never does anything, nice to meet you! ...Actually, that title could probably be applied to the entire female contingent of the cast, but we won't get into that just yet.

You're given the option of going with Kid or finding your own path, which has absolutely no lasting impact since you'll meet again in the next town and she'll force herself into your party regardless. I shoudl also note that she somehow does less overall damage with a dagger than Other Leena does with a wooden spoon. Pretty sad for one of the main characters in the overall storyline!

Kid: Come on, let's go get the Frozen Flame!
Serge: Okay. Do you have a way to get in?
Kid: No, I'm leaving that up to you.
Serge: Your big plan is to find some random person you've never met before, let them know you're planning something illegal and very dangerous, and then leave it to THEM to arrange the whole heist?
Kid: Pretty much.
Serge: I'd berate you for this, but you're obviously thirteen years old and a bit retarded, so I'd feel bad about it later.

You have the choice of being escorted there by the singer of a particularly bad glam rock band from the 80s, an extremely fruity swordsman who happens to be the worst character in the entire game, or a cool-looking magician guy. I think the choice is pretty clear.

Serge: Are you... Magus?
Guile: No. Well, kind of; I was supposed to be, but they just changed my name when they couldn't find a way to fit Magus into the plot.
Serge: You're telling me that Chrono Trigger's sequel, which revolves entirely around Schala and Lavos - two characters Magus spent the entire game obsessed with rescuing and killing respectively - couldn't even find a place to fit Magus into the story, even in a bit role?
Guile: Yep.
Serge: ...Simply stunning.

Spoony: There's also a knight character named Glenn (who has absolutely no connection to Frog) and a cave-girl named Leah (who looks similar to - but has no confirmable connection with - Ayla). Oh, and don't forget "Luccia", a scientist character who has a name almost identical to Lucca and even looks somewhat similar but once again has no confirmable connection. Why make so many copycat characters for the sequel if you're not going to link them together in any meaningful way?!

They sneak into a heavily guarded palace. The guards, being dumb as rocks and such heavy sleepers that they don't hear pitched battles taking place one room over, are easily evaded or dispatched. Halfway through we meet Balthasar, who exposits a huge chunk of plot all at once.

Spoony: Why he doesn't simply tell you that everything you've done so far - and in fact, nearly everything you will do for the remainder of the game - is all part of a master plan of his is a very baffling mystery, but I'll get into that later.

Moving on...

Lynx: ROAR, the Frozen Flame is not yours to take. Beware my furry rage and pretentious flowery speeches!

Apparently Kid's info was a bit off (big surprise) and you're forced to flee the castle with nothing to show for your effort. How? By falling hundreds of feet straight down into icy water at the base of a rocky cliff side and sustaining no noticeable damage, of course! The oldest and silliest of Square cliches!

Kid: Oh shit, Lynx poisoned me and now I'm dying.
Doc: The only thing that can cure this poison is Hydra Humour, which comes from the now-extinct Hydra!
Kid: Also, here's a magic amulet that lets you go back to your home dimension. Gee, I wonder if any Hydras might still be alive there (wink wink nudge nudge).
Serge: Uh... okay. I'll go there then.

We'll get right on that, but first: Some more exposition from the village chief. This once again takes a dive into Pretentiousville as she lifts lines wholesale from Nietzsche, just changing a word or two to fit in with the mythology of this universe. Real subtle.

Spoony: As a wise man once said, "If you quote Nietzsche, you're an asshole. No exceptions."

Once we're back in our own world, we head to the Hydra Swamp, where the Dwarves accuse us of being Satan and pillaging the planet of its natural resources (something which is not backed up by any compelling evidence in the game - this is still a very lush and vegetative island chain where beings of nature are very obviously the dominant force). So we kill the Hydra, learn that it has live children within it (so it is NOT the last of its kind as the dwarves imply) and get the Hydra Humour. Which it turns out you don't even need in the first place, since Kid has Deus ex Machina powers that magically save her from the brink of death any time she needs it. Yes, seriously. She even outright admits this when you return.

If you take the other path you return Kid's amulet - trapping you in the other world for the time being - and you venture to the swamp anyway, where you witness some unnamed NPCs kill the last Hydra. No matter which choice you pick, the Dwarves flee the area and launch a genocidal campaign against the faerie race to take over their homeland, so you end up wiping them out regardless. Oh, and they use TANKS to do this, so their whole environmentalist humans-are-evil-and-destroy-the-earth-for-personal-gain prattle is complete and utter hypocrisy. In spite of this, the Fairies are totally ungrateful for the fact that you've saved their lives and blame you for the destruction of their home. Despite the fact that the dwarves were clearly just genocidal assholes looking for any excuse to exterminate the fairy race in the name of personal gain.

(On the "save kid" path you recruit Razzly the fairy and the scene plays out somewhat differently, but the fairies as a whole still accuse you of being Satan incarnate and you and Razzly are both banished from their homeland forever. Thanks a pant-load.)

Spoony: You know, I really fucking hate when video games, sitcoms or Hollywood movies - media created for the sole purpose of entertainment - starts preaching the writer's personal politics to me. Granted, I also worry about the environment because I don't want to live in a polluted shithole, but there are far better ways to support your message than to have your fans get chewed out by a bunch of fictional doe-eyed fae creatures for something your character ultimately has no control over. Like - and I'm just throwing this out there - donating some of the profits from your game sales to reputable green organizations. As is, this entire message is just heavy-handed and egotistical.

After another self-indulgent scene from Kid (because I didn't dislike this game enough already, apparently), you take another whack at Lynx in the dragon-themed tower from the opening sequence. He's kind of a douche, because unlike 99% of all RPG villains he's smart enough to target your weakest party members and use spells they're weak against.

Lynx: Time to swap bodies with the hero like in so many corny 90's cartoons!
Serge as Lynx: Uh... oh shit. Waiit guys, don't kill me! It's a tri--

Kid gets stabbed in the gut, Serge gets beaten to a pulp by his own party members, and then he gets tossed into a Van Gogh painting. The rest of your party has absolutely no comment and makes no effort to stop this despite witnessing everything - they just kind of go home and back to their normal lives, as if your mission was a success and they were no longer needed. This also means that you have to start from square one and recruit new party members all over again. Yeah, thanks a lot, guys!

So why didn't Lynx just kill you seeing as a) he's shown no qualms toward killing people he no longer has any use for and b) you were quite clearly soundly defeated and entirely at his mercy? Because he's a moron, of course!

Spoony: What's the term for this kind of story? Oh, yeah. Idiot Plot. As in, a plot that only works because all the characters are idiots.

Inside the Van Gogh world, we meet up with annoying recurring miniboss Harle again.

Harle: I speak in zis annoying French accent, and everyzing I say is cryptique. Yet for some reason I betrayed zhe real Lynx and am helping you instead.
Serge as Lynx: Mmkay... so our villains so far include a nine year old girl with a yarn ball (who, like Kid, puts the trained soldiers wielding BATTLE AXES, SPEARS AND SWORDS to shame in terms of overall damage), a body-swapping furry and a French Harley Quinn. You're really going with that, huh?
Harle: Yep.
Serge as Lynx: Is it fair to say that this is the point where the Chrono franchise officially jumped the shark?
Harle: If you think zat's bad, just wait until we get to ze big plot twist!

An annoying puzzle or two later (including more pretentious dialog and art plagiarism, as one room closely resembles an MC Escher painting), they escape back to Serge's reality.

Spoony: Look, I know the Matrix was a popular movie at the time, but did you ever actually sit down and think about the universe it established? Because it was a badly-written, corny mess hiding all of its glaring plot holes and bland characterizations behind over-the-top special effects and "deep" philosophical babble, and it's aged absolutely terribly as a result. Much like this game! To say nothing of the several other franchises that followed in its wake by using trite symbolism and philosophical themes to push a mediocre plot, poor acting and dull gameplay (Silent Hill and Final Fantasy X to name a couple).

Serge is now understandably disliked, being trapped in the form of the main villain and all. After a few more well-placed beatings, he convinces his village elder to help him out of this jam and they set off to find a boat. This, not surprisingly, requires battling your way through three or four dungeons and several bosses.

Many, many filler scenes later...

Serge as Lynx: Okay, now we're at a big frozen ocean called the "Dead Sea". Creative name there, by the way. Well, at least the imagery of a destroyed futuristic city within a frozen tidal wave is pretty awesome.
Miguel: Oh, hi. I'm your dad's old buddy, remember me? It's time to wax poetic about life and death in another bid to make this game sound smarter than it really is.
Serge as Lynx: Goodie. We haven't seen enough of that yet!
Miguel: Oh, and it turns out I'm a slave to the big bad guy now, so we must also fight to the death!

Miguel is, surprisingly, one of the hardest f'ing battles in the entire game. From square one he goes all out with ultra-powerful light spells (sometimes several in a row!) and lays waste to your party. Especially Serge; being in Lynx's body, he is now WEAK against light spells. After several tries and a lot of profanity you finally get him, causing time to un-freeze and finally letting you go back to the parallel dimension to continue the plot.

Spoony: At this point, I would like to mention something to future would-be developers: you're usually better off making a shorter, but solidly-written game than padding your story out with several hours of junk quests while the plot comes to a screeching halt. Take a look at the original Metal Gear Solid or Max Payne 1 and 2 for good examples of short, but well-told stories.

Sadly, the game doesn't take my advice. In fact, we've barely even scratched the surface on pointless filler in Chrono Cross!

They set off for the other world's equivalent of the Dead Sea, learning along the way that "Serge" (Lynx) has declared outright war on the entire island chain and his shadowy cat-minions are everywhere (why? He's got everything he needs to take control of a computer THAT CONTROLS THE ENTIRE DESTINY OF HUMANITY. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO NEED TO LAUNCH A TERROR CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE ISLANDS). Other World's equivalent is a non-destroyed futuristic city called "Timeopolis", thrown into the present era by something called the "Time Crash".

Spoony: Oh, so time is like Windows 98 with the Service Packs installed. In that it's a complete clusterfuck that crashes constantly for no real reason, conflicts violently with every piece of hardware known to man, and makes up new rules as it goes. ...Suddenly this plot makes more sense!

At some point, you finally catch up to Lynx and Kid, who is apparently traveling with him despite that whole knife-in-the-gut business. Apparently she's even dumber than you were first led to believe! (Alright, so she's probably being mind-controlled or something. It's still dumb.)

Also, Lynx in your body has now become pale, red-eyed and generally nasty looking, like Emperor Palpatine after Mace Windu melts his face off (and also somehow radically alters his eye color and gives him a bad case of gingivitis...). Oh, and he's also traded in the outfit for a black leather suit and a skullcap (which literally has a skull on it) just to make it that much more hammy.

Spoony: You know, we already firmly established that he's a bad guy from his actions up to this point. We didn't need the dopey wardrobe change and Dick Tracy style physical deformities on top of everything else. Also, if he hadn't wasted all that time launching a war campaign against the islands, he could have easily taken back control of FATE and Chronopolis by now and we would literally be powerless to stop him. Way to go, dumbass!

After a lot MORE filler scenes, mostly involving meeting all of the mostly-superfluous-until-this-point Dragons and getting some magical tchotchke from each of them, you finally return Serge to his original form.

Serge: About time. Lynx's skills and weakness to Light spells (which every single boss seems to use in abundance) sure aren't doing me any favors.

With all of THAT done, you're finally able to gain access to Timeopolis. Prepare for another huge dump of pretentious twaddle and exposition!

Lynx: (Deep breath) Ten years ago, I was your father, who took you on a seaward trip in search of a cure to your poisoning after you got bitten by a panther demon. We came across this city, and by some conveniently-timed weather phenomena the computer system FATE (very subtle name, eh?), a computer from a parallel dimension tasked with controlling the destiny of all of humanity via the Frozen Flame, had shut down. When you came in contact with the Frozen Flame it not only healed you, but Chronopolis' circuits attuned the Flame to you so that nobody else could use it. So FATE put me under mind-control, turning me into a manifestation of your worst fear and sent me to kill you hoping that would allow it to access the Flame again. It didn't, so FATE concocted some doofy scheme involving swapping bodies with the other you from a parallel world to take another shot at it. It apparently worked and I have no real reason to try to kill you now that I'm literally three steps away from having humanity under my thumb forever, but I'm going to do it anyway!
Serge: ...That is, without a doubt, the DUMBEST thing I have ever heard. What kind of stupid computer system uses a biological component as a key, especially in a world full of magic capable of body-swapping and cloning people? What kind of computer tasked with controlling the fate of ALL OF HUMANITY doesn't have some manner of auxiliary power, magnetic shielding or data backup? And even if a magnetic storm did cause all of this, why not just recreate it so you can knock the system offline again and reset it to yourself the second time around? Seems like that would be a lot easier to do than tearing a hole in the fucking space-time continuum.
Lynx: If you think that's bad, just wait until you see what the Prophet of Time has waiting for you later. Anyway, FIGHT!
Prometheus Robo: Oh hi Serge, I'm here to make a very brief cameo and get killed off five seconds later. Bye!
Serge: Classy way to treat a fan favorite character, Square. Really classy.

Lynx, despite going through ALL THAT TROUBLE to get a duplicate of your body so he could regain access to the Frozen Flame, ditches it and turns into some ugly monstrosity. He's another tricky boss to fight, but with the right party members he's not too bad. You're better off fighting him than Miguel, at least.

We now learn that Kid has become mopey and depressed, destroying the machine housing the Frozen Flame in some attempt to bring the world to an end so she doesn't have to suffer anymore. Funny, she seemed perfectly cheery and upbeat before this scene, the only indication of her "dark past" being a brief bit of dialog from hours earlier in the game. I guess you could argue that she was being manipulated by Lavos or Lynx drudged up dark memories or something, but it's never really given a satisfying explanation in the game itself.

Spoony: I really don't get it. This was written by Masato Kato, whose previous works include the Ninja Gaiden trilogy, Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII - all games which had some really cool, thought-provoking storylines, great action scenes and fun characters. He's definitely proven that he can spin a fun tale. So what the hell happened here? Chrono Cross is little more than a collage of walls and walls of self-indulgent philosophical bullshit, painfully generic characters and scenarios, and plot holes you could drive a bus through. It's painful to watch a decent writer get high on his success, become full of himself and churn out something this pretentious and bad. Well, at least he learned from his mistake and went on to do Baten Kaitos, I suppose.

Dragons: SURPRISE, we were playing you for a sap all along! Now we shall take the Frozen Flame and become the Dragon God once again!
Serge: The what now?
Dragons: When Chronopolis went back in time, it drew part of a parallel world where the Reptites became the planet's dominant species into our world, and with it came the Dragon God, their ultimate creation capable of controlling nature itself. FATE defeated the Dragon God, split it into the seven Dragons, and now we've just been waiting for our chance to wrest the Frozen Flame from FATE's hands so that we can become whole again and conquer the world!
Serge: And they didn't just KILL the seven dragons when they had the chance because...?
Dragons: Because they're idiots, of course!
Serge: I take back what I said about the whole FATE and Arbiter of the Frozen Flame business, this is even worse.
Dragons: If you think that's bad, you haven't seen anything yet!
Serge: So I've heard.

Harle: Oh yes, I am zhe seventh Dragon. So long!
Serge: ...And you were working with Lynx... why?
Harle: I was waiting for my chance to betray him so zhat zhe Dragons could recover zhe Flame and become zhe Dragon God again.
Serge: And then you joined me because...
Harle: Apparently, I have fallen for you. But not enough to convince me to betray zhe dragons.
Serge: On top of everything else that's wrong with this game, we have a tragic romance more shoehorned than Squall and Mary Sue's. Hooray, now my life is complete!

Anyway, being the game's new ever-present drama queen, Kid has fallen into a catatonic state because "her mind is now stuck in the past". Wonderful.

Spoony: Is this girl I barely know really worth all this effort, or is this going to turn into another Rinoa situation where all I get for bailing her stupid ass out again and again is another hammy love plot between two of the blandest, most underdeveloped characters in existence?

It turns out to be neither; because the game has to go on regardless of what choices you make and who is in your party, 90% of all the party's dialog is completely interchangeable. This also has the effect of ensuring that even the touted "main" characters have almost nothing to say or do, to say nothing of the 40-some others that round out the cast. Now that's a compelling RPG experience!

Spoony: I also take issue with this whole "multiple paths" nonsense. Usually when a game offers you a chance to take one road or the other (but not both), it's to cause some significant change in the overarching storyline. But here, there's no real consequences for any choice you're offered; the plot plays out exactly the same way every time. The only differences your choices make are that you may fight a different boss, venture through a slightly different dungeon or have the option to recruit another party member (who you'll more than likely never use since playable characters as a whole are so indistinct in this game). It gives the unpleasant feeling that the game is offering you the illusion of nonlinearity just to tease you.

After a few more dopey sub-plots, Serge gets his hands on the Masamune sword (there was a whole long spiel about Masamune being turned from a useful, if somewhat unwilling, ally of Crono and company to being cursed and corrupting peoples' hearts, but I honestly can't remember any of the details), revives Kid by going into the past and saving her from Lucca's orphanage before it burns down (seems a bit pointless since she obviously survives anyway, but what do I know?*), and obtains the seventh element, the Chrono Cross, by fusing the two Dragon Tears.

*I guess you could argue that you're giving her some reassurance that these events aren't her fault and that's what snaps her out of her self-loathing, but honestly, that's the best they could come up with for the only time travel scene in the game? Nothing like, you know, RESCUING LUCCA (who is a key player in the plot, yet nowhere to be found in the past scene or anywhere at all until the very end of the game?) or preventing Lynx from burning her house down in the first place?

Balthasar: In another "shocking" twist, I reveal that the one manipulating ALL of these time-space merger events was Lavos, who apparently survived the final battle of Chrono Trigger and vanished beyond time, where he fused with Schala and manipulated you into destroying FATE, allowing the Dragon God to be reborn so that he could fuse with it and become the Time Devourer, an entity capable of destroying all time and space as we know it. But lucky for you, Schala and I set the events in motion that would split the timeline of this world in two, knock FATE offline (apparently Schala can manipulate the weather... somehow), send Kid (Schala's clone, oooo!) to save your life, and eventually allow you to gain possession of the Chrono Cross in order to stop Lavos once and for all!
Ghosts of Crono, Lucca and Marle: Oh yeah, we apparently all died at some point off-camera. Never mind that we eventually became so powerful that we were able to defeat an entity capable of laying waste to entire planets and manipulating time itself.
Serge: Do you hear that?
All: Hear what?
Serge: The sound of a freight train hitting this plot, jumping the tracks, throwing its cars and cargo in every direction and then exploding into a fireball?
Balthasar: Very funny, wise guy. Go fight the Dragon God.
Serge: *Sigh* Fine. I've already sunk this much time and effort into this stupid game, I might as well see it through to the end.

A climb up another "environmentally friendly" and overly preachy tower commences, a fight with the shoehorned villain ensues, fight is won, blah blah blah. Now all there is left to do is face the Time Devourer, who can only be beaten via a method that can be figured out in one of three ways.

1) You face an optional mini-boss who gives you the option to defeat him by answering riddles; you do this by casting the proper-colored element on him. The sequence you cast them in matches up with the proper order of elements in the final battle, but the game gives you ABSOLUTELY NO INDICATION OF THIS FACT before, during or after the battle, so odds are you didn't bother to take note of it. Since you get no prize for completing the battle this way (not even a level star) but get a very useful accessory for just whittling away his HP the traditional way, it's also quite counterintuitive and doesn't suss with the main story at all.
2) In a room near the end of the last dungeon, you'll continuously hear a sequence of tones. While you have the Chrono Cross equipped, each element you cast also has a tone sound associated with its color. If you match up the sequence playing in the tower to the tones that play when you cast spells, you can figure out the proper sequence that way. I hope you have a pretty good sense of pitch and an astonishing memory for sound, though, since you can't return to the final dungeon after completing it (or barring that, have a tape recorder at the ready and be prepared for a fair amount of trial and error).
3) While you fight the Dragon God, he'll teleport you to the domains of the six dragons you fought earlier and change his elemental attacks accordingly. Once again, the order he does this in is the big clue, and once again, you're given no indication of this fact and probably didn't bother to note it as a result. Hooray!

Spoony: Upon revisiting the game, I also noticed that the colored crystals in the tower room also glow faintly each time they produce their respective tone sound, which makes the puzzle much easier to figure out. Of course, that all assumes that you read between the lines of Ghost Lucca's psychotic babbling in Balthasar's room and figured out this was SUPPOSED to be a puzzle in the first place. They do a really piss poor job of making this fact clear.*

* Marle does, in fact, flat-out tell you about the tone sequence puzzle right before you go off to the final battle. But guess what? By then it's too late because you can't backtrack to the tower for a reminder. Time to make a trip to Google!

Through any of those methods (or just checking a guide, which you'll more than likely have to do anyway), you learn that you have to cast the six element colors in a specific sequence, then finish with the Chrono Cross to win the battle. Fair enough. But what they don't tell you is that the Time Devourer's spells count in this sequence as well. This quickly becomes a frustrating ordeal as you get partway done, then watch helplessly as the asshole casts the wrong spell again and screws up the whole sequence. Which leaves you no choice but to continue with the fight and get the bad ending, or run from the battle and try again. So on top of obfuscating the solution to the puzzle (and the fact that there is a puzzle at all), they throw in a pure luck element as well. Arrrgghhhhh.

After many, many tries, the right sequence finally plays out and Serge is able to use the Chrono Cross properly. The Time Devourer dies, and as you might expect, all you get is another pretentious text-dump, all of the events of the game are erased from existence and everyone involved gets their memories wiped, making the whole game seem completely pointless and unnecessary. Hooray.

Spoony: Yeah... Chrono Cross is a bust. It's a lame, self-important borefest that has very little to actually do with its predecessor. But to be fair, it's not as bad as some of Square's other turds of the time like Final Fantasy VIII, Parasite Eve II and Ehrgeiz; the game is decently paced, has an interesting combat system, an excellent soundtrack, what are doubtlessly the best visuals on the Playstation, and it rarely gets bogged down with stupid minigames or tedious item-farming busywork. But none of this can redeem the sloppily-written and self-indulgent story, the numerous useless subplots, the needlessly large and dull cast of characters, and the letdown associated with it being the long-awaited sequel to one of the greatest RPGs ever made. You know your game's plot is a complete mess when you have to retcon a bunch of shit into a re-release of the original game just so the sequel makes some semblance of sense.

If you want my advice, skip this mind dump and play Suikoden II instead. Not only does it balance a large cast of characters much more effectively than Chrono Cross, it stays much truer to its predecessor's themes and gameplay style, and the plot does feel truly epic in scale and well-distributed instead of just shoving 80% of itself into the last five hours. It may not look or sound nearly as good as CC, but believe me, when it comes to what counts it's a far better game.
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