Under Cerulean Skies

This article features spoilers from the game Chrono Cross. You've been warned.

Chrono Cross is one of those games that you can't set aside for a minute without losing track of the plot, and yet I left it rotting in my Playstation for a week without play (the equivalent of six Squaresoft half-lifes). I'm pretty sure that by now, my copy of Chrono Cross has lost enough electrons to qualify as helium; I'd like to turn the game on again, but I'm afraid I might inadvertently start a nuclear reaction, turning my Playstation into a mini-sun. That's how this game is. It bullies you into playing it, threatening you with solar annihilation if you turn your back for a day or two. (Oh, I am so screwed.)

Chrono Cross is so intricate that even though I'm playing it for the fourth time, I still have no idea what's going on. I can't even rely on memories of my past playthroughs; they'll just baffle me further. Vaguely, I recall this dead guy who's still alive in another universe, running around killing baby komodo dragons to satiate his harpy of a girlfriend. But instead, he's really interested in this Australian hottie who talks like someone's punched her in the mouth and sports a wrap skirt so short, she has to position her dagger scabbard in such a way as to cover the difference. And they're being chased around by a murderous cat-monster with an evil jester woman as his lackey, but the evil jester woman's totally mackin' on the zombie hero guy, and then the Australian tart drops the L-bomb ("LUCCA") and I'm taken aback with my sense of Great Import, even though I have no idea what it means, and I won't, ever, and then suddenly, a dancing straw man, the kind straight out of Lobo's worst nightmares, literally mambos onto my screen.

Chrono Cross is like quantum mechanics: anyone who tells you that they understand what's going on is full of sh*t.

And yet, there's a part of me that really digs this type of game and keeps me coming back. It's the same part of me that aches for those sweeping 19th century Russian sagas: seven-course literary feasts, spanning decades of revolution, peopled not by a cast of characters but an entire country of them.

Both in Russian novels and games like Chrono Cross, the risks the reader takes are obvious. Do you dare gamble so much time and effort on building relationships with characters you might not like? Do you invest ten hours in the storyline, only to discover the plot is insipid and uninspired? You can never recapture that time you spent, the hours you wasted on people you hate and stories you despise.

But like Brothers Karamazov, the potential for emotional gratification that these games offer is astounding (if not always readily apparent). As you spend so much time with a set of characters, your feelings grow, transcending simple sympathy for their setbacks and successes. The story transforms into a genre of personal history--a fabricated history, of course, but one so compelling and so tangible that, in a sense, you yourself have lived it. These aren't just people you've seen on a screen, doing things you tell them to; these are people you've lived with, whose actions you had a part in, and whose personalities you know intimately (and, when lacking, have supplied yourself). You have memories of them. Not of playing the game, or watching the screen, but of the characters themselves. That's a hard feeling to get when you're playing, say, Tetris.

This is why, at least for fans of the original Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross offers one of the greatest and most complex pay-offs in video game history. By building on your recollections of Crono and his friends, the game doesn't just replicate your memories, but completes them. Yes, investing sixty-odd hours into Chrono Cross sounds absurd when you realize that your only purpose, indeed, the only purpose for all these characters, is to rescue a very minor character from the previous game. And yet, for you the player, who may have spent hours, even days, with Chrono Trigger in fruitless search, scouring every corner of every town or level in every era of time, all in vain, finding that one missing person is something unspeakably powerful and gratifying.

Finishing the story of Chrono Trigger is something you can't do in only five hours, with six characters, and still expect a believable conclusion. You can barely do it in fifty hours, with forty-four characters. In the same way that closing a heavy book requires a firm hand, Chrono Cross requires a certain gravitas and epic scale. You simply can't get the job done any other way.

But here's where it gets really complex. As you play Chrono Cross, you grow attached to these new characters, who are separate entities from Crono, Marle, and Lucca, with distinct desires and goals. You forge new memories. But if the point of the second game is only to tie up loose ends from the first, do any of these memories really matter? Are all these rich and intricate characters mere pawns, ordered to fix a plot hole that they don't really understand? As the ending asks, Are each of our short lives nothing but a cheap sacrifice? Or was their story important in its own right? Does fixing that lingering plot hole free the characters to become themselves, unbound by some imposed obligation that holds little to no meaning for them? By fulfilling the demands of fate, have they then destroyed it? In general, does your fate exist until you consciously kill it? Does your destiny enslave you until you break it?

Those are definitely not questions you get while playing Tetris.

I look at the jewel case of Chrono Cross lying haphazardly on my TV shelf, and suddenly, I feel wistful, like I'm sorting through pictures of old boyfriends or high school friends. Sometimes, when I go to the bookstore, I'll stand in front of the Dostoevsky shelf, staring up at Fyodor's collected works, and feel the same way. It's weird how fond you grow of those things that challenge you.

Do great epics fade away in our hearts? Or do they wither away by half-lifes, eventually condensing into something subtle and gentle, leaving only imaginary memories behind? I'm not sure, but you know what? I think it's about time I turned my Playstation back on.

Comments

I understood what was going on the entire time - some ridiculous plot points that excite japanese audiences into buying endless quantities of these games.

Great article Kat. The best thing I can say about it is that I am now motivated to finishing Chrono Cross.

souldaddy wrote:

I understood what was going on the entire time

You are lying through your teeth and you know it.

Personally, I spent the entire game searching for clues that Guile was really Magus, and cross referencing events with what I had read in a translation of Radical Dreamers.

KaterinLHC wrote:
souldaddy wrote:

I understood what was going on the entire time

You are lying through your teeth and you know it. :)

Kat, I often don't understand what I am saying.

KaterinLHC wrote:

It's weird how fond you grow of those things that challenge you.

amen to that..., and to the exquisite way of putting it

I used to think my video games and my books were completely at odds with one another, partly because I was obliged to read in school but freely chose to play video games. Now that reading is my profession, I find I enjoy video games on a deeper level, akin to your article.

Or maybe I was just playing all the wrong games back then. Regardless, your piece was great, Kat. Thanks!

Brilliant piece. I know that wistful feeling, and I know games that produce it. Thanks for reminding me of them. Good to know that your cold, dark, Jewish heart still beats ... in some way

Wow, I've actually been playing through Chrono Cross lately. I'm nearly done since I'm about to take on Dark Serge.

Also, take a gander at my signature

Great game.

Yes, I know this has been quoted in at least 20% of all Live journals and pre-teen "you don't understand me" diatribes, but the opening to Chrono Cross is still worth quoting in its entirety for the uninitiated:

What was the start of all this?
When did the cogs of fate begin to turn?

Perhaps it is impossible to grasp that answer now,
From deep within the flow of time...

But, for a certainty, back then,
We loved so many, yet hated so much,
We hurt others and were hurt ourselves...

Yet even then we ran like the wind
Whilst our laughter echoed,
Under cerulean skies...

It's still a damn good read. It's one of those gaming gem moments, like the beginning and end to Fallout 1 and 2, Suikoden II, Metal Gear Solid 3, Fool's Errand... just the little things that let you know that you were in for a 'world of cool'. Amen!

Whenever I think of Chrono Cross I can't help but think of 'Burn Witch Burn' for some reason - a band that rose from the ashes of The Dead Milkmen. Since, like 'Cake for Breakfast', I can't find the lyrics online, here's just a sample to get that comparitive motor running!

Porcupine Sponsorship Vermin Ark
Coffee-Break GirlScout Curfew Bark
Mezzanine Umbrella Warrant Hat
Genitalia Fluently Lotus Rat

IMAGE(http://www.pucemoose.com/temporary/p.jpg)

Ravioloi Trombone Poetry Mews
Left-over Middle-Weight Hateful News
Command-Post Stomach Positron Trail
Crab-Apple leg-Horn Improbable Tale

Emergency Exit Treetop Flotilla
First Lieutenant Charter Vanilla
Mournful Roadshow Satanic Uruguay
Quintissential Cockfighting Spy

Now imagine all of that nonsense sung - not as you'd expect - with crazy drums and wildly ear-splitting electric guitars and screeching punk vocals, but with simple, down home folk and some Pennsylvania acoustic etchings. Wow that's nice!
IMAGE(http://www.pucemoose.com/temporary/dm.jpg)

Lara, great article. I've been mulling it over for a couple days now and I just can't tell you how great it is that people like you are writing about games. Why the hell does anyone care about video games? Any why, specifically, games like Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross? You answer those questions beautifully. This piece flipped a sort of switch for me, a light bulb went on, and now I get it, when I didn't before. Thanks!

Fly, Fletcher, all of you have made my cold Jewish heart flutter. Not beat, mind you. Just sort of flutter. Thanks.

Just wanted to say I've played through Chrono Cross twice, and I still have no idea what's going on. I'm fighting the final boss, or wandering around leveling up, trying to desperately to remember and hold each character's story in my head, and failing miserably. But it's games like this that make me want to play a game for 60 hours. It's a rubix cube of characters and plotlines and I grow so attached that I feel I owe it to them to finish each of their stories. It's the same thing that made Final Fantasy 6 so great.

zero, I do the same thing. I think both times I've played I've picked up Guile first, and the lack of clear clues bugs me.

Jolly Bill wrote:

zero, I do the same thing. I think both times I've played I've picked up Guile first, and the lack of clear clues bugs me.

Yup. In interviews, the developers have stated that one of the sidequests that they never got around to implementing involved the return of Magus, but since they didn't do it, none of the characters in CC are "really" him. Of course, if you look at what happened in Radical Dreamers, the character that Guile was pattered after (who was called "Gil") did end up being Magus.

*SPOILERS*

Were there any official links confirmed between the two games? I know that Lynx calls Serge the "Chrono Trigger", and you see the ghosts of Crono, Marle, and Lucca when you fight Miguel.

They also keep saying that Glen is Frog before he is transformed, but the time gap is a little too wide to consider this true. Unless they use time travel as the explanation...

zeroKFE wrote:
Jolly Bill wrote:

zero, I do the same thing. I think both times I've played I've picked up Guile first, and the lack of clear clues bugs me.

Yup. In interviews, the developers have stated that one of the sidequests that they never got around to implementing involved the return of Magus, but since they didn't do it, none of the characters in CC are "really" him. Of course, if you look at what happened in Radical Dreamers, the character that Guile was pattered after (who was called "Gil") did end up being Magus.

I'm not quite sure which is more annoying. Not quite knowing whether or not a character is patterned after Magus, (thinking that maybe somewhere there is a clue I missed that tells me yes or no), or KNOWING that the character was intentionally created similarly, but never fully implemented.

**SPOILERS FOR LIFE**

It's like the middle stage before finding out there is no Santa Claus, when you start to realize all of the mall Santas are fake. I'm still pretty sure there's a Santa out there, but I'm not sure which one he is or if he's going to show up period.

Should I just be happy to believe there's still a Santa Claus out there, or should I be disappointed that I may or may not personally have seen him?