Once, I was trotting through electronics department at my local supermarket and something caught my eye. I saw a PlayStation game with “Chrono” in the title. I pressed my face against the locked glass case, spellbound by the possibility of a sequel to my beloved Chrono Trigger.
I must have had some money from a Christmas gift because I happened to have the $36 necessary to take the game home with me. It didn’t occur to me that I should consult the internet to see if the game reviewed well; I would have had to ask permission to use the dial-up connection (a time-consuming endeavor). I was waaaay too excited for that. I bought that game on the spot.
At the time, Chrono Cross was the most beautiful game I’d ever seen, but it was very very different than Chrono Trigger. This new game seemed to prevent one of the things that I loved most about JRPGs. I could no longer grind and grind (and grind) until the game’s systems bowed before my resolve… granting me limitless power. As a result, I found this game to be brutally difficult.
The thing that kept me going in Chrono Cross was the story. I found the story absolutely enthralling, though wildly confusing. I’ve played the game several times throughout the years, and it wasn’t until my most recent playthrough that plot started to make sense to me. It appears like Chrono Cross—like many roleplaying games of the late-nineties—suffered beautifully under the weight of its designer’s ambition. In the end, the story doesn’t quite come together, and that’s part of the allure of a game like this. You have to work to come to a conclusion as to what the game means.
Sure, I’ve made similar comments about other games, citing them as weaknesses. The only difference between good confusing and bad confusing is expectation. The grand hypocrisy is that my expectation of modern video games is that they present neatly contained stories that are easily accessible, and I tend to apply this expectation to retro games that I play for the first time, which is unfair. Those retro games that I decry for being impenetrable probably have their place. Chrono Cross is a shining example of this very thing: sorting out a challenging narrative can be just as satisfying as mastering a challenging mechanic.