We’re just one day away from a game’s 15th Anniversary North American release date. A game which some may not not wish to celebrate. No matter your thoughts on the divisive Chrono Cross, Yasunori Mitsuda created one hell of a worthy successor to Chrono Trigger in its soundtrack.
Chrono Trigger holds a special place in gaming history for JRPGs, games, sci-fi storytelling and for me. Personally, so does Chrono Cross. At a time when games were infrequent indulgences, and my tastes were still susceptible to being shaped by the many JRPGs I experienced, both games’ approaches to presentation were incredible. Everything mattered to me then—character designs, dialogue, narratives, depth of character interactions, and music.
These basic foundations are the things by which I measure the good, bad and ugly of all games; with story and music being the most important. To this day, there are very few gaming soundtracks that come close to perfection for me. Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, Animal Crossing and more recently Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number are just some of the ones I can think of. To round out that list are Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross.
Chrono Trigger’s for its diversity and ability to characterize its players and story without flourishing an already complex tale that speaks for itself. And Chrono Cross’ for being the understated genius it truly is.
In the 15 years I’ve been allotted to stew over JRPGs since its release, I was never able to deny just how important Chrono Cross’ soundtrack was and continues to be. Even though some tracks and the game itself shares some influence from the side story Radical Dreamers, Chrono Cross is distinguishable on its own. Here are just 8 tracks of many that speak to that.
The Brink of Death
Whereas Chrono Trigger begins by painting a picture of serenity in the present—not yet marred by events to unfold in the future as dictated by threats and changeable through your actions in the past; Cross gives you a glimpse into its future. There’s urgency. It’s Prophetic. The music that plays during this scene also happens to be the standard boss music. There’s a decisive quality to it, teetering on the edge of a win or a loss. It’s supposed to be stressful, layered for anticipation of the fate that awaits which is dependent on your performance.
Ancient Dragon’s Fort
This track is reminiscent of a lot of what made Trigger’s soundtrack great. But it begins with a feeling that’s all Cross. This piece is ever changing. It starts with foreboding, then moves into a stilted quickness which is then braced by more of that sickly feeling something big is about be discovered. The harpsichord that comes in gives a warning as to what follows which is a frenzied bout of sounds that make all those discoveries confusing. It’s no wonder too, for on Fort Dragonia’s walls, there’s a history of a parallel dimension detailing reptites’ fall and humans’ rise ...with Lavos at the center of destruction, and transformation.
People Seized With Life
Certain tracks make me disheartened. This was one I couldn’t listen to for years without the reminder of just how depressing it is. I still can’t, and when I think of Cross, I tend to think about it as a very heavy-handed game that’s sobering. That’s not exactly true as it has its moments of humour as well. But overall, if there was one track that summarized all the emotion Cross is able to dish, this would be it.
Lost Child of Time
There’s so much of that mystery in this track which Mitsuda is great at. The composition gives a feeling of creeping around corners and exploration made ever more convoluted by a deliberate use of violins. But if you thought you were the one unearthing secrets, there’s an abrupt change that reveals the true nature of discovery. A heavy piano comes crashing in, giving way to a really disturbing plucking of strings that give horror a new meaning. It’s rather fitting for just how layered and sorrowful the composition’s title is, and the character persecuted and defined by it.
Orphan of Flame
A familiar place in a dire situation, with no time to stop and reflect. It’s a sad tribute, and a cruel tease of a scene in which this piece plays. It burns up memories in a raging fire, and the result is a loss for one pivotal character and you as the player. The slow, deep vocals punctuate the fast-paced, steady violins giving this piece an effect of a struggle—there’s a push and pull quality to it that never gives way to anything else.
There’s a theme that plays throughout the game at various intervals. Packaged as “Radical Dreamers — The Unstolen Jewel”, the vocals are ones that have the potential to move you to tears. There’s the music box version, “Dream’s Creation” that does a good job of that too. And there’s the in-game band who blends the theme together for a rousing metal, pop performance. It’s a wonderful theme that puts its core cast in a perpetual state of being, with bonds that exist across all of time and dimensions, where there are no walls that can thwart that strength. This version, “Life — Faraway Promise” takes all of the raw emotion for a triumphant yet bittersweet 6 and 1/2 minute journey.
For an item broken off from the very evil which threatens time and dimensions, and is presumably entrenched in such a bloody history; it has an amazingly calming, whimsical and stunning composition associated with it. It’s not surprising as the Frozen Flame represents many things to the creatures who warped its meaning and understood little of its alien roots. It’s the stuff of legends, passing into history as a sought after power born from the ultimate enemy set on destroying everything. It has a long, complicated history that’s as uncertain as its powers are. This piece to portray the flame as an important factor in Chrono’s story is just as complex and mystical—expressing in its notes the desirable lure of the Frozen Flame itself.
The questioning message that is revealed as the pages turn in the game’s opening movie, frame all to come, and the memories made and memories forgotten. “Time’s Scar” is beautiful, and perhaps one of the strongest opening compositions of any game. It’s memorable for the stirring, lullaby quality of its beginning notes which flow into something powerful. It’s adventurous, and exciting—recalling emotions unknown while signalling we’ve all been there.
While the game has its fans as well as its critics, Chrono Cross carries a remarkable musical legacy. In the 15 years since its release, it’s tough to pick a video game soundtrack that shares that equality in capturing sounds and emotion. There are few that rival its sweeping expanses in design, like the vasts oceans critical to the game’s narrative. In the game, those tides carry dreams to other shores, and a soundtrack that is endlessly brilliant and just as magnificent.
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