CHRONO CROSS / Squaresoft / PSX
In a way, Chrono Cross is almost like an RPG Lite, something like Final Fantasy Mystic Quest on the SNES. It isn't as stiflingly linear and simplistic as FFMQ, of course, but it makes a point of simplifying (and sometimes removing) expected elements of RPGs such as healing after battles and level-building. The tone is decidedly goofy throughout, and doesn't make much of any effort to tie to prequel Chrono Trigger until about 10-15 hours into the game, and the connections will not be made explicit until 30+ hours have been put in (and you are just about to finish the whole thing up, really.)
It sort of stands alone while still relying on established ground, both in terms of the gameplay and the story. If it had been divested of all the Trigger connections, and actually released as some sort of new franchise, likely the hardcore Trigger fans would have been more readily able to appreciate it for all the things it does right - unfortunately, it stands as one of those incredibly polarizing titles, and a quick trip to the good ol' GFAQs review section reveals scads of both uncritical breathless 10/10s and sulky premeditated hate-fest 1/ and 2/10s, with the usual lack of objective, insightful, mature middle ground to mediate between the high-strung emotional reactions on both ends.
The game is bound to the usual Squaresoft RPG pattern of linear, often non-interactive narrative broken up only by lots and lots and lots of samey battles; what makes this one work is a battle system that is genuinely innovative, absolute scads of little hidden things to uncover, and a really clever extension of the New Game+ concept from Trigger that genuinely rewards 3 or 4 play-throughs of the game without forcing you to wait 5 to 10 years between each to make it all feel fresh again. Cross is, in fact, the only RPG from or past the 64 bit era that I've actually made a point to see everything possible in; granted I did it during a week of twelve-hour shifts of guard duty, but still, it kept me awake and interested the whole time.
Of course, on the aesthetic end, you have a Yasunori Mitsuda soundtrack that is, without hyperbole, one of the best ever in all of gaming. The sound quality is so good you're often hard pressed to tell if synth is being used or if it's digital audio of live instruments; on a good pair of headphones the aural depth of this game's music is unbelievable. The character models and animation are more middling, with more detail and more fluid animation than that of the FF7 era (even common NPCs turn their heads and gesture in your direction, changing as you walk around them), but still looking rather dated and a little harsh on the eyes especially in HD or on a computer screen. There's some really nicely detailed 2D backgrounds woven in with the 3D stuff, however, and some pretty good use of weather and lighting effects. It isn't drop-dead gorgeous, but it is frequently pleasant, and there are some boss battles that are impressive.
Yeah, you being a giant with two giant-ass swords has nothing to do with it.
If you're determined to have a satisfying continuation to the characters and events established in Trigger, you'll be let down by this one; the plot is frequently muddled and just pulls stuff out of nowhere, and the connection to Trigger really feels kind of plunked in late in the development cycle and makes a hash that is probably the primary reason planned sequel Chrono Break never did appear. And with many of the 45 characters serving really as nothing but filler, Cross becomes a game mostly about Doin' Stuff - but it gives you a lot of well-executed Stuff to do, and set to a wonderful soundtrack, and with a story and characters that are largely appealing if you can deal with the Trigger letdown.
* Chrono Compendium
* Gameplay Video