There is a strong sense of yearning in the opening cinematic for Chrono Cross. A book slowly falls open as a soft melody plays, and text appears on the screen: 'What was the start of all this? When did the cogs of fate begin to turn?'
The narrator continues, eventually reflecting upon the times they used to laugh 'under cerulean skies'. This sense of pondering and longing exists all the way throughout the game itself. Even my own history with the game echoes this sensation, as I spent over two decades waiting to play it, listening to the soundtrack, reading articles on it, all the time hoping that it would be released in Europe at some point.
Finally, earlier this year, the remastered version of the game - The Radical Dreamers Edition - gave me what I'd been longing for. It's not a perfect game; there are performance issues, and the narrative is a messy, tricky one. Ultimately, it still feels special, though. Partly it's because it carries such a strong feel of SquareSoft in the original PlayStation generation, a period that lives in my heart due to my love for older Final Fantasy games. The lovely pre-rendered backgrounds, the music, even the aforementioned opening movie are all rooted in that specific SquareSoft era of the 90's, when we (at least in England) laughed under skies that were decidedly grey rather than cerulean.
Even playing it so much later, my mouth drops at the beauty of the remaster's backgrounds, like the blue velvet water of Termina and the honey tone of the sky over a cliff with birds slowly flying past. At times these backgrounds surpass even those from the Final Fantasy games of that period.
It's not just about nostalgia, though; Chrono Cross is a world of possibility and choices. Decide to take a certain character with you at a specific time and you can no longer have the protagonist's childhood friend in your party. Choose to go to a manor with a shady magician and you'll miss the amusing antics of an egotistical 'hero'.
You'll keep seeing small, emotional scenes of other characters dealing with their own preoccupations too, and I find that I remember these more than the main plot at times. A young woman and man visit a grave with a sword thrust into the ground. An embittered boy misses his father and lingers on the house balcony, painting. A doctor sits in a bar, swallowed by turmoil. The protagonist's fellow villagers wonder what would have transpired if they had decided on different things - if they hadn't given up what they most wanted.
An observation from the Eurogamer review by Edwin Evans-Thirlwell is very apt here, when he notes that the characters and such are 'haunted' by their different versions in the twin reality/world. This haunting, bittersweet feeling of possibilities in life is what strikes me the most while playing. Anything being possible is scary, invigorating, and saddening. One character insists that it's not about knowing which path would have been the best for him to choose. He just wants to know where the other would have led. My path finally led to this game in 2022, and I'm intrigued.