Edit: I guess I didn't make this clear enough but, when I say "sequel" I mean just that. I don't think Chrono Cross is the best sequel to Chrono Trigger, but I think the game has done something as a sequel (individual noun not bound to anything specific) that has never been done before. Sequel = sequel. Not: Sequel = game after Chrono Trigger. I hope that clarifies my position.
Let me make this clear, I am NOT saying Chrono Cross is the best RPG ever. It has massive flaws that will always bother me, but what the game has done as a SEQUEL is irrefutably brilliant. Most sequels, in any medium, are continuations of where the previous story and/or gameplay mechanics left off. They rarely look back, moving only forward, and expanding on the previous model. Kingdom Hearts is a good example of a standard sequel. Everything is “better” in Kingdom Hearts II while the template remains more or less the same. This isn’t a bad thing right? I mean that’s what sequels are “supposed” to do.
For those of us that have played Chrono Trigger, we have fond memories of a light hearted adventure where the world was black and white and we knew what we had to do as heroes. Lavos was undermining our free will, so we had to use time travel to save the future! Who could say we were doing anything wrong? We knew we were doing what was “good” and the game reaffirmed that notion, never questioning us. Five years later and all of a sudden we were wrong.
Chrono Cross begins as a standard sequel would, but the characters we had become accustomed to in Chrono Trigger are long deceased now. As players, we may wonder why we were ripped from the characters that we loved and why we are not able to continue their story, but that’s just it. Chrono Cross is not about continuing. Chrono Cross is about consequence. It is about the consequences of our actions in Chrono Trigger, how the world isn’t black and white and what we did before cannot be considered absolutely “good”. We changed the future, and in this new future we have a new world and new citizens. The player takes control of Serge, an individual whose very existence would not be if it wasn’t for the actions before.
The theme of consequence is everywhere in the game. The two dimensions show the player different consequences for the same people depending on the choices they have made. The weight of these subtle details do not become absolutely apparent till later in the game when the player enters the Dead Sea, a place where time has frozen. Here the player is confronted with the apparitions of the beloved characters from the previous game; this is where Chrono Cross becomes the best sequel. Here, our own characters from before accuse of us, the player, of having sinned against a world we never knew. Because we altered time, other potential futures were wiped out. Entire worlds were erased and all this is heart wrenchingly powerful because who can deny that we didn’t meddle with time? It would have been fine if time flowed on its own course, but because we altered it, all the consequences that come with such falls on us and it is an infinite burden. The game addresses us, the player. Not our party, us. What other sequel has made you question your actions in the previous game? What other sequel deals with the consequences generated by the player to such a degree?
Chrono Cross has done what no other sequel has ever done and the beauty of it all is that such an effect could only have come from a game. We don’t feel guilty when watching a film because it isn’t us doing the action, but here our actions are everything and Chrono Cross makes that very clear to us.