A Unique RPG Combat System
There aren't many turn-based role-playing games that operate quite like Chrono Cross. Throwing out many of the mechanisms found in its predecessor, Chrono Trigger, Cross adopts a slower, more deliberate, and more strategic approach. It's a neat system, but even with tutorials included, Chrono Cross' battle system can leave players flummoxed.
This guide will teach you what you need to know to successfully navigate combat in Chrono Cross. It's not as difficult to understand as it may first seem, though there are a few things to know that the game glosses over a little too quickly.
Once you have enough characters in your party, you'll begin each battle with three combatants on your side, one of whom will always be Serge. (At least until halfway through the game, when something important happens to him, and in New Game+, when Serge can be changed out for another character.) You can move between the three characters in your party at any time by using the analogue buttons to choose a new active fighter.
When you first start a battle, all your character can do at first, besides Run, is Attack and Defend. Choose Attack, and you'll be prompted to choose a target. Do this, and you'll be presented with a panel containing numbers and percentiles, like this picture below.
These numbers represent the three types of normal attacks your character can use: Weak, medium, and strong. Weak attacks cause the least amount of damage, while strong attacks cause the most. The percentile beside each attack represents your chances of hitting the enemy, with weak attacks always being the most accurate and strong attacks always being the least accurate.
Beside each attack, you'll see a number: 1, 2, and 3. These numbers represent the Stamina loss associated with using that attack. Each character begins the battle with seven Stamina, and using attacks will temporarily deplete that Stamina. If you were to use a weak attack, your character's Stamina would be reduced to six, and following that up with a medium attack would reduce their Stamina to four.
Once a character is out of Stamina, a different character with Stamina in the positives is given control of the battle. Stamina recharges while the character is inactive and other characters--or enemies--are taking their turns. You can also choose to Defend to opt out of your character's turn, allowing them to recharge their Stamina while receiving a small defensive boost until their next turn.
Typically when attacking, you will use up a single character's Stamina, then move on to a different character. That said, it is possible to attack once or twice with a character, then cancel out of their attack before they run out of Stamina and choose someone else instead. Similarly, enemies will sometimes attack in the middle of a character's attack sequence, and you'll need to wait until they're done before you can choose another attack.
The nuances of Stamina aside, the basics of Chrono Cross' combat system are similar to most RPGs. Each character has a set amount of health, and whenever they take damage they lose health. If a character runs out of health they'll collapse, and will need to be revived before they can take another turn. Enemies also have health, and depleting an enemy's health will remove it from combat. Killing every enemy will end the battle in victory for you while losing all of your party members will end in a Game Over.
Sound good so far? Time to make things a little more complex. Combat would be pretty boring if all you did was attack over and over. That's where Elements come into play.
Elements are the magic and items of Chrono Cross. Divided into six different types, each represented by a color - white, black, red, blue, green, and yellow - Elements allow your characters to perform more complex, more powerful moves in combat.
When equipping a character, you can use the Elements and Allocate menus to equip Elements on your characters. This will bring up your character's Element Grid. Ranging from levels one to seven, the Element Grid is a series of slots that can be filled with Elements purchased or found throughout the game. These Elements can then be used once per battle. When the Element is used, its slot will be darkened and won't be available again until you leave the battle.
Elements have a wide range of effects:
- They can inflict damage on one or all enemies
- They can heal one or more members of your party
- They can inflict status buffs to your characters or status debuffs on enemies
- They can cure status ailments
Each character also has their own built-in Elements, known as Techs, that are wholly unique. Techs are unlocked at Element Levels three, five, and seven, though the seventh Tech typically needs to be found somewhere in the world.
Have a look at the screenshot above. You'll notice that two of Kid's Elements have numbers beside them. Each Element has its own Element Level requirement, which corresponds to the Element Levels in a character's Element Grid. In order for that Element to deliver normal results in combat, it must be placed in the Element Grid at its minimum level. In this case, Fire Pillar has a requirement of three, so it will do a normal amount of damage when used.
By contrast, Heal All has a minimum level of four, so while Kid can still slot it into the third level of her Element Grid, it won't work as well. Fireball only has a requirement of one, so it will work a little better than normal since it is slotted into the third level.
Elements can't be used right away in combat. Each time a character performs a successful hit against an enemy, they will activate an Element Level on their Element Grid for use, moving from the weakest level to the strongest. How many levels are activated depends on the attack used. A weak attack will unlock one level of the Element Grid; a medium attack will unlock two; and a strong attack will unlock three. How many Element Levels have been unlocked is displayed just above a character's HP.
Once an Element is used, the character's Stamina is automatically dropped into the negatives, and the character won't be able to take another move until their Stamina is replenished. That character's Element Grid is also locked away again by a number of levels equal to the Element just used. This makes combat a back-and-forth, forcing players to use normal attacks so they can build up to their more powerful Element attacks, then hold off until their Stamina recharges.
Colors and Field Effect
Each Element is associated with a color that suggests a certain type of magic. Red Elements, for example, are usually associated with fire, while White Elements are typically holy. Seems simple enough, and that's good because knowing your colors is very important in Chrono Cross.
Each Element is paired with another one, and they serve as one another's weaknesses. The pairs are as follows:
- White and Black
- Blue and Red
- Green and Yellow
Why is this important? Because every character in the game has an Innate Element. Displayed by their name in combat, these colors suggest which attacks will be most effective against a particular enemy and which will do the most damage to your own characters. Kid, for example, is Red Innate, so Blue attacks will do more damage to her.
By contrast, Red attacks won't do as much damage against Kid. Elements tend to be themed to specific areas, so you can choose characters appropriate to the area and maximize the damage you can inflict. Characters also gain a small bonus when using Elements that match their Innate Element, so Kid would benefit most from equipping and using Red Elements.
Working alongside Elements is the Field Effect. Look in the top-left corner of the battle screen. You'll see three multicolored ovals overlapping one another. This is the Field Effect indicator. Field Effect displays the current elemental affinity of the battlefield. Each time an Element is used, the elemental affinity of the battlefield changes, with the smallest oval taking on the color of the last-used Element and pushing out the Element of the largest oval. So if, from smallest to largest oval, the current Field Effect was red-blue-green, using a Red Element would change the ovals to red-red-blue.
Why does this matter? Because the Field Effect alters the power of the Elements being used. Each oval in a particular color represents a boost to that Element's efficacy in combat, as well as dampening the efficacy of the opposite color. Using the previous example, a red-red-blue Field Effect would make Red Elements a fair bit stronger and Blue Elements a fair bit weaker, while the one blue oval would somewhat counteract the effects of the red ovals.
Field Effect constantly changes since enemies use their own Elements to change the color of the ovals, so for the most part, you don't need to worry about it. The are three exceptions to this rule:
- If one of your characters has a Summoning Element, denoted by a star, all three ovals of the Field Effect must match the color of the Element. Otherwise, you can't use the summon.
- If a boss uses an Element to completely change the Field Effect to one color, you usually want to change it to something else as quickly as you can.
- The final battle of the game requires careful alteration of the Field Effect if you want the 'good' ending. You'll understand when you get there.
Whenever you win a fight, you'll be taken to a PowerUp screen. Here your characters will gain stat boosts if they recently gained a Star Level - a topic for another conversation - and be given the opportunity to heal your team before you return to the map. You'll be presented with three options above for healing. The explanation of this screen is a bit confusing at first glance, especially if you're a newcomer.
The first option: Max. healing without using consumables relies on each character's remaining Element Levels that are active after the fight. Look at Glenn's panel on the left side of the screen. He still had five of his six Element Levels active and ready to go when the battle ended. As a consequence, he can use any restorative Elements in his repertoire to heal the party. And since he has Heal All ...
... it gets used to repair the party's wounds, returning them to full strength. All three party members can contribute to healing up. If no one has any healing Elements available, you can also use consumable Elements (Tablets) to make up the difference by choosing the second option.
It's generally to your benefit to heal after battle in Chrono Cross, so unless you have a very specific reason to refuse healing, it's best to choose the first or second option and get your team back to fighting shape.
We've covered just about every topic related to combat in Chrono Cross except for one: Running away. Yes, Run Away is an option here, as with most RPGs, though Chrono Cross introduces a neat twist: You can run from every fight in the game. Yes, including bosses, and yes, including the final boss.
This doesn't mean that you've escaped the battle forever--random enemies will start chasing you again after a few seconds, and bosses will still be waiting to take you on--but if you think you're about to die, it's better to flee than to face a Game Over screen. You can then go back to the map, heal up, change your Elements around, and give the fight another go.