The soundtrack of Chrono Cross is seen by JRPG enthusiasts as the best ever and rightfully so. That era of JRPGs is a time where the amount of cinematic flair we see today wasn’t possible, so it was imperative that game developers go the extra mile to keep players engaged.
It was an era where there was more room on the stage for the talents of Nobou Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda and Motoi Sakuraba – who I see as the Jordan, Magic, and Bird of JRPG composition.
So in what looks to be an epic matchup narrated by yours truly, we pit the soundtracks of Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Cross against one another, comparing similar pieces not to declare a winner, but as a convenient excuse to get sidetracked as 16-bit and 32-bit chip tunes make love to your ear drum way to better understand these wonderful OSTs.
We’ll be considering the following in each comparison:
- Relative quality – How tall the song stands among its peers. A modern RPG’s soundtrack is obviously of higher quality an old-school one. But that doesn’t make it better, relatively speaking.
- Fit – Some songs in this soundtrack may sound better in their respective scenarios then the other.
Opening Theme / Title Theme
Time’s Scar / Garden of the Gods vs. Opening Theme / The Prelude
TKO. Game, set, match. No contest.
Final Fantasy VI deserves honorable mention for The Prelude’s iconic status as the most recognizable tune in the history of console RPGS. But Chrono Cross takes this one easily and without need for explanation. Those epic song titles though.
Chrono Cross – 1 / Final Fantasy VI – 0
Time’s Grasslands – Home World / Dream of the Shore Bordering vs. Terra’s Theme / Searching For Friends
This is tough because Final Fantasy VI’s 2nd Overworld theme >>>> Chrono Cross’ 1st. and vice versa for their respective partners. The circumstances that prompt Searching For Friends to play is much more goosebump inducing.
Dream of the Shore Bordering is probably the best overworld theme of its era, is very catchy, but the theme itself has no story or emotional implications. But it’s a damn good remix of the song in Radical Dreamers (redheaded stepchild side-story to Chrono Trigger that was never released in U.S.).
Chrono Cross – 1 / Final Fantasy VI – 1
Not enough to list vs. Too many to list
The downside to Chrono Cross’ Suikoden-like approach is that it’s hard to get invested in the characters. They’re spread so thin, that impatient gamers like myself just wind up using a handful of them the entire game. It’s easy to fall into the Final Fantasy VII trap: Use the ones you think are the coolest because they’re all interchangeable.
Final Fantasy VI on the other hand, tried it’s best to give the ultima clones a unique identity. But to no fault of its own, poor game design took over, and made this game also fell victim to the FF7 trap. At least each character was properly and thoroughly developed though – which tends to happen when you build the characters first, then write a story around them second like the development team did. More on that here.
Chrono Cross – 1 / Final Fantasy VI – 2
Battle / Victory Theme
The Brink of Death / Victory – Spring’s Gift vs. Battle Theme / Fanfare
It’s apparent that Nobuo Uematsu composed this soundtrack without the knowledge that it would one day be as revered as it is today. Otherwise he would have tried harder on the names.
Chrono Cross has the superior victory theme, and even a separate one for boss battles! Final Fantasy VI has the better battle theme. Not by much, it’s just that Chrono Cross does something with the already unmemorable battle theme that cannot be forgiven! Hold this thought, you’ll understand why later.
We’ll give this one to Chrono Cross. The victory theme wins the matchup harder than the battle theme loses it.
Chrono Cross – 2 / Final Fantasy VI – 2
Leaving The Body / Star-Stealing Girl vs. Coin Song / Forever Rachel
This one is tough. Each song fits its respective scenario so well that I may have to call a draw on this category.
Story-Centric Laboratory Dungeon
Chronopolis vs. Devil’s Lab
It’s not a JRPG without a nefarious laboratory amirite? Final Fantasy VI features the Magitek Factory, where espers were experimented on and converted to weaponry. In Chronopolis, the very fabric of time and space was toyed with, setting into motion the events that shape the plot of the game.
Chronopolis doesn’t exactly belong in the next category, but the BGM evokes extra emotion because of its large story implications. Although important, the Magitek Factory doesn’t have the same bearing on the story. But that BGM is BUMPING.
Chrono Cross – 2 / Final Fantasy VI – 3
Game-Changing Climax Dungeon
Ancient Dragon’s Fort vs New Continent (Floating Continent Theme)
These dungeons were the prelude to a drastic (or perhaps apocalyptic?) turn of events in their respective games. Those who enjoyed the unique style of Devil’s Lab will notice similarities in New Continent.
Ancient Dragon’s Fort has a lengthy build-up, but the drop makes the song superior to its counterpart by far.
Chrono Cross – 3 / Final Fantasy VI – 3
…. The Brink of Death vs. The Decisive Battle
Yep, Chrono Cross is apparently too good for a boss theme. But wait! Yasunori Mitsuda created a slightly different version of the victory theme that plays after “bosses!” Woop-de-doo.
I understand that there are not many “boss” adversaries in the game. Consider a four-setting fan : Battle, Boss Battle, Dramatic Battle, and Final Battle. Due to the nature of Chrono Cross’ story, it makes sense to skip the 2nd dial, as it makes the 3rd dial that much of a bigger deal.
Chrono Cross – 3 / Final Fantasy VI – 4
People Seized With Life vs. The Fierce Battle
This is a tough one also. Though Atma Weapon is rightfully on that “third fan setting,” the story wouldn’t miss a beat without it. In fact, one could palette swap it, give it a more ominous name, and call it a day.
Miguel on the other hand, is integral to the story, and the melancholy tune that accompanies his fight fits just as perfectly as the frantic, menacing theme of Atma Weapon.
It’s a tie in terms of quality and “catchiness”. The musical fit is a tie, but the story implications push the Miguel battle over the top.
Chrono Cross – 4 / Final Fantasy VI – 4
Tower of Stars / Dragon’s Prayer vs. Last Dungeon
I’m still amused. I never noticed until now how uncreative some of Nobuo Uematsu’s songtitles are. Chrono Cross bucks convention with this and the next category. Terra Tower doesn’t lead to a final boss fight, but it is the de-facto final dungeon of the game.
Yasunori Mitsuda uses two themes here: The first conveys the emotion of the monotonous climb. As Serge and co. near the top, a theme of ominous curiosity plays as Serge comes closer to confronting the Dragon God and discovering his fate.
The theme of Kefka’s Tower is another story. Everyone knows what time it is, Kefka has reached the pinnacle of his lunacy and anywhere from three to fourteen heroes (depending on your level of patience) heroically march to the top to put an end to the madness.
Neither game does the job better than the other. So I’ll have to call this one a tie.
Into a Time of Darkness vs. Dancing Mad
Our second no contest TKO of the competition, this time in favor of Final Fantasy VI. Into a Time of Darkness hardly counts as a final boss theme, but it does fit the scene well.
Dancing Mad is nothing short of epic, and quite the achievement that it was composed on an SNES chipset. I hope I’m not the only one who replayed the entire battle just to hear the segment that plays during the final rant of / battle against “Angelic Kefka” (why do JRPGs love the whole angel bit?)
Final Fantasy VI takes this one easily.
Chrono Cross – 4 / Final Fantasy VI – 5
Ending Theme / Closing Theme
Life ~ Faraway Promise / Radical Dreamers ~ Without Taking The Jewel vs. Ending Theme / Prelude
It’s only fair that the best ending represents the category for Chrono Cross. I like that Final Fantasy VI has something that can be considered “an ending” by today’s standards. Final Fantasy VI not only has a great ending scene, but the music that accompanies it is a mashup of all the character’s themes. This plays well into the overarching “friendship and togetherness conquers all” theme of the game.
Chrono Cross’ best ending can be a slight letdown if you had your hopes high, but it conveys enough to provide satisfactory closure to the Chrono arc. The music is powerful too – It provides a lasting impression that no doubt influenced the opinions that deem it the best soundtrack ever.
I’m not judging the quality of the endings though, so Chrono Cross takes this one.
Chrono Cross – 5 / Final Fantasy VI – 5
How good these soundtracks are will always be up to debate. I could have easily swung this way with the addition and subtraction of certain categories. I promise I wasn’t intending to have it end in a tie, but when I reached the 6th or 7th category, I saw where this was headed.
Let’s just hope that the new generation of console RPGs brings about a revitalized emphasis on sound. The perks of developing on the Playstaion 4 and Xbox One lie not in its graphical prowess, but its processing power. With an expanded set of tools to work with, here’s hoping Original Soundtracks reach a new level moving forward!