I can't think of a way to present that plot in such a way that it's understandable in any way, but then again the game is meant to be played multiple times, with different stories each time. It's really meta.
I'm pretty sick and tired of Chrono Cross fans trying to invalidate all negative opinions on the game by suggesting that it's only a matter of people being butthurt that it wasn't exactly like Chrono Trigger. Granted, there are whiners who can't see past anything but that, but as for myself, even as a big fan of Chrono Trigger, I can take Chrono Cross as its own game, as a completely unrelated game even (which is practically what it is, anyway), and still come to the conclusion that it's a poor RPG, even as a standalone game. There's basically no point to battling most of the time, the battles are too easy at that, and the battle system isn't engaging enough to make up for those flaws, and the story just blows chunks.
I think the Chrono Cross plot is the result of Masato Kato being really full of himself, pretentious, and butthurt about not having more control over the plot in Chrono Trigger. His arrogance makes himself think he's a much better scenario writer than he really is, but he can sell himself well enough to make other people buy into the delusion of his greatness. Personally, I'd say if you're still confused by the plot of Chrono Cross, consider yourself lucky. At least then you might be able to see it as deep or mysterious. Having understood the plot, I can't see it as anything but pathetically stupid and an insult to the player's intelligence.
Yeah, Chrono Cross suffered from a rather typical issue among Japanese fiction. The writers took themselves too seriously while simultaneously not giving a shit if all of the dots formed a straight line. "So long as it looks cool" is pretty much all that matters to most JP designers. It can get very annoying.
I like CC's battle system a lot, mostly because it does away with the standard leveling system in favor of a SaGa-style stat bonus gain after battles. It was a nice change of pace for me from the FF games I had been playing at the time, since it required you to think about your strategy a little more. The field effects have always been really cool to me, although it's really hard to manipulate them in your favor compared to how easily enemies seem to be able to do it.
The story is pretty bonkers, yeah, but it really seems pretty par for the course for most of the other games around that time (FF8, Parasite Eve, et al.)
Chrono Cross actually reminded me of the PlayStation Final Fantasy games quite a bit, which is probably why it didn't do much for me since those didn't either. Same kind of messy, convoluted plot pretending to be deep and intellectual, same kind of graphical style (proportional 3D characters, pre-rendered backgrounds, etc.), same excessively easy battles with mostly identity-less characters (from a battle standpoint, although in Chrono Cross they're lacking identity in all regards), etc.
It is absolutely a PS1 Final Fantasy game, yeah. I think that's why it fails as a CT sequel. It's a fine game in its own right, but CT was (or at least seemed to be) so different from the FF alternatives that seeing CC fail to convincingly diverge itself was kind of disappointing.
I've never been able to force myself more than three hours into Chrono Cross. Some buddies of mine swear by it, but I just can't do it. It's so obscenely dull and uninteresting and completely fails to hook me in even the slightest. Normally I like to give a jrpg 10hrs before throwing in the towel, but there's just something about CC that completely turns me off. It's not that it's different from Chrono Trigger, really. I don't mind it being different...it's just that it's so damned dull or something.
One of these days I'm going to force myself through it just to get a more fair opinion formed of it. Maybe later on it'll turn into something that I'll better enjoy or appreciate for whatever reason. I really don't like giving up on games
I can take games with confusing stories (usually). I quit Chrono Cross back when I first played it because the battles were getting dull and the game just kept dragging on and on. It got to the point that it wasn't fun anymore, so I moved on and played other PS1 games I had at the time. If Chrono Cross wins the vote I'm completely willing to give it another chance. Maybe there's something worthwhile in there that I missed.
I'm playing it right now, and it's actually a lot better even than I remember it. I know that's nostalgia and the great soundtrack talking for the most part, but I'm actually really impressed with just how many story branches there are. Tons of little dialog changes, for example:
If you refuse Kid the first time she asks to join you, Leena will join your party instead. When you arrive in Termina, Kid meets you there. If you ascend the first staircase, Kid will appear and speak to you in a dialog scene. If you instead go to the inn and rest first, Kid will chastise you for getting Leena into bed so quickly.
edit: I will also say that the menu screens in this game look phenomenal on an HDTV. It uses the PS1's high res mode, so all of the character portraits and the large character artwork look fucking fabulous. I'm playing on a PS3 with HDMI and composite cables outputting to my speaker system. Sounds so good *-*
I gotta give Chrono Cross one thing (besides the awesome Mitsuda music and Yuuki art that I will always gush over), it knows how to start an RPG with a bang. You're thrust straight into a dungeon, you don't really know what's going, and you're instantly fighting monsters. It's pretty tense and exciting. Of course, after that, you're in a town that couldn't be more laid-back and sleep-inducing, talking to a bunch of worthless NPCs, and then the dullness begins.
But that first town in Chrono Cross is more like where the average RPG on PS1 and later systems begins. Seriously, all RPGs that start in a boring town, expecting me to talk to a bunch of boring NPCs for two hours before anything interesting happens can F off. It's as if Japanese RPG developers are still taking a cue from classic games like Dragon Warrior and Chrono Trigger, starting in a castle and in bed, respectively, yet they forget the fact that those games are FAST-PACED. After just a short time of wandering around town and the fair in Chrono Trigger, shit is on. You've got a dire emergency with the malfunction of Lucca's invention, then you're flying through time, you don't know where the hell you are, all sorts of weird stuff is going on, and you set off to figure things out and resolve everything. You get down to business FAST. Modern RPGs seem to think I need to earn the right to experience anything exciting by investing hours of plodding through mundane stuff.