Review: Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition
I was young when Chrono Cross launched for PlayStation and being able to review one of my favourite games from that time is a bit of an undertaking. Following the release, I became enamoured with the lore established in Chrono Trigger while trying to understand the implications the sequel delivered by deviating from most expectations had for a sequel to one of the greatest games of all time. Was it well received at the time? That depends on who you ask but I enjoyed it for what it was more than what it wasn’t.
For starters, while it doesn’t have the same popularity as Square’s Final Fantasy series, the Chrono games do have a cult following. It’s always been a sore spot for the community that the series has never received the recognition it deserves following the release of Cross. Over the years that followed, we had dozens of rumours swirling about a potential third entry with Chrono Break — a cancelled third game.
However, what seemed to divide the community (and without diving into spoilers) was how Chrono Cross compared to Chrono Trigger and how it tried to link itself to the original but it was loosely tied together while only referencing things to connect them. Pair this with some decidedly paper-thin party members that could be recruited and served no purpose to the narrative and you can begin to piece together the divided stance on the game. However, I digress because while it can be seen as an okay sequel, it is an excellent game that should be experienced.
While this year has seen a bit of a resurgence for the series in the form of a crossover with Another Eden, a game created by Masato Kato, the director of Chrono Cross. Square’s also followed that up with Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition, a remaster set to launch this week.
Chrono Cross introduces Serge, a teenager living in Arni Village, off the coast of the main continent where Trigger was set. Awakening from a nightmare, Serge briefly meets with his friend before experiencing a shift in reality. This kickstarts a journey that sees an alternate dimension, one where things are very familiar but different enough to be discerning. Throughout this nearly 40-hour experience, Serge will face unparalleled challenges and correct the course of two worlds.
The campaign has always been a high point and I know that at this point, the game is over two decades old. I’m trying to keep spoilers to a minimum to ensure those who’ve never experienced the game can do so with the surprises still intact. I will say that thankfully, there is very little content rehashed from the original and a lot of the charm the game has to offer is built into the world, the characters, and the soundtrack.
A big departure from the battle system created for Chrono Trigger, the implementation of the Elements system was another divisive talking point. Instead of a traditional active time bar, the use of stamina points was swapped in. In essence, as long as you had stamina, you could act but enemies could also interrupt your attacks. If you had full stamina, your character could unleash a strong attack and with less stamina, medium and weak attacks would round out your choices.
A strong attack would land more damage but also be less likely to hit your target and both medium and weak had a greater chance to hit but dealt damage based on their stats. This also meant that each attack chosen would deplete stamina from your character until their turn was up.
All of these choices were combined with the Element system where everyone in this world has an innate elemental colour. There are six classes: White, Black, Red, Blue, Yellow and Green. Each one comes with strengths and weaknesses and every character is susceptible to the opposite colour. This system will lead to you needing to be sure you have the right characters available in a battle otherwise it’ll be game over. Once you begin finding spells in the world, you must equip them in an empty slot within a character’s element grid.
The system can be a bit confusing at first but I’ll do my best to break down how these spells work. There are eight levels a character can equip over time and will be able to use stronger magic as the game progresses. If an element is level 4, with a + or – listed, that denotes the skill can go anywhere from the second slot to the sixth. Depending on where you slot the skill, it will boost or drain the attack making spells stronger or weaker.
Furthermore, before long you’ll be introduced to dual techs — abilities you can use and combine with other characters to deal with enemies as your characters level up. There are colour fields that come into play as well and if you can combine three of the same colour spells, the field will become that colour and your characters will gain a boost. In some cases, this is how the summons can be called in too as you’ll need to have the right circumstances before they can be unleashed but getting the colour field to one colour can be difficult as the enemy’s spells can break the chain.
However, as much as I love the battle system in Chrono Cross, the lack of improvements is disheartening. While the new portraits and models are better than the vanilla release, it’s a bit saddening to see the sluggish framerate left intact. Chrono Cross always had issues around the performance in battle and even sped up it still has issues.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition is a Radical Remaster
We’ve previously seen what Square Enix has decided to rework in Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition. In addition to a graphical upgrade, there are new illustrations, background filters, and new fonts. Similar to how Final Fantasy VIII Remastered upgraded the character models, the same can be said here. I like the new models with the option to toggle between the game as it was two decades ago. My biggest concern with the Cross remaster was how the backgrounds would be handled as Square did such a stellar job with the character models in VIII Remastered only to leave the backgrounds a blurry mess. In the case of Chrono Cross, the remaster is a mixed bag. The overworld map has lost a lot of character because of the filtering. This issue also waterfalls into certain areas of the world and while Arni Village might look good, other places like Viper’s Manor does not. It’s a mixed bag at times but it also isn’t without beauty.
I appreciate the work put into the remaster but my biggest question is what made Square decide an AI upscale wouldn’t work here? We’ve seen the results made possible thanks to the technology and it looks stunning in most cases. Using an AI to address the backgrounds would allow the work to speak for itself given how well it works in the right hands.
For the first time, Radical Dreamers has been translated to English and was the inspiration for Chrono Cross. Serving as a side story starring Kid, Serge, and Guile as they infiltrate Viper Manor to find the Frozen Flame. Radical Dreamers originally launched in 1996 on the Satellaview — an add-on for the SNES and is a text-based adventure.
Following the launch of Chrono Trigger and after years of development, Masato Kato felt there was still a lot of untapped content and set out to draft an early version of Radical Dreamers. Working with a small team, the pieces began to come together with many of the scenarios being written by several peers. The tone of the side story was dark and even the new and official translation continues to carry the same themes and tone to some success. If anything, while Kato always felt the project was unfinished at the time due to a rushed schedule — it did lead to the creation of Chrono Cross.
Being able to review Chrono Cross professionally feels a bit full circle to me. It’s a game that I spent hundreds of hours playing and replaying, making sure I had the entire roster and every legendary weapon collected and one of the very few games that drove me to pursue working in the games industry. For years, much of the discourse surrounding Chrono Cross focused on how it wasn’t a true sequel to Chrono Trigger. However, there is merit on several fronts that while it isn’t a true successor, it is a great game that stands on its own. Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition may not be the most impressive remaster but it is timeless and a perfect stepping point to usher in a new generation of fans.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]