Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition Review – A Welcome Bit Of History

Growing up my family didn’t have much disposable cash to spend on entertainment, let alone video games, so when I did eventually come to possess a PlayStation console it was by way of a hand-me-down from a relative. This particular PlayStation happened to be modified too, so it came with a bunch of highly questionable copies of games ready for me to play. This instant inherited library was what kickstarted my love for JRPGs and where I discovered my favourite game of all time in Final Fantasy VIII. Little did I know though that I’d also been blessed with access to a ton of games that were never actually released in Australia or other PAL regions. Games like Chrono Cross, the highly-regarded follow up to the SNES classic Chrono Trigger, and a game that’s never been (legally) available outside of Japan and the US before now.

That all changes with the release of Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition, which not only plants the game firmly in the hands of gamers the world over and on a multitude of platforms but updates it with modern visuals and a few extra features to sweeten the deal.

The original version of Chrono Cross released to critical acclaim back in 2000, and with good reason. Rather than rehash what had come before in Chrono Trigger, the PlayStation sequel brought entirely new gameplay systems along with a compelling and well-told story that stood triumphantly on its own. By some black magic, the team managed to pull together 40-plus playable and swappable characters amongst a parallel-world plot with all of the bespoke dialogue and scenarios that involved and still come out with an end product that worked. It didn’t hurt either that it continued Square’s penchant for gorgeous visuals and CG cutscenes in its PS1 releases and came complete with one of gaming’s all-time great soundtracks thanks to Yasunori Mitsuda.

The game’s gameplay and battle systems were equally praised for bucking convention in the turn-based JRPG space. Combat deftly combined a risk-reward attack mechanic that balanced hit percentages and stamina with a meta where characters would receive buffs when the field of battle filled with an element they favoured. It also eschewed the idea of invisible random battles as well as employing a rudimentary point-and-click style of item interaction, all things that made it stand out against its contemporaries as the plucky and slightly experimental cousin to Final Fantasy. Of course there’s not much I can say about Chrono Cross itself that hasn’t been said many times over (and better) in the last 22 years. What I’m really here for is to break down what’s changed in the Radical Dreamers Edition and whether that makes it worth your time and money to play the game again or for the first time.

The biggest difference in Chrono Cross on modern consoles is obviously the HD graphical upgrade and this is probably the Radical Dreamers Edition’s most contentious change. See, it’s great to be able to play the game in much more modern resolutions but due to this being an upscaling of the source content and not a full-scale rebuild the results are a mixed bag. Much like Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, it’s a case of the updated character models and UI elements looking markedly better than their original counterparts while everything around them somehow looks slightly worse. The re-done 3D elements are sharp and new character models remain faithful to the originals while being given a tasteful update that still feels in step with the time, and the new character art in menus and text boxes is fairly nice across the board as well.

What’s most disappointing is the vaseline-smear filter applied aggressively over every pre-rendered background making them even less cohesive with the other visual elements. You’re able to switch back to ‘Classic’ visuals if you really can’t stand it, but only from the main menu and only with all the other HD updates turned off as well. Factor in as well the inconsistent frame rates and there’s a roughness that just doesn’t feel right in a modern HD re-release of such a revered title. It checks out given this release is an emulation as opposed to a full-on rebuild but it still sucks that more couldn’t be/hasn’t been done to make this the best way to play Chrono Cross. Hell, fans have done an excellent job with this on their own in the past.

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It’s in the quality-of-life updates to the battle system that returning fans will likely find the most joy in replaying the game with this version. For starters you can turn battles off entirely which is a godsend during exploration, especially given that grinding battles isn’t really a viable way to progress in Chrono Cross anyway. When you do get into a fight you’re able to switch on an auto-battle that lets the game handle everything for you, as well as toggle on what is essentially an invincibility mode that causes every enemy attack to miss your party. Combined with a fast-forward toggle, this can really help with monotony out of fighting basic monster parties if you’re comfortable with breezing through everything. 

Not everyone will be compelled to tap into these options all the time but there are definite moments where they take the edge off of some of the game’s pain points. Dealing with that frustrating horse-feeding minigame in Viper Manor? Just switch on slow-motion mode and show those horses who’s boss (it’s them, they’re being fed literally hundreds of times in one night). The fast-forward and slow toggles are actually a holdover from the original but they’re available right away now, as opposed to unlocked after completing the game, and they really come in handy for the impatient among us. I just wish there was a quick save/load option outside of the occasional auto-saving, it seems like such an obvious inclusion for a title such as this.

So far, so very much like every other HD port that Square Enix has brought to modern machines in recent years. One very cool point of difference here though is the inclusion of Radical Dreamers, a text-based adventure that predates Chrono Cross itself and was never officially translated to English before now thanks to its existence on the Japan-only Satellaview device for the Super Famicom.

As a kind of a side-story/parallel to Chrono Cross, Radical Dreamers follows Serge, Kid and Magil in a heist attempt at Viper Manor that would later go on to inform one of the main game’s early missions. It’s hardly essential playing/reading over its 3-4 hour runtime but definitely an interesting look into the attitude of the franchise’s creators heading into Chrono Cross, while also offering a unique take on text adventure gameplay with its choice-based combat scenarios, timed events and light relationship building. It also feels quite dark and violent in comparison to the main game in ways I hadn’t expected. Overall, it’s just nice to see it finally translated and released in an official capacity (and the translation work isn’t half bad, either!)

With the inclusion of Radical Dreamers and the handy quality-of-life stuff, there’s definitely good reason to check out this re-release of Chrono Cross if you’re a longtime fan or curious JRPG enjoyer. It’s not all good, the visual update swings wildly between pleasant and puke-inducing for one, but the more available this game is the better I reckon.

Conclusion
It's far from a best-case port, but Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition serves up a cult classic JRPG that deserves to be appreciated by everyone that hasn't had the legal means before now. The Radical Dreamers part is a very welcome bit of history given some genuine love from Square Enix, too. If you've already smashed out a Chrono Cross replay in the recent past though, you might be okay to skip this package for now.
Positives
Still the same great, weird JRPG only more available
Updated character models and HD UI look great
QoL features relieve a ton of pain points
The inclusion of a translated Radical Dreamers is awesome
Not many game have a soundtrack this wholly excellent
Negatives
Filtered CG backgrounds mostly look atrocious
Barebones options to customise the experience
Missing some obvious QoL stuff like quicksaving
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