Our Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition review will entail two games: the indelible 1999 Chrono Cross for PlayStation and 1996’s Radical Dreamers for the Super Famicom Satellaview. Most gamers know Chrono Cross as the divisive sequel to Chrono Trigger; but what about Radical Dreamers? It was always an elusive visual novel and it finally has an official localization in this compilation.
Radical Dreamers – Le Tresor Interdit –, is a very atmospheric and moody visual novel that was the basis of what Chrono Cross would become. Both games have players assume the role of Serge and his developing relationship with Kid. Radical Dreamers focuses its entire scenario on the Viper Manor incident, which is an early set piece that occurs in Chrono Cross.
Director Masato Kato hadn’t yet ironed out the characters in Radical Dreamers so there is a stark difference between the iterations of Kid and Serge compared to their appearance in Chrono Cross. Kid is way more rude and Serge is a much bigger weenie than he ever was. They both also have radically different character designs.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (reviewed)
Release Date: April 7, 2022
Price: $19.99 USD
The premise is very similar to what Chrono Cross would ultimately be. Serge and company infiltrate the mansion and have to steal the Frozen Flame. This is made complicated by the fact that Viper Manor is seemingly designed by the same architect as the Spencer Estate. The mansion is full of winding passages, locked doors, puzzle mechanisms and deadly traps. There are also random battles.
Radical Dreams may seem like a text-based adventure game with problem solving; it is still rooted in role playing game mechanics. Combat is simple; there are only three choices to make when engaging foes (fight, magic, and run) and players only control Serge. What makes Radical Dreamers unique is that it hides all information from the player.
All stats are not shown at all and the only way to get an idea of Serge’s condition is through flavor text. The writing is very descriptive and Serge will express in narration his state of mind and health. It can feel random and late game choices can easily dupe players into a bad ending, but it makes the experience all the more exciting.
Radical Dreamers holds up very well considering it is mostly text driven. Yasunori Mitsuda’s music and the dark graphics lend a very moody atmosphere that is not seen often in games. The heavy reliance on black and heavy shadows on prerendered 16-bit graphics and the sounds of nature as interpreted by a 90s sound chip goes a long way in absorbing the player into the dank setting.
Most modern gamers will likely be put off by the obtuseness of Radical Dreamers. There is some trial and error and the final confrontation can be very difficult. This is also a very short game that clocks in a few hours, which makes it easy to replay to get the other endings which do further reinforce the Chrono Trigger connections.
Radical Dreamers is a fascinating avant-garde experiment from a time when Square were hitting their creative strive, but it is not why anyone will be playing Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition. The remastered version of Chrono Cross is the headliner of the package and it promises to improve what was already a masterpiece of an RPG.. at least, one would hope.
Chrono Cross is an epic RPG with a lot of characters found in two parallel worlds, and how one fisherman gets caught between them. In his home world, Serge is a regular guy who lives in the boondocks of El Nido and a militaristic force occupies the north.
In the parallel world where he gets mysteriously transported to, Serge had died at a young age. Someone as insignificant as him had major events lead to different outcomes due to his nonexistence. Chrono Cross‘ tone is often wistful and has tones of nostalgia steeped into its story and it comes off through the dialogue and music.
Serge is able to speak with many characters who were close to him in his world and none of them recognize him in the other world. After spending a lot of time in the other world and returning to the home world, home almost feels alien and this is where Chrono Cross‘ magic shines. The game makes the player contemplate their own world.
There is a strong summer vacation vibe throughout the sunny and swashbuckling atmosphere of Chrono Cross. On the PlayStation, the devs used the limitations as a strength for the art direction. The backgrounds were like picturesque paintings and the standard definition display would smooth the roughness of the low poly characters.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition attempts to improve the visuals with new character models which are admittedly very faithful to the PlayStation original versions. Details like the designs on Serge’s bandana were not possible on the old models, but now are clearly visible.
Kid’s legs have muscular curvature and don’t look like sticks anymore. Faces all around have detailed modeling with structure and are no longer basic textures on a surface. The remastered characters are restrained enough that they still resemble PlayStation visuals and they more closely resemble their respective designs.
Regretfully, this level of care was not extended to the backgrounds. Chrono Cross has beautiful backgrounds and they were designed to display at a very specific resolution. Unfortunately, the art is horribly and lazily upscaled with an AI. The results are very messy and clash with the tightly rendered characters.
Details in the background fail to register and the upscaling renders finer aspects as blurry chaos. Thankfully, the original low poly and low detail models are still an option in Chrono Cross, as is an option to have the backgrounds in their raw pixelated glory.
Sadly, there is no way to mix and match which assets you may prefer. It would have been nice to have the raw backgrounds with the new models or vice versa, but there is no way to do this. Radical Dreamers pixel art gets a fuzzy, hazy filter over it in remastered mode. It is best to experience that with the raw pixels instead.
The lackluster background upscaling might have been acceptable since it is a choice, but what is embarrassing is that remastered mode utterly cripples the frame rate. Chrono Cross on the original PlayStation was not the smoothest RPG, but Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition was the opportunity to finally address this technicality and yet it runs worse than ever.
Battles play like choppy slide shows. At times, the chug is so bad that it causes headaches and eye strain from trying to interpret what is happening. Hilariously, playing with the “classic” visuals does not have this issue and the game runs fluidly. This is an issue across all platforms, even on PlayStation 5, the version we did for our Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition review.
If gamers stick to the classic mode, they will still have to contend with the ever looming presence of forbearance and the battle booster. The issue with this alleged “quality of life improvement” is that it completely undermines the gameplay. Chrono Cross is not that hard of a game outside of a few notable bosses.
The battle booster implementation in Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition makes all player party members have perfect evasion – effectively making them invincible. Enemies will always miss and the booster also fills out the player’s element grid to cast any spell they have equipped.
Curiously, the booster also does not replenish the elements since in battle, every ability is a one time use per fight. At this point, it may as well since there is nothing to stop the player from ever losing.
The real problem with the battle booster is that there is no way to ever opt out of having access to it. The object of any game is to win and by having a completely consequence free option available negates any challenge the game may have. Players won’t put much thought into how they assign elements to their characters and they might not bother equipping them at all either.
Players who scoff and suggest “just don’t use them” miss the point that the game is no longer challenging the player. Instead, the player is challenging themselves and is taken out of the game entirely. It is like trying to fight with holding one hand behind your back. It never feels natural and you can easily win if you tried.
While the booster does compromise the gameplay experience, the game design in Chrono Cross is as compelling as ever. Battle preparation is a big part of the experience and setting up the party’s elements is a big part of the strategy.
There are a lot of characters and many of them are optional. This matters since everyone has their own innate element, unique skills and bespoke element grid where spells are slotted into. This comes into player later in high level play where grids can be drastically different and where characters can truly prove their worth.
Chrono Cross is one of the greatest turn-based RPGs from a time when many of the best RPGs came out. It is dense with replay value and multiple endings. Being able to speed up the game helps getting those extra endings and experiencing the alternate routes that the story allows.
You only really experience Chrono Cross when you replay it and do things differently and see how different characters react to various situations. All the way though, Mitsuda’s powerful music carries and elevates the experience. It is one of those rare scores where the music is so specific and the melodies stick with you.
Radical Dreamers is as good as it possibly could be, but the remastering of Chrono Cross leaves a lot to be desired. The latter especially is a 10/10 RPG, but in our Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition review, it disappoints due to the lack of care. The technical limitations were excusable on the first PlayStation, but on PlayStation 5, it is embarrassing that it runs worse.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by Square Enix. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition is now available for Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC (via Steam), and PlayStation 4.