Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition – Game Review

The best way to approach Chrono-Cross is to forget that it is a sequel to the trigger of a stopwatch. This isof course, but the trigger of a stopwatch-an inventive and wonderfully crafted time travel that is tied to Earthbound as the most beloved RPG in history – is a tough act to follow. Struggling with this kind of legacy, Chrono-Cross received controversial reception after its release over two decades ago. Square-Enixit’s new Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition remasters the game and bundles it with its direct inspiration, the previously Japan-only 1996 graphical adventure Radical dreamers. Beneath these new additions, however, the ups and downs of Chrono-Cross refuse to change.

Chrono-Cross is nothing if not ambitious. Contrasting the time travel story of the trigger of a stopwatch, it features a story of alternate dimensions. Our hero is Serge, a seemingly normal kid in a quiet seaside village. As he ponders the future with his equally normal almost-girlfriend Leena on a beach one day, a sudden vortex warps Serge into another dimension. It looks a lot like hers at a glance, but her fellow citizens take different paths in life, and Leena’s version of this new world informs her that the Serge she knew actually drowned when he was a boy. While visiting his own grave, Serge meets Kid, a spitfire thief with a hybrid Anglo-Australian accent and a grudge against a mysterious figure named Lynx. And so the two begin a quest that involves traveling between dimensions and trying to resist the pull of fate itself.

There is equal ambition in the casting of Chrono-Cross. Rather than building a core of less than ten characters, players can recruit a total of 45 party members during the initial quest and through replays in New Game+ mode. You’ll find conventional RPG characters like the conflicted knight Glenn, the arrogant mage Guile, and Riddel, the brooding daughter of a military leader, but Chrono-Cross don’t stop there. Also available are a living straw doll, a talking dog, a sentient turnip, a flower creature, a blacksmith, a scientist, a cyborg, a bartender, a struggling artist, a foppish swordsman, a glam rocker, a dancer, a baby dragon, a fairy, a cave girl, an alien, a mermaid, an elderly gnome mage, a rowdy sailor child and her family, and a skeleton clown that must be collected and assembled one piece at a time.

All of these characters find their way into the creative battle system of Chrono-Cross. Attacks are handled in three tiers, each displaying a percentage to gauge the likelihood of a successful landing, and using each move drains a turn gauge while boosting a character’s ability to use their spells, items and its unique abilities. All of these are assigned to slots, and you are limited in how often your party can use them in battle. It allows a lot of customization and Chrono-Cross adds a color-coded element system to enemies and the playing field. Every fight becomes a balancing act of attacking wisely, holding items, and using spells just when the elements favor them.

Chrono-Cross also makes combat less intrusive than other RPGs of its time. Enemies are visible on the main screen instead of emerging randomly, and many of them can be avoided. A similar innovation lets you skip areas on the world map if you’ve already cleared them, making the overall experience smoother. Still, it’s not without some downsides. The few exclusive moves the characters have are disappointing compared to Chrono Trigger’s signature abilities and team attacks – which Chrono-Cross offers only in a few rare and obscure cases. Having to choose attacks from a menu is also less satisfying than, say, the cruder but invigorating button mash of Xenogears (done by much of the same team), and all of those percentages clash with the game’s wonderfully organic atmosphere.

And this atmosphere goes a long way in mitigating the flaws of Chrono-Cross. SquaresoftProgrammers were well aware of the PlayStation in the late 1990s, and Chrono-Cross is their most visually impressive work. Everything in the game feels remarkably alive, from the tropical fronds and ocean views of Serge’s home to the depths of an eerily preserved high-tech base. The use of color and light is remarkable, and the designers’ choice of lush islands and colorful towns is always a charming alternative to the more medieval fantasy settings favored by other games.

The whole thing glides on thanks to a marvelous soundtrack. Composer Yasunori Mitsuda has extracted an astonishing variety of sound from the PlayStation’s processors, and its tracks are rarely short of catchy hooks or haunting melodies. The game’s first hours created a picture-perfect scene of melancholic tones and luminous atmosphere, throwing players adrift into a strange world while ruminating on how lives can be irrevocably changed with a single decision.

music helps Chrono-Cross shoot scenes of startling beauty: a sudden journey into a world rendered by children’s scribbles and simple tones, a sunset confrontation with a face from Serge’s past, and even the first time you take the sea ​​with a catchy theme that perfectly evokes a new sense of exploration.

Yet for all its spectacular environments, haunting music, varied paths, and multiple endings, Chrono-Cross can’t put it all together. The cast of characters is wide and varied, but the majority of them have short, unsatisfying plot arcs or no plot arc at all. Serge himself is mostly a blank slate, and Kid, likeable little punk that she is, can only make things better. And for every cool new member of the group, you’ll come across two that are just boring and disposable.

This is exacerbated by the localizers’ decision to give party members cartoonish speech patterns, and it’s not just Kid’s charming Cockney Aussie-isms or Zappa’s Scottish tones. You’ll get characters ending words with “-om”, squealing in Widdle Baby Talk, and babbling like Jar Jar Binks or Bizarro Superman. It was funny when Mog said “Thank you!” in Final Fantasy VI and… well, especially tolerable when Chu-Chu used “chu” instead of “you” throughout Xenogearsbut there is a time when cute becomes unbearable, and Chrono-Cross goes too far ahead.

It is undeniable that Chrono-Cross has some bright and touching moments (one of which actually involves time travel), but they’re scattered and diluted by the game’s lack of focus. It’s too busy giving the player options over party members to recruit and the plot twists to pursue (and the characters to inadvertently miss). The central story wrapped around Kid’s mad revenge and Serge’s struggle to simply exist, two potentially fascinating ideas, doesn’t get the development it needs. The game’s greatest secrets are revealed in a flurry of exposition literally right before the final boss, and the pathetic attempts at the end feel hollow despite an incredible closing song. Even separated from its sequel status, Chrono-Cross just doesn’t satisfy in its script.

And how does it go next? Discard Chrono Trigger’s your uplifting and whimsical, Chrono-Cross ranges from contemplative to downright dark, alluding to characters from the original game in downright tragic or lazily mean-spirited ways. It’s a bold turn for a sequel, yes, but it also reminds us that Chrono Trigger’s little cast was more memorable than Chrono-Cross‘an overloaded range of gimmicks and stereotypes and discarded Pokémon the drawings.

The remastered edition of Chrono-Cross looks decent at first, with crisp new character portraits and immediately available options to slow down or speed up everything (both of which were secrets buried in the original game). Still, technical issues are endemic: the frame rate drops haphazardly and makes the game choppy, and some background graphics and character models actually look worse than the PlayStation original. The new font is also unattractive, though at least it’s readable, unlike some recent ones. Final Fantasy redesigns. Maybe some patches will correct the problems, but at the time of writing it must be said that this version of Chrono-Cross is not the final version it should have been.

The most interesting novelty for this version is the first official English translation of Radical dreamers, a 1996 text adventure game originally made for the Satellaview service in Japan. A brief and opaque sequel to the trigger of a stopwatch, he finds Kid, a laid-back bard version of Serge, and a masked wizard named Magil infiltrating Lynx’s palace in search of the Frozen Flame. It’s the same scenario as Chrono-Cross would develop, but here it is much more focused and satisfying in its development. Serge has a bit more personality here, and more chance to interact with his companions.

Like an adventure game Radical dreamers is pretty straightforward, worthy of its origins as a download-only novelty. Lynx Mansion only has about 20 rooms, the battles are simple, and there’s plenty of backtracking. Still, it’s a fascinating bonus for the trigger of a stopwatch fans, and it’s impressive that Square finally saw fit to locate it. In reality, Radical dreamers does not Chrono-Cross all the favors in the plot department. Compared to the straightforward text-adventure approach and strong character connections, Chrono-Cross seems all the more a missed opportunity.

Despite some remastering issues, Chrono-Cross remains much the same as it was 22 years ago: spectacular to see and hear, intriguing to explore and generally disappointing beneath the surface. Radical dreamers is a nice addition, though, and it presents an interesting narrative just like Chrono-Cross delivers almost everything except that. And Chrono-Cross always stands out, whether gamers pick up the clever ideas of the undernourished or simply enjoy it as one of the most beautiful games ever made.