Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition was one of the many Japanese RPGs that took center stage at the Nintendo Direct on Feb. 9. This PlayStation classic debuted in 1999, and while you wouldn’t believe it from the fan reaction to the remaster, it was something of a black sheep. While fans today look back on Chrono Cross fondly for its ambitious story, large cast, and gorgeous soundtrack, the game used to be one of the most divisive titles that Squaresoft ever put out.
Whether you love or hate Chrono Cross — and I am firmly in the former camp — there’s no denying that it’s an extremely different experience than its predecessor, Chrono Trigger. And while the Chrono Cross remaster has garnered fairly positive press so far, there’s no denying that a ton of fans are wondering why we’re not getting an updated version of Chrono Trigger instead.
While Chrono Cross is fresh in everyone’s minds, now is the perfect time to revisit the game itself, as well as its complicated legacy. Chrono Trigger may be the more straightforward and universally beloved of the two, but Chrono Cross is the game that the gaming public needs right now.
A comparison with Chrono Trigger
First off, for gamers who need a refresher on the Chrono games (or who perhaps haven’t played them yet), here’s a brief summary:
Chrono Trigger is a Japanese RPG that debuted for the Super Nintendo in 1995. In it, you take control of a teenage boy named Crono, who finds himself hurtling through time, along with his friends Lucca and Marle. During their temporal travels, they team up with a variety of adventurers from different time periods, including a gallant knight, a loyal robot, a bold cavewoman and a brooding sorcerer. With art from Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, a great sense of humor and plenty of nonlinear exploration, it’s no surprise that Chrono Trigger is still one of the SNES’ most fondly remembered titles.
To understand why Chrono Cross suffered from some backlash, it’s important to remember that most fans were probably expecting another time-traveling adventure, perhaps with the same cast of characters. What they got instead was a game with a much smaller map, a much stranger battle system, no reliable way to level up, and only the most tenuous connections to the previous game. Instead of traveling through time, Chrono Cross is about hopping between two parallel dimensions. The quest is less about saving the world, and more about discovering just how many ripples one person’s life and choices can create.
Chrono Cross also benefits from replays more so than Chrono Trigger, as there are more than 40 party members to collect, and you can’t possibly get them all in one playthrough. (In fact, you’ll need to go through the game at least three times.) While these party members aren’t all as distinct and memorable as Chrono Trigger’s cast, they do give the game quite a bit more variety, since you could have a radically different party each time you play, even if you change up your members frequently. Some characters are better than others, but you can create some interesting combinations, especially if you want to devise clever strategies for the tough optional bosses.
Without doing a whole retroview of Chrono Cross here, it’s safe to say that the game is much weirder and less accessible than Chrono Trigger. It’s not a feel-good adventure; it’s a pensive, experimental game. A handful of meta story twists occasionally remind you that, yes, you’re playing a video game, which adds an extra layer of meaning to its "choice and consequence" themes.
As such, I would argue that Chrono Cross is the kind of game that merits a second look, particularly if you didn’t grok it the first time around. Chrono Trigger, on the other hand, is just as good as you remember it — and no better.
While Chrono Trigger should, indeed, be available on the Switch and other modern platforms, a "remastered" version would only add so much. You can already get the game with slightly upgraded graphics and a few extra features on Android and Steam. But while replaying the game is nostalgic, it’s not going to challenge any of your conceptions about gaming, and your interpretation of it won’t really change with the passage of time. Chrono Cross, on the other hand, may feel quite a bit different after 23 years.
Preserving Radical Dreamers
There’s one other reason why Chrono Cross may benefit from a remaster more than Chrono Trigger, and it has to do with game preservation. I’ve gotten on my high horse about game preservation before, arguing that today’s obsession with remakes and remasters is at least partially due to the fact that it’s so hard to play older games on modern systems. Unless you have an unbroken string of consoles going back to about 1983, it’s unbelievably difficult to experience older entries in classic series.
That’s even truer when you consider games that weren’t on proper consoles at all. Radical Dreamers, the visual novel that inspired Chrono Cross, was sort of an SNES game, and sort of not. It ran on the Satellaview: a satellite modem plugin for the Super Famicom (the Japanese SNES). The Satellaview was something of a dud in Japan, and never made its way to the West at all. In short, Radical Dreamers became essentially impossible to play years ago.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition, however, will include this game in its entirely, translated into languages other than Japanese for the first time. I’ve never played Radical Dreamers before, so I can’t say for sure whether it will enhance Chrono Cross, or even be interesting to play in its own right. But I can say that knowing what inspired Chrono Cross could only provide more context, and that’s never a bad thing. Perhaps Radical Dreamers will be the missing piece of the puzzle that connects Chrono Trigger to Chrono Cross — thematically, at least, if not in terms of plot.
The other Chrono Cross upgrades seem pretty standard for remastered fare: high-res character models, improved music and "battle enhancement features," whatever that means. (Generally speaking, those boil down to a fast-forward button and more granular difficulty options.) But the real draw of the remaster is having another chance to experience an ambitious, daring and misunderstood game.
For purists who insist that Chrono Trigger deserves a modern facelift, I’m with you. But I believe that Chrono Cross deserves one even more. Hopefully, my faith will be justified when the game debuts on PC and consoles on April 7. And, if I’m wrong, you’re welcome to travel back in time and warn me.