Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: April 8, 2022
Genre: Japanese RPG
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition is one of those remakes that accomplishes exactly what it set out to do, and not much else. Square Enix wanted to give its classic JRPG a fresh coat of paint and make it compatible with modern consoles, and that’s precisely what you can expect from The Radical Dreamers Edition. You can now play Chrono Cross on the PS4, Xbox One or Nintendo Switch, with much higher-res graphics than you remember. If that’s worth $20 to you, then The Radical Dreamers Edition is an easy recommendation.
On the other hand, there’s definitely the sense that Square Enix could have done more with the source material. The redone graphics are a bit of a mixed bag, the Radical Dreamers add-on is a pretty niche experience, and the original game feels a lot more convoluted and arbitrary than you might remember. You need to play Chrono Cross at least three times to get the “full” experience. If you’ve already done so, The Radical Dreamers doesn’t give you much incentive to dive back in.
While Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers is a satisfying remaster, it has little to offer gamers who have already played their fill of the original. Read on for our full Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition review: Gameplay
If you played Chrono Cross when it debuted on the PS1 in 2000, then you’re already familiar with 99% of the gameplay in Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition. If not: Chrono Cross is a Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) that acts as an indirect sequel to Chrono Trigger. Unlike Chrono Trigger, which let you travel through time, Chrono Cross lets you traverse parallel dimensions.
You take control of Serge: an everyday teenage boy from an island town, who gets wrapped up in a mind-bending adventure. The general setup is traditional JRPG stuff. You’ll travel from town to town and dungeon to dungeon, fighting a variety of standard enemies and powerful bosses along the way. You’ll gather new spells and equipment as you go, and you’ll upgrade your stats by fighting foes and leveling up. Expect a few branching narrative choices, environmental puzzles and elaborate side quests as you go.
At first glance, the combat in Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers is pretty typical turn-based fare. You and your enemies take turns attacking, dishing out damage with physical attacks and magic spells. But instead of simply attacking your foes, Chrono Cross employs a percentage-based scheme. Powerful attacks are unlikely to connect at first, but you can build up their hit chances by performing weak attacks in succession. This creates a satisfying risk-reward system that encourages you to be both smart and daring.
After connecting with enough physical attacks, you can also perform powerful magic. Each spell has a colored element (red for fire, blue for water and so forth), and each color influences the battlefield. For example: Cast three green spells in a row, and green spells will become much more powerful, for both you and your enemies. This keeps battles tense and interesting, since empowering yourselves often means empowering your foes, and vice versa.
The trouble with Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers is that the game can feel a bit slow and repetitive by modern standards. Most battles feel trivial, and grant only middling stat boosts; boss fights are the only way to raise your level. The environments are often small and a bit empty, with a lot of tedious backtracking if you want to find every optional treasure chest.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition review: Story
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition tells the story of Serge: an unassuming island boy who accidentally traverses the barrier between two parallel dimensions. In this other world, Serge died in childhood, and the whole setting feels subtly different as a result. He teams up with a roguish thief named Kid, who wants Serge to help her hunt down a valuable treasure. From there, the story builds into a dimension-hopping adventure about friendship, self-perception and free will, complete with one of the best mid-game plot twists in the whole genre.
One thing that sets Chrono Cross apart from many other JRPGs is its large and eclectic cast of characters. You can recruit 45 different characters, although doing so will take three playthroughs. The cast contains some fascinating personalities, from the noble knight Glenn, to the stubborn blacksmith Zappa, to the patient childhood friend Leena.
On the flip side, it also contains some real duds. Before I played The Radical Dreamers Edition, I thought long and hard about the party members I remembered from the original game, and came up with only about a dozen. The requirements to recruit party members are also stringent and sometimes a bit nonsensical. You can get a full party playing through the game normally, but if you want specific characters, you almost certainly have to start with a walkthrough in hand.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition review: New features
There aren’t too many new features in Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition. Players can now make battles a little easier, with slow, fast-forward, auto-battle and battle boost options. The remastered character models and backgrounds are generally pretty, although there’s just no way to make a 20-year-old game look perfect on modern hardware.
The biggest addition, however, is the Radical Dreamers mode. This text adventure is a curious side story in the Chrono series, previously only available via fan translations. It’s an interesting precursor to Chrono Cross, telling a similar story in a wildly different format. Some players will enjoy the sharp writing and unconventional structure, but it’s an awful lot of text for relatively little gameplay.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition: Visuals and sound
Square Enix has redone the character models and touched up the backgrounds for Chrono Cross: The Remastered Edition. The results are generally pleasant, with distinctive designs, vibrant colors and varied environments. However, the upgrades have also resulted in a few rough spots. The character animations don’t always play nicely with the game’s higher frame rates, resulting in jerky movements, particularly during battles. The backgrounds and character models sometimes look incongruous, as the characters are much sharper and more focused than the prerendered, occasionally blurry backgrounds. There are also a few small-but-noticeable graphical glitches, such as black spots appearing in the background.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, is and always has been a thing of beauty. Chrono Cross is one of the gold standards in JRPG music, with an ambitious and heartfelt range of tracks, from tense battle themes to somber exploration tunes. A Celtic influence ties the soundtrack together thematically, and you’re liable to get the whole thing stuck in your head for another 20 years.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition: Verdict
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition is an acceptable remaster of a great game. It doesn’t add much, but it does make a classic title accessible on modern hardware. That, in and of itself, is a worthwhile goal.
On the other hand, the game is also a reminder that our nostalgia for old games is often rooted primarily in how they made us feel. I loved Chrono Cross for its clever gameplay, ambitious story and stunning music. Revisiting the game today, though, the gameplay can get tedious, and the story hides some of its best characters behind artificial roadblocks. (The soundtrack is still legitimately excellent, though.)
If you’ve never played Chrono Cross before, The Radical Dreamers Edition is the way to play it. But if you have, I’d think carefully about whether you really want to play it again, or simply reminisce on your good memories of it.