Title: Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: April 7, 2022
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Turn-Based JRPG
Reviewer’s Note: The remark about the newly arranged soundtrack is a false conclusion born out of misconstrued information. The game solely contains the original soundtrack. Disregard that specific segment of the review.
I’ve always been loosely aware of Chrono Cross’ contentious existence. Despite the endless love for Chrono Trigger, this entry isn’t brought up on many “best games” lists. Still, I recently played through Chrono Trigger, so I’ve been looking forward to this seemingly unconventional sequel. It looks like Square Enix heard my wishes with the release of Chrono Cross The Radical Dreamers Edition. This remastered release would be my first time playing through the game, and boy, oh boy, it left a monumental mark that few JRPGs have managed to make.
Chrono Cross stars the protagonist Serge, an ordinary young man who finds himself at the center of a complex web of dimensional belonging. Not wholly understanding where his proper place is, he eventually encounters the main heroine, Kid, as they, and several other recruitable party members, pursue their own goals while figuring out Serge’s temporal and spatial conundrum.
It becomes evident that this title’s primary draw is its narrative, and it delivers in spades. It manages to discuss steep inquiries regarding existence’s fundamental questions in ways that never come off as preachy. Dialogue, while occasionally humorous in sudden deliverance, also tends to feel cohesive. With such a thought-provoking series of themes and plotlines, information is surprisingly digestible.
Still, you have to take some time to really take in the plot developments, especially later on. It’s difficult to say why without spoiling the course of events, but quite a lot happens that requires players to reflect on the implications and subtleties. The NPC dialogue is excellent when coupled with the varied explorable maps. Put bluntly, the world is captivatingly intricate. If you take the time to smell the roses and talk to everyone you encounter, several aspects of discrimination, hierarchies, and more are provided in greater detail than what one may initially expect.
Another notable element is the various choices players must make throughout the story. Some decisions are more impactful than others, but they have lasting effects, such as the recruitable party members. This factor is the most mixed aspect of the experience because there are over 40 obtainable party members, with some being locked out of a playthrough depending on what choices have been made. As a result of this sheer quantity, not much time is spent on these numerous characters’ relationships and interactions, which can seem like an understandable ruiner for some.
However, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, Chrono Cross thrives highly enough with its narrative that I rarely found myself actively wanting more character interaction. Since near the game’s start, a constant and omnipresent tensity lightly pushed me forward and the core plot took centerstage above character relationships. In retrospect, I didn’t miss the lacking character dichotomies. While several older JRPGs turn me off by not pursuing party banter, the story alone was mesmerizing enough for this adventure. Plus, the recruitable party members and differing story choices cleverly incentivize additional playthroughs, a concept other games don’t try to enact or fail to implement adequately.
Gameplay-wise, this turn-based title may seem contrived with its initial presentation, but it’s actually quite simple. Characters have physical attacks with accuracy and power values displayed requiring players to plan which combos to perform. It’s a classic risk versus reward endeavor that stays consistent and never grows tiresome. Further, there are Elements, essentially the item and magic system. Spells have a significant degree of utility, heavily impacting the battles. Most notably, aside from expected elemental affinities between the party and foes, the field itself has an elemental state affecting spell efficacy, resulting from Elements used during fights. Similar to the choices made across the story, selecting what Elements you use has implications lasting the rest of a battle.
There are also forging systems to gain better equipment, simply necessitating materials earned from battles. However, the most intriguing part of the gameplay loop is Element allocation. In the main menu, Elements can be sorted on a miniature board ranging in levels, which are gained when successfully performing physical attacks in battle, granting access to the Elements allocated beforehand. It probably sounds confusing, but it’s straightforward in practice. There are just enough layers within these mechanics for players to invest genuine thought into without it feeling like too much. Additional mechanics are introduced, such as coating physical attacks in an Element entirely, which were just refreshing enough to keep me excited.
Regarding difficulty, the challenge level is reasonably approachable. As long as you understand the Elements system and upgrade your gear, you’ll be fine. Still, it rarely felt like I was steamrolling foes, so boss fights never felt one-sided. However, for those just wanting to experience the narrative, a newly added feature of this release empowers the party for battles.
Speaking of features exclusive to the remaster, there is also the ability to disable enemy encounters, adjust the screen resolution, auto-battle, and the options to switch between the original and newer font. What is perhaps most noteworthy, though, is the turbo-mode because it’s so damn handy. There were points where performance was a tad choppy with turbo mode enabled, but it was never hindering.
One missing feature is the option to switch between the original and newly arranged soundtrack. Now, since I never played the original, I don’t have memories of the classic tracks, but I’m sure some players would like to hear them. If it’s any consolation, I found the soundtrack fantastic.
The presentation will be a sticking point for those wanting a more modern style. Of course, you can’t dissuade inherent preference, so if what you’ve seen is distasteful, you’re probably better off not playing. Personally, the area variation struck me. From the initial beach town to the more medieval-esque structures, every location was memorable. It’s all lovingly vibrant providing a sense of nostalgia as I progressed.
The second part of this experience, Radical Dreamers – Le Trésor Interdit –, was originally a text-based adventure released for the Satellaview in 1996. I advise playing it after completing the actual game for character and story-related reasons. The writing within this brief venture is told from Serge’s perspective, and it’s rather compelling.
Much of his personality shines from his inner monologues regarding himself, surrounding characters, and ongoing events. Players will have to complete pseudo-puzzles where they’ll need to visit locations at the proper time. It can become slightly vexing since there’s a good deal of backtracking if you don’t know where to go. Still, the light involvement of player agency was appreciated, and I even found myself jotting down directions for how I traveled to get a better sense of where I was at a given time. This isn’t exactly a defining part of the package, though its inclusion is fantastic for archival and completion purposes. Moreover, older fans of the title will undoubtedly get a greater kick out of this Satellaview game’s content.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition has become one of my favorite JRPGs, and I regret not playing it sooner. This is a must-play game for any JRPG fan. From its remarkably well-written narrative that will stay with you for years, to the approachable yet still involved combat mechanics coupled with an endearing presentation, I fell in love with this title far more than I thought I would.
Even with the colossal party recruitment factor where there’s lacking character interaction, the story does more than enough to elevate this adventure to supreme heights. For such an ambitious game that would more than likely trip over itself, its heart is valiant, pursuing trails of gripping philosophical convictions that deserve extensive acclaim.
I understand that there are massive Chrono Trigger fans who dislike this title, and while that’s fair, I think diving into this game again with a more open mind will surprise you. Instead of treating it as a failed Chrono Trigger sequel and more of its own beast with connective tissue, I promise you’ll find a fulfilling time here.
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