To play cards on the table, Chrono Cross has not lived well in my memory. While I enjoyed it well in my younger days when I was a voracious Japanese RPG devourer, it has since morphed into a loose mix of other PlayStation-era games. The unflattering impression isn’t helped by being a direct sequel to Chrono Trigger, one of my favorite games of all time. But even on my own, I struggled to find any particularly memorable parts of it. I was curious about Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition mainly to give it a fair boost and find what I had lost in my memory. And what I found is a fascinating and uneven time capsule of late 90s RPG design.
The Radical Dreamers edition is mostly the original Chrono Cross, but with a nice visual twist. The PlayStation meant clunky first steps into 3D games with jutting character designs and vibrant colors, and the remaster doesn’t drastically revamp the original game’s sharp, angular look. Squaresoft (pre-Enix fusion) was particularly good at creating expressive characters within those limits, but they were still limits. The HD remaster doesn’t fundamentally change that, so the jagged protruding arrows in the character designs might look unusual to modern eyes.
Within this framework, however, this is a very handsome remaster. The characters are crisp and expressive, and their animations hold up well. The Switch OLED display is particularly good at capturing Chrono Cross’ extremely bright color palette. To that end, the tropical setting that makes up the early hours of the game helps put its best foot forward to make the OLED screen impressive from the start.
While the port is faithful, it does include a few additional quality of life features that help smooth out the experience. A speed-up feature speeds everything up, and you can activate a “battle boost” to make the fights themselves easier. There is also an auto-battle feature to automatically execute the optimal battle commands for you. These three combinations mean that you will fight automatically, very quickly and hit very hard – perfect for leveling up. There’s also an optional speed-slow feature, which feels like walking through molasses, but might come in handy if you get frustrated with the occasional timing-based challenge. Also, if you don’t feel like dealing with regular enemy encounters at all, you can just turn them off.
I found the boost feature the most useful, to the point that it makes standard combat more efficient than without it. Chrono Cross uses a combo-based system where you choose multiple attacks in a single turn. It’s unique, but at the default speed it can feel sluggish and unresponsive. With the boost feature enabled, attacks unleash with ferocity, making your button presses feel like they correspond directly to the on-screen action. On the other hand, however, it can be easy to accidentally skip dialogue when you’re not in combat, so remembering to toggle the feature on and off can be annoying.
Chrono Cross also uses an inventive elemental affinity system, assigning one of six colors to each of its many characters and pitting them against each other. Rather than a typical red-blue-green elemental circle, you’re looking to match opposing colors: white-black, red-blue, and yellow-green. You can also change the general color of the battlefield to boost your attacks or dampen those of your opponents. It’s an interesting idea that adds some extra depth to classic JRPG mechanics, but it’s also not one we’ve seen iterated in Square games since. Rather than another glimpse into the roots of modern RPG mechanics, it stands as a monument to that experimental phase when studios took chances on singular, one-off ideas.
This experimental aspect is expressed visually in the design of the characters. With dozens of playable characters, it feels like Square quickly ran out of the way for regular archetypes like the silent protagonist Serge or the brave thief Kid. Instead, there’s tons of room for wackadoo inclusions like a sword-wielding turnip, a living voodoo doll, and a real space alien. Casting can make the whole thing seem disjointed, like a game assembled from pieces that don’t quite fit together, but come close enough together. And with nearly 50 characters in all, a degree of weirdness is to be expected. You are supposed to go through the game multiple times and collect them all like Pokemon. One of them even seems to be an unsubtle reference for Pokemon, thanks to its cutesy mascot look and ability to evolve.
The story comes from a time of unnecessary complexity, when game stories (and especially those of JRPGs) often left large parts unexplained and players had to piece together events themselves. This one begins with a relatively understandable hook: the main character, Serge, accidentally falls into an alternate reality where he drowned in a freak accident years before. But from there, it turns into dimension jumps and various semi-explained links to the events of Chrono Trigger. It’s easy to lose the plot with so much intersecting reality at play, and especially with so many characters connecting not just to themselves but to the established events of an entirely separate time-skipping adventure.
In that respect, like many PlayStation-era RPGs, Chrono Cross itself hasn’t aged as gracefully as some of its predecessors, including Chrono Trigger. The art style is just a little more austere, the story a little too obtuse, and the experiments with new types of combat systems and character designs don’t always fit together perfectly. This is a Square that’s clearly trying new things and seeing what works, similar to how it found its footing in the early NES, or later with more active combat systems over the years. last generations. There’s nothing wrong with this more experimental Square RPG, but it’s a different experience more suited to those who enjoy tinkering with game systems and attending a stretching studio.
This is especially true of the multi-faceted character recruitment system, which is so complicated that you can miss large swaths of story and a number of characters in a typical run. Chrono Cross built on the New Game Plus innovation of Chrono Trigger by iterating with branching paths, which is perfect for a story about multiple alternate dimensions and characters that are mirrors of each other. The base game is over 20 years old, so you can always check out an FAQ for a perfect run, but if this is your first time using Chrono Cross, I recommend you figure it out on your own and let the chips fall there where they can.
The crown jewel of the collection, at least for longtime fans of the Chrono series, is the inclusion of Radical Dreamers. The Satellaview text adventure was never officially released outside of Japan, although it served as a bridge between Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. Some of his references to Chrono Trigger help clarify the connections between the two. Since these connections can be difficult to understand in the context of Chrono Cross itself, it’s wonderful to finally have an official translation for this lost piece of series history.
That said, Radical Dreamers has more value as a curiosity than as an actual game. The text-adventure format often feels very static, with long sequences of narration occurring between interactive segments. Your decisions sometimes seem weightless, both because their impact on the story is unclear and because things like your own health are hidden. It’s hard to recommend exploring all of its depths when the right Chrono Cross is available, but keeping it as a museum exhibit is worth the collection.
This museum aspect is really what could please Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition the most. Chrono Cross is an unusual game from an unusual time, paired with a game that many of us in the West have never seen before. Some parts of Chrono Cross are deeply weird and some of its ideas don’t work, but so did a lot of RPGs made during this era. In that way, it’s a game out of its time, brought to us with modern conveniences that help me appreciate its endearing weirdness. Maybe this time I will create new memories.