Set in 2022, Chrono Cross may seem like a game lost in time. But it’s an intriguing oddity for JRPG fans. To put my cards on the table, Chrono Cross did not live well in my memory. While I quite enjoyed it in my youth when I was a voracious devourer of Japanese RPGs. It’s since disappeared into a bewildering mix of other PlayStation-era games.
The unflattering impression isn’t compounded by the fact that it’s a direct sequel to Chrono Trigger, one of my all-time favorite games. But even on my own, I struggled to find particularly memorable parts of it. I was curious to check out Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition mainly to give it a good shake and find out what I was missing in my memories. And what I’ve found is an intriguing and unpredictable time capsule of late 1990’s RPG design.
Radical Dreamers Edition PlayStation Marked Chrono Cross:
The Radical Dreamers Edition is first and foremost the original Chrono Cross, albeit with a nice visual tweak. The PlayStation marked awkward first steps into 3D games with prominent character designs and bright colors, and the remaster doesn’t drastically change the edgy, edgy look of the original game.
Squaresoft (pre-Enix Fusion) was particularly adept at creating expressive characters within those limitations, but at their core they were still limitations. The HD remaster doesn’t change things significantly, so the character design’s protruding irregular towers might seem unusual to modern eyes.
In this context, however, this is a very good looking remaster. The characters are sharp and expressive and their animations hold up well. The Switch OLED screen is particularly good at capturing Chrono Cross’ extremely bright color palette.
To that end, the tropical setting that makes up the first few hours of the game helps you do your best to make the OLED screen look impressive right from the start.
- While the port is faithful, it includes some additional quality-of-life features that help make the experience smoother.
- An acceleration function makes everything go much faster, and you can activate a “combat 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 combined mean you’re auto-fighting, very fast, and hitting very hard, perfect for level-grinding.
- There’s also an optional speed down feature that makes you feel like you’re going through molasses. But it could come in handy if you’re frustrated with the occasional time-based challenge.
- And if you don’t feel like going through normal enemy encounters, you can just turn them off.
I found the speed up feature very useful, to the point that it actually makes the default combat feature better than without it. Chrono Cross uses a combo-based system where you select multiple attacks in one turn. It’s unique, but at its default speed it can feel slow and unresponsive. With the acceleration function active, attacks are unleashed violently, giving the impression that pressing the keys corresponds directly to the action on the screen. On the downside, however, it can be easy to accidentally skip dialogue when you’re not in action, so remembering to toggle the feature on and off can be annoying.
Uses An Inventive System:
Chrono Cross also uses an inventive system of elemental affinity, assigning each of its many characters one of the six colors and juxtaposing them. Instead of a typical red-blue-green elementary circle, try matching opposite colors: white-black, red-blue, and yellow-green. You can also change the overall color of the battlefield to boost your attacks or dampen those of your opponents. It’s an interesting idea that adds a bit more depth to the classic JRPG mechanics. But hasn’t been repeated in Square games since. Rather than providing further insight into the roots of modern RPG mechanics. It stands as a memorial to this experimental phase where studies took risks for unique and one-off ideas.
This experimental aspect is expressed visually in the character designs. With dozens of playable characters to play for. It looks like Square has quickly strayed from regular archetypes like the silent protagonist Serge or the daring thief Kid. Instead, there’s plenty of room for quirky inclusions like a sword-wielding turnip, a live voodoo doll, and a real owl.
And with nearly 50 characters in total, expect something crazy. You would have to go through the game several times and collect them all as Pokemon. One of them also appears to be a subtle reference to Pokemon thanks to its cute mascot look and ability to evolve.
Unnecessary Complexity in Story:
The story comes from an age of unnecessary complexity, where in-game stories (and especially those in the JRPG) often left unexplained large parts and players had to reconstruct the events for themselves. This begins with a relatively understandable catch the main character, Serge, accidentally stumbles upon an alternate reality in which he drowned in a freak accident years ago.
But from there it leads to dimensional changes and various semi-explained connections to the events of Chrono Trigger. It’s easy to miss the plot when so much reality is thwarted. And especially with such a large cast of characters connected not just to themselves. But to the established events of a completely separate time travel adventure.
In this regard, Chrono Cross, like many PlayStation-era RPGs, hasn’t aged with the same grace as some of its predecessors, including Chrono Trigger. The drawing style is a little crude, the story a little too boring. And experiments with new combat systems and character designs don’t always go together perfectly.
This is a square that is clearly trying new things and seeing what works. Just as it took root in the early days of the NES or later with more active combat systems in the last few generations. There’s not necessarily something wrong with this rather experimental square RPG. But it’s a different experience best suite for those who like to tinker with game systems and witness an expanding studio.
This is especially true of the multifaceted character recruitment system. Which is complicate enough that you miss out on much of the story and a number of characters in a typical run. Chrono Cross builds on Chrono Trigger’s New Game Plus innovation and continues with branching paths that fit very well with a story across multiple alternate dimensions and characters mirroring each other.
Radical Dreamers At Least For Longtime Fans:
The main game is over 20 years old, so you can always check out an FAQ for a perfect run. But if you are playing Chrono Cross for the first time. I recommend that you start alone and throw your chips where you can.
The highlight of the collection, at least for longtime fans of the Chrono series, is the inclusion of Radical Dreamers. Satellaview’s text adventure was never officially release outside of Japan. Although it served as a bridge between Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. Some of his references to Chrono Trigger help make the story connections between the two clearer.
Since these connections are 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.
However, Radical Dreamers is more of a curiosity than a real game. The text-adventure format often feels very static, with long narrative sequences occurring between interactive segments.
Your choices sometimes seem weightless. Both because it’s not clear how they affect the story and because things like your health aren’t visible. It’s hard to recommend exploring all its depths when the right Chrono Cross is available. But keeping it as a museum exhibit is worth the collection.
Radical Dreamers Museum Aspect:
This museum aspect is truly what appeals to Chrono Cross. The Radical Dreamers Edition the most. Chrono Cross is an unusual game from an unusual era pair with a game that many of us in the West have never seen before.
Some parts of Chrono Cross are deeply strange and some of its ideas don’t work. But that was true of many RPGs create around this time. In this way, it’s a game of its time, presented with some modern conveniences that help me appreciate its endearing quirkiness. Maybe this time I’ll create some new memories.