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Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition (PS4)

Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition (PS4) - Review

by Issa Maki , posted on 19 April 2022 / 3,890 Views

The day my father took me to buy Chrono Cross is one of fondest memories I have. Rambling on about characters and battle mechanics I guarantee he had no interest in, I would spend the remainder of the year absorbing its soundtrack and story like a sponge, completing multiple playthroughs and cherishing what I still look back on as the favorite era of my life. The Radical Dreamers Edition doesn't have me waxing nostalgic like it should, but it's not the complete disaster everyone is making it out to be.

The convoluted story of Chrono Cross has been well-documented by the old-school RPG community, standing second only to Xenogears in terms of obscure depth. One afternoon, silent protagonist Serge is mysteriously drawn into a parallel reality where historical events have unfolded differently than in his world – chiefly Serge's untimely demise. Hunted by pursuers seeking to use him for their own ambitions and aided by the enigmatic Kid, Serge travels the realms in pursuit of the Frozen Flame, a legendary artifact with the power to shape desire into reality.

I prefer Chrono Cross over its predecessor, Chrono Trigger, but having beaten Cross twice in the past year and a half, its inconsistent narrative is more apparent to me than it used to be. I'll always believe Cross tells a stronger overall story, yet the plot itself is not only undeniably weaker – it's just plain weird. From the rock concert put on by the love child of a pirate and mermaid (who presumably was visually inspired by Marilyn Manson) to harvesting alien space technology that turns a schooner into an airship, it's easy to see why people once questioned Cross' legitimacy of being the heir to Trigger's throne. And while the connections are there (and vital to understanding the gravity of the situation at hand), they essentially come in the form of massive text dumps at key moments in the story. More than that, Cross expects players to be intimately familiar with the events of Trigger, and its absence on modern consoles echoes Cross' original release in 2000, arriving in the West before Final Fantasy Chronicles could help provide the proper background for PlayStation owners. Serge's battle against FATE only grows more whimsical over time, it seems.

The combat system in Chrono Cross remains enjoyable, eclipsing many of its PS1 contemporaries in terms of nuance. Each party member starts with seven stamina points used for attacking and casting spells, refilling allies depleted meters in the process. Elements (often compared to Final Fantasy VII's Materia system by virtue of being equipped in slots) are magical spells of varying types with opposing alignments. Overseeing all of this is the 'Field Effect', which augments (or weakens) elemental types based on the last three spells cast; should a single color dominate the grid, powerful summons can be used. Trap Elements are still too situational and there isn't much variation among playable units, but it still holds up pretty well after all these years, and mastery of it is almost required to get through the back half of the adventure.

When it comes to The Radical Dreamers Edition, the two earliest points of contention have been its inconsistent framerate and the inability to choose the original soundtrack. There are certainly issues with this version of Chrono Cross to be sure, but these two are the least of its problems.

The framerate loss is moot, given the Time Shifter's availability. Traditionally unlocked after a playthrough, I was able to beat The Radical Dreamers Edition (achieving the good ending) in less than 20 hours thanks to its fast-forwarding capabilities. Personally, I didn't mind trading in almost half the time it took last year for a few dropped frames, but that's me. Most strange is that this is - and isn't - an issue; it's indicative of the remaster's quality, yet little more than a blemish that can be covered.

Concerns about the music are equally unfounded. I've spent hundreds of dollars on Chrono Cross' soundtrack over the years, and I'll be the first one to tell you that everything's fine. This isn't a case of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definite Edition (where the over-refined soundtrack had me scrambling for my Wii) or Onimusha: Warlords HD (which replaced the original score entirely); it's the equivalent of transitioning from a vinyl record to a CD. The music is slightly cleaner than before – that's all. People will obviously prefer what they've been accustomed to hearing for twenty years, and we'll be having this same tired conversation when 3D audio bubbles are commonplace. Thankfully, by then I won't be able to hear it anymore, having achieved sweet death.

What really annoys me about The Radical Dreamers Edition is the fact that it runs in a windowed mode. Borders are the last thing I want to see in 2022; I don't care if it's an Apple II game, if you're not going to do the work – don't bother. The touched-up graphics look great, but when it comes at the cost of half my screen, I would rather not pay the fee. Besides, there are 15 borders in Chrono Cross to collect and apply to the in-game text, but I can't change these new ones in any way? You have to try to miss opportunities like that.

But it's the lack of Chrono Trigger that remains The Radical Dreamers Edition's greatest flaw. Chrono Cross is intrinsically linked to its predecessor, and without it, players are flying blind through the narrative. The main villains in the story are from an alternate future timeline that was erased 65 million years ago (during the events of the previous game), and if you're not carrying that baggage with you, the most compelling pieces of Chrono Cross remain esoteric and sealed. Like I mentioned, historically this already happened once before, and to see it occur twice in my lifetime is irresponsible to gamers and the series' legacy alike. It's as if the Chrono franchise has been cursed from achieving its true greatness, and when you're lamenting about not having access to the infamous PS1 port of Chrono Trigger, how could it be false?

All that being said, there are in fact merits to this release that deserve attention. I've mentioned the graphics and Time Shifter, but a major one is an Auto-Battle feature; although characters won't use spells or heal properly, this helps to further trim some of the tedious fat off the game's bones. Auto-Saving has also been added whenever players reach the World Map, a nice 'modern' touch. Given the choice of starting a subsequent run on PS3 or PS4, it's difficult not to choose the latter even if it isn't the 'best' version to play.

The big draw for longtime devotees (and the only conceivable way Square Enix could get away with this) is the addition of The Radical Dreamers. A myth from the early days of the Internet once limited to blurry screenshots on fanpages, the Japanese online-only SNES exclusive has finally made its way to the West – and it's awesome. The earliest example of a visual novel that comes to mind, the writing (from Serge's perspective, no less) is easily the best the series has seen, adding entirely new perspectives to Serge, Kid, Lynx, General Viper, Lady Riddel, and a few others I won't spoil. The themes, musical tracks, and lore that carried over to Chrono Cross draws The Radical Dreamers closer to its descendant than its ancestor. As much heat as Cross has taken over the years for not being a 'true' sequel to Trigger, ironically The Radical Dreamers' connections to its predecessor are even more tenuous. It's sad that a 25-year-old SNES game is the last piece of the puzzle, but in the hearts of fans this is the closure we always wished for, and never thought we'd get. Even if the 'gameplay' hasn't aged gracefully (and yes, you can die), its words are as true today as they were then.

With The Radical Dreamers Edition, I now have access to Chrono Cross on every Sony platform, so at the very least it deserves credit for that. Could it be better? Yes. Does Chrono Cross deserve better? Yes, but let's not start pretending everyone's been in that boat this whole time. Chrono Cross has spent its entire life in the shadow of Chrono Trigger, fighting for a place in history based on its own merits, and until this release, it had actually made headway and was winning that fight. Now – at best – the game's reputation is back in the cellar. The Radical Dreamers Edition isn't as bad as it's made out to be, but to say it's a far cry from what it should have been is an understatement. Fans will begrudgingly accept it with open arms, and to everyone else, it's two sequels to a game that isn't available on any contemporary system. I used to think Square Enix wasn't doing that bad, until I realized that the departed Hajime Tabata was responsible for the last four games the company made that I enjoyed.

I have an idea for next Chrono game: to go back in time and stop Squaresoft from making Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and bankrupting the company so Enix never gets ahold of it. That's the real reason why the series died: so we don't get our hopes up about any future and stay complacent with cashing in on the past.

Let's pray that Xenogears eludes the gaze of the evil eye.

This review is based on a digital copy of Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition for the PS4

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Hynad (on 19 April 2022)

While I agree with the very few points you made about the game itself, you are too focused on making suppositions and assumptions that you then present as facts, you’re ranting the whole time without ever really talking about the game itself, and how you do all this while admitting your last few favourites from SE have been games directed by Hajime Tabata… It made it hard for me to take you seriously. Less of that, please.

  • +4
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Chrizum (on 19 April 2022)

A bad Chrono Cross is still a good game, but it's sad to see that the original PSX release not only sounds better, but also runs with a higher and more stable framerate than this rerelease on a system about a million times more powerful. It's just a lazy emulation job, modders have done a much better job, shameful.

  • +3
Jumpin Chrizum (on 19 April 2022)

That’s sad, because the frame rate on the PSX version was horrendous. It was basically the Cruisin USA of PSX’s lineup when it came to frame rate.

That said, frame rate shouldn’t be a reason not to play this game.

  • 0
Doctor_MG (on 20 April 2022)

Small nitpick here (not even about the game itself), but Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition lets you switch between original and remastered scores, so there is no need to scramble for your Wii :)

  • +2
JWeinCom (on 01 June 2022)

"Fans will begrudgingly accept it with open arms, and to everyone else, it's two sequels to a game that isn't available on any contemporary system."

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