Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition Review
As someone who grew up in the era of the classic RPGs from the 80s and 90s, Chrono Cross holds a special place in my heart. Titles like this along with Xenogears and other classics from the company known back then as Squaresoft really defined the genre and basically made it what it is now.
Fast forward to 2022 and against all odds, we get a remaster of the classic from 1999 entitled Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition. Expectations are sky-high, especially for longtime fans of the game such as myself.
While it would be easy to make the hasty assumption of “it was good then, it should still be good now,” there’s also the issue of the actual remaster. Considering that this is a game that is high on the list of many old-school gamers, it would be a travesty if this release didn’t at least play perfectly thanks to the hardware we have today.
More than the actual game, can this remaster give justice to the original?
Replaying A Classic
It would be easy to fall into the trap of playing Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition with rose-tinted glasses, and why not? Right from the initial loading scene to where the iconic ‘Scars of Time’ track would play, fortunate folks who have played the original will definitely feel the chills coursing through them.
This is a heavy nostalgia bomb that is almost unmatched, which we’ll tackle in 2 parts – the game itself and the additions from the remaster.
Without diving into any of the remaster features, for now, Chrono Cross is an absolute treat from start to finish. The game holds a 94 Metacritic must-play rating and that’s because as a whole, Chrono Cross delivers a satisfying experience across all aspects. From its intriguing storyline to the multitude of characters you can recruit and topped off with a masterful soundtrack, the game itself is pure bliss whether you are playing it for the first time or not.
The battle system in Chrono Cross is probably where it deviates the most from similar games in the genre, employing a stamina-based approach that limits the actions you can take during your turn. Juggling stamina with other mechanics such as elemental affinities makes this aspect of the game probably its most contentious that will take quite a bit of playtime to master, and much more to actually appreciate.
Throughout its 35-40+ hours of game time, there’s very little need to grind in Chrono Cross, as playing the game naturally can take you to one of its many endings, leaving you with the decision to replay the adventure again. The game will leave you satisfied after your run, and whether you choose to replay the game or not to further complete everything, Chrono Cross does not disappoint.
A Problematic Remaster
What does disappoint is how the remaster is handled.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition adds quite a number of quality of life features, and welcome ones at that! From the usual speeding up of battles with a click of a button to a battle boost option that makes encounters easier, players who might want to simply experience the acclaimed story of the game can do so at their convenience.
There are 2 big additions here that are the highlights of the remaster – the updated visuals and the addition of Radical Dreamers, an obscure visual novel that not everyone knows due to its limited availability back in the day.
As part of the crowd who has never played this, it was sort of a mixed bag. As someone who isn’t that intrigued by visual novel-type games, Radical Dreamers didn’t quite pique my interest as much as I thought it would, despite it being steeped in Chrono Cross lore.
You’ll play as characters in the game trying to navigate through Lynx’s Manor via a series of choices that will determine what you do in this text-based adventure. It doesn’t get too complicated as the experience is rather straightforward, so Radical Dreamers is and should be mostly treated as a supplement to the main game.
This is definitely an acquired taste but throughout the experience, you’ll get to hear more of the fantastic music of the legendary Yasunori Mitsuda, which is more than enough for many.
Arguably the highlight of the remaster is the improved visuals. Don’t expect Final Fantasy VII Remake levels of improvement here because what you get is a pretty bare-bones affair that simply smoothes out the jagged edges, introduces a clearer font, and gives the characters some new illustrations. More than that, the backgrounds are considerably smoother in the new visual mode, which is very much welcome.
Players are given a choice on whether to play Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition between the old and the new graphics modes, and while nostalgia might want to have a word with you, playing with the improved visuals is unquestionably the way to go.
Despite being documented that the team had a hard time actually recreating the game due to technical limitations and the fact that parts of the original code can no longer be recovered, the resulting product is still quite good.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition also introduces a Normal, Full, and Zoomed resolution option, and what it does is basically display the game in certain aspect ratios leaving black bars on either side of the screen. Because this is the case, you can expect that playing handheld would be way better than playing docked, which is certainly the case here.
The biggest problem, for me at least, lies in the fact that Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition has very noticeable performance issues, even when playing on current platforms like the Switch and PS5. Even from the very first part of the game where you start to take control of Serge and the others, frame dips are prevalent and really take getting used to, especially when playing with the new visual mode.
This is very disappointing, and given how special Chrono Cross is to many, the remaster is quite underwhelming all things considered. Old and new players can take solace in the fact that the soundtrack of the game is one of the best soundtracks ever made, especially when it’s been cleaned up to sound better. Even without the touch-up, you’d be hard-pressed to find a soundtrack that can stand toe-to-toe with Mitsuda’s brilliance, and Chrono Cross can be considered a must-buy even for this reason alone.
What we liked:
- One of the best soundtracks ever made in a video game
- A classic title made more accessible
- New visual mode gives a fresh new look
What we didn’t like:
- A remaster in the barest sense of the word
- Radical Dreamers visual novel is not for everyone
- Noticeable performance issues
Verdict: Wait for it.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition is quite the curious case. On one hand, the game is an absolute classic that everyone needs to experience, and this release just does that. By releasing on more modern platforms, especially on the Switch (which is probably the best way to play this game), a brand new audience can come to realize the greatness of the RPGs of old wrapped in a shiny new package.
On the other hand, the remaster isn’t something you’d expect for a game of this stature. Maybe it would have been wrong to expect more, but I certainly expected more from it and was disappointed, mainly because of the performance issues, something that is inexcusable given the technology we have currently. Some may overlook this, but it doesn’t change the fact that it exists.
Players now have the unenviable task of choosing which is more important to them and their purchase of the game will hinge on this decision. When considering the price and what you’re getting for it, fans will no doubt grab the game without a second thought. Newcomers can wait a bit until some issues are fixed through future patches, and while the game isn’t exactly unplayable, waiting can prove to be a sound decision in this case.
*Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with a review code provided by the publisher.