The tubular slumberers
There are a lot of opinions around Chrono Cross. Finish Chrono Trigger and ask someone about its sequel, and they’ll probably either tell you that it’s not as good or that it simply shouldn’t be compared to the original. To their credit, it’s a complicated subject. Chrono Cross is a sequel, but it’s not. It’s not necessarily the same thing as, say, Final Fantasy VIII not being a sequel to Final Fantasy VII in terms of narrative continuity. There are blatant links connecting the two games. But it’s not Chrono Trigger 2.
Then you’ll find people who think Chrono Cross actually ruins the story of Chrono Trigger. Developers have stated that they just wanted to make a new game in the same vein, but if so, why connect them at all? I guess the bottom line is that Chrono Trigger is a SNES JRPG and Chrono Cross is a PS1 JRPG, and they both absolutely look and feel the part.
Chrono Cross is the story of Serge. One day, he’s sucked into an alternate timeline where he’s been dead for years. Despite this, people are looking for him, and things kind of get weirder from there.
As I said, it’s your typical PS1 JRPG. If you played Final Fantasy VII-IX, you mostly know what you’re in for. The combat system is different but still turn-based. The enemies can be spotted in the world, so there’s no real random battle system. There’s an emphasis on recruiting a number of optional characters to slot into your party. The backgrounds are pre-rendered with the polygonal characters treading over top of them. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that Chrono Cross is an archetypal PS1 JRPG. I’m just giving you a picture of what you’re in for.
As for the enhancements of The Radical Dreamers Edition to the original game; the graphics are touched up. Barely. Characters have a smidge more detail, and the pixelation has been removed from the backgrounds. However, the overall splotchiness is a reminder that they’ve been filtered rather than redone. You can get the same result by squinting really hard at the PS1 version. It seems that the character portraits have received the most love as they look more colorful and brighter.
You can switch the graphical style over to a classic look if you want more pixels and the original portraits. However, you can’t pick and choose what you want looking old and new, and to change the style, you have to completely exit the game and restart it. It’s made pretty clear that the main intent of Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition is to move the game to modern hardware, and the touch-ups are more of a formality.
Where Chrono Cross is most interesting is in its rather flexible design. Progress can often be accomplished in multiple ways, and there is no possibility of recruiting every party member in a single playthrough; some just cancel out the others. It takes a few playthroughs to actually see everything, and even then, you may need a guide to locate some of the deeper secrets.
Of course, this has a few drawbacks. For example, there might be a character who looks like an obvious party member that you wouldn’t mind teaming up with. However, the path to doing so is never clear. Accepting another character’s invitation to partner up or other such seemingly innocuous actions will lockout party members entirely for unclear reasons. You have to accept a “whatever happens, happens” mentality or be driven crazy as you guess what actions will have consequences. Or just use a lot of save slots.
There’s also the issue that few of the characters have a stake in the actual plot, which makes it a bit stranger that you can’t just recruit everyone. Some literally join with the “got nothing better to do” motivation. It leaves quite a few characters who are just there to customize your party. I really feel this is inferior to characters who actually grow throughout the narrative.
Speaking of the story, Chrono Cross is a lot more bonkers than Chrono Trigger was. That’s largely because of the parallel dimensions angle, which always buckles further the more complexity you try to lay on top of it. It’s also because of its insistence on connecting with Chrono Trigger.
The “Radical Dreamers” nomenclature refers to what most people who have played Chrono Cross to death will be interested in. It’s a port of a visual novel that came out on the Super Nintendo’s Satellaview add-on, meaning it only was released in Japan. It’s the first official translation of it. It was meant to wrap up loose ends from Chrono Trigger, but mostly winds up feeling like a prototype to Chrono Cross. It’s an exciting bit of history for fans of the series.
As I said earlier, Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition feels like an excuse to port the game to modern hardware, much like Final Fantasy VIII Remastered. The package is somewhat disappointing altogether, and the transition is barebones. To that point, why is there so much stuttering and slowdown?
When I first saw the framerate hitch, I put it down to some sort of artifact of the original engine’s camera movement. Sure enough, when I got into fights with groups of enemies, the whole thing started chugging. It doesn’t matter whether you set it to classic graphics or not; the slowdown is always there. The fact that it’s there is a bit of an upsetting headscratcher for a remaster on hardware generations newer than what it was first released on.
My best theory is that it’s a quirk of the original engine that made sense on the PS1. It would have been nice if it could have been fixed for the remaster. No, scratch that. I feel like a smooth framerate is the bare minimum we can ask for in a new port.
What it comes down to is a disappointing port of a decent game. I don’t want to start any fights, I still think it deserves to be available to all, but I don’t think it was Square’s best on the PlayStation.
And really, that’s all you need to know: it’s a PlayStation-era Square RPG. Can you still stand to play Final Fantasy IX and Parasite Eve? Then Chrono Cross is worth your time, and here’s an okay way to play it. Is that era too antiquated for you? Then this remaster has no chance of changing your mind. Regardless of what you think of the game or genre, it’s not a very loving or respectful port, and Chrono Cross deserves better.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]