Chrono Cross: Radical Dreamers Edition (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 10.05.2022

Review for Chrono Cross: Radical Dreamers Edition on Nintendo Switch

In the pantheon of the greatest JRPGs of all time, few games have garnered a reputation like Chrono Trigger has. The Super Famicom title is deemed good by pretty much any genre-aficionado and assembled the so-called JRPG "Dream Team" of Yuji Horii (Dragon Quest), Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy) and Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball), more than helped by then up-and-coming JRPG legends Yasunori Mitsuda (main composer), Nobuo Uematsu (who contributed a few music tracks when Mitsuda fell ill during development), and Masato Kato (scenario writer and uncredited director). It was legendary. Then came Chrono Cross for PlayStation. It did not have all the same important people behind it, and didn't quite capture the same dedicated audience, but it is still fondly remembered today, despite never being re-released except as a downloadable PS1 classic on Sony's systems over the years. This Radical Dreamers Edition marks the first time it gets a proper re-release on so many systems and in so many territories and languages (the original release infamously never came to Europe). Chrono Cross is finally "revived," but how well? Time to find out.

The protagonist Serge wakes up late one morning to meet up with his girl friend/girlfriend Leena, and she tasks him with collecting three Komodo Dragon scales, and then meeting her at Opassa Beach. There, however, he finds himself transported to an alternate timeline; a parallel world of sorts where he died several years prior, and therefore all the people he once knew don't recognise him. Some thugs somehow knew he would show up in the world, though, and try to take him away because "someone" wants him at Viper Manor. This is where Kid butts in, a loudmouth thief girl with an Australian accent who likes nothing more than to knock heads around and pilfer goods from the richest. She assists Serge in chasing the thugs away, but now the mystery remains: who is this person at Viper Manor who wants him? It turns out Kid wants to infiltrate Viper Manor herself to steal an invaluable artefact known as the Frozen Flame, so the two team up from there on, and the adventure across two different versions of the same world begins.

As a sequel to Chrono Trigger, the ties between the two are not immediately obvious. Some common themes do crop up early on, like the mention of Porre, a location in the first game, or the Masamune which is now a cursed sword. However, it is only from the midgame point onwards that the connections become more obvious and end up taking the centre of the picture. These won't be spoiled here, as these have to be experienced first-hand to be best appreciated. Suffice to say that Chrono Cross finds itself, with one notable exception, confined to a location in the world of Chrono Trigger that was absent from it: the El Nido archipelago. There is a good reason in the plot for it not being mentioned before, and the Zenan mainland where Porre and Guardia were in the first game do get mentioned so they must be close by, though unseen. In other words, it is not necessary to have played Chrono Trigger to get into Chrono Cross, but late game elements, as well as people and places mentioned then, make a lot more sense if one has played the first.

The story of Chrono Cross is perhaps a bit tougher to understand because it mentions a lot of events rather than showing them, and it is overall simply more complex, but it is nonetheless interesting, especially for those who enjoy time travel and parallel world narratives. Chrono Cross is well known for being a game with a lot of playable characters. 40 to be exact, and it is easy to miss some of them. In typical late-90s SquareSoft fashion, there are a lot of things that one can do "less than optimally" on a first playthrough, unless following a guide: lots of little secret events can be easily permanently missed. This is annoying, and something that few miss about this era of JRPGs but at least Chrono Cross, like its predecessor, has a good New Game+ component and multiple playthroughs are required to witness the 12 endings, anyway, so what was missed at first can be obtained on subsequent runs, thankfully.

Screenshot for Chrono Cross: Radical Dreamers Edition on Nintendo Switch

Now one could imagine that it would be a chore to handle so many playable characters, leveling them up, etc. However, Chrono Cross does not have a traditional character progression system. Rather, at key points in the story, defeating certain bosses grants the entire party extra "growth" levels which allow characters in and out of the party to all grow stronger. Fighting a few extra battles will grant mini-growths to characters who take part, but the simple thing to understand is that this a JRPG that does not require grinding, at least not for experience. Money and materials for forging new and better equipment do require that the player fight battles, however, but unless one wants to have all individual characters have the best equipment possible, grinding should never become a necessity. Most of them can share equipment though, since there are only five-six weapon types, and most armour and accessories can be equipped by anyone so no more than three of the best of everything should ever be needed, even with a party of 40.

The other most defining aspect of Chrono Cross is its battle system. Characters and enemies take turns attacking one another like in any classic turn-based RPG, but a stamina metre is introduced here which lets the player pick a certain amount of actions per turn from a selection of weak, medium and strong hits, or using a so called 'Element.' At first strong hits have a low chance of hitting their target, but chaining attacks makes the player's actions more accurate. Lastly, rather than magic or items, players can choose to use an Element, which are one-use item slots in the player's inventory which regenerate (except for items) after each battle. Creating a "deck" of elements for any given playable character is an experience that can be likened to creating decks of cards in something like Baten Kaitos, which some key staff members of SquareSoft worked on like Masato Kato and Yasuyuki Honne after they left the company. It is a divisive system perhaps, but an original one at least. Just like the card system of Baten Kaitos, it is easy to see some loving it, and others hating it.

On original hardware, battles took their sweet time to load, in traditional PlayStation fashion, and battles themselves were really slow to get through as well. This re-release however has the same kind of boosters that you would find in recent re-releases of PS1 Final Fantasy titles. One option speeds things up so everything happens in fast motion, which helps battles a lot and another makes enemies always miss their target as well as give the player infinite element levels. The last one makes it so that touching random enemies in the field won't trigger a random battle, unless doing so is required to progress the plot, which is neat. These are good options for those who want to enjoy the story for what it is, without all the annoyances that come with the territory of playing a JRPG of that vintage.

Visually speaking, Chrono Cross was stunning for its time. It released at a time when the system was in its twilight years, and the PlayStation 2 was right around the corner, but there is an argument to be made that its hand-drawn environments, along perhaps with those of Final Fantasy IX which had a more pre-rendered CG approach, are the best the PS1 ever saw in a JRPG. The system was better understood at that point, and the blend of pre-rendered background and 3D characters running around in them never really got any better on that platform beyond that point. Like the release of Final Fantasy IX before it for example, this style of presentation, originally meant to be displayed on CRTs where the nature of the display itself adds a transformative effect in the delivery of those graphics to the player, presents a big challenge to be accurately reproduced on modern hardware and display technology.

Screenshot for Chrono Cross: Radical Dreamers Edition on Nintendo Switch

There certainly are ways to make things look closer to the original but none that will work for everyone, everywhere. Not everyone is willing to connect their Switch dock, PC or high-end console to a Cathode Ray Tube TV, PVM, or computer monitor, and this is coming from a reviewer who played Wii, Wii U and Switch connected to a Sony Trinitron VGA monitor for years through an adapter. Not everyone is willing to deal with original discs, prone to disc rot, or original consoles, prone to failing disc reading systems, etc, and these new releases are not meant to only be accessible to those precious few people who swear only by original hardware or CRTs. Chrono Cross: Radical Dreamers Edition has two display modes, Classical and New. Classical displays the original graphics faithfully upscaled by an integer factor, and has all the original 3D models running around in them, rendered at a higher resolution, close to or equal to the native screen resolution in both docked and handheld modes. New displays newly "mastered" versions of the backgrounds that received an AI upscale to make them look smoother and uses updated, more detailed 3D models for all the playable characters, but none of the other models however.

The font used in both modes is also different, with the new style using a higher resolution one. Classical, however, uses a lower resolution version of the New font, ditching the font used in the original PS1 game, which is an odd choice, especially since this new low-res font doesn't match the resolution of the in-game graphics anyway. In a nutshell, Classical attempts to look closer to the original, with minor enhancements, while New goes a bit further in its attempt to improve on the original visuals. Whether or not this is a success, however, is a matter of taste, more than anything else. The AI upscale job here is, clearly, an automated one, and the AI tends to try to interpret quirks of the original presentation, like colour dithering used to give the impression of a higher colour depth on CRT technology of the day, as picture detail, so the results are not always pleasing. The New graphics tend certainly are rid of their pixelated aspect, for sure, but look overall as if a brush had been smearing the image around a bit. Some details which the human brain would reconstruct from large pixels in CRT scanlines to identify them find themselves lost in the process.

Not everyone will like that choice, and this is the first style of presentation unveiled when the game was announced, but thankfully the option to turn that off is there. Because they are separate assets though from the original ones, and not just a filter that's applied on in real-time, the option to go from one to the other is only accessible from the main menu. Therefore, the presentation is not perfect, but without a proper remaster effort, which arguably this game totally deserved, the original visuals would never look as originally intended on modern equipment anyway.

The original visuals hold up better on the smaller display of the Nintendo Switch in handheld mode for what it's worth, though. What is inexcusable however is the poor level of the performance, regardless of the version being played. The original game on PS1 didn't have stellar performance, especially in battle sequences which are fully rendered in 3D, but the Radical Dreamers Edition even drops frames in scenes that render a 2D background if more than five or six low-poly 3D models move around in them. There is nothing here on display that even the Switch couldn't handle, yet even on PS5 those same problems manifest themselves. There is always the chance that this could be improved upon with a patch, and Square Enix usually tends to do so wherever possible, but there haven't been any news on that front as of the writing of this review.

Screenshot for Chrono Cross: Radical Dreamers Edition on Nintendo Switch

Rounding out the package then is the included Super Famicom title Radical Dreamers, previously only released in Japan and only available officially for the Broadcast Satellaview hardware expansion of the system. The latter, as many probably know today, would allow players to download games to their BS-X cartridge from a satellite channel called St. GIGA, as they would get broadcast to users at set times of day, and only for a limited time as the catalogue of games being broadcast, one at a time, would evolve over time. The BS-X cartridge then used small rewritable flash memory units to store the downloaded games, and these memory units, found in the wild today as used items, are the only remnants of the catalogue of games that existed on the service at the time. Explaining all of this is key to understand that Radical Dreamers, as far as legal ways of obtaining it are concerned, was very much a lost title up to this point.

Obviously, this got dumped and preserved by the community, and even famously fan-translated to allow more people to enjoy it around the world. This reviewer even recommended 9 years ago that people download it and play it on an emulator, since it appeared that this would never get re-released. Today however, seeing this finally given a chance to captivate new audiences on new platforms and made widely available to purchase, even if it is as an addition to Chrono Cross, is a great thing. It may not be the meat of the package here, but it certainly adds value. As for how it is presented, first of all, it includes the first official English translation, as well as official translations to other languages. The script here, to be clear, is not the Demiforce fan-made one - it's completely new and just as accurate to the depiction of some of the included characters in Chrono Cross, if not even more.

Visually, the font used is higher definition, no matter what but especially if the New graphical style is selected in the options. The limited amount of graphics in the game are left untouched in Classical style or badly filtered in the New style. As a Super Famicom title, the original running at a 256x224 resolution finds itself badly scaled here with uneven pixel scaling, visible in Classical style, but thankfully, because this is mostly a text-based adventure, there is little to no scrolling element, so this uneven pixel scaling doesn't turn out to be as big of an issue here. The aspect ratio appears a bit wrong, though, as the moon visible in some scenes appears to be squished horizontally a little. In this incarnation, it includes a new save menu at the press of the X button. On an emulator you would use save states of course, and this is probably what this new save menu is "in disguise," but it was a necessary addition, and it is there, so that's good. This new release is not a bad way to experience the title, and if aforementioned annoyances with the Chrono Cross part are weighing in the balance for potential buyers, Radical Dreamers could still tip the balance back to a more positive note for those eager to experience it for the first time in a legal way. Cubed3's existing review gives more detail on the experience itself, no matter how gamers choose to experience it.

Screenshot for Chrono Cross: Radical Dreamers Edition on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Chrono Cross was and remains a great JRPG that has its place in the pantheon of great classics. It's well worth playing especially for fans of the Chrono series who maybe had only ever experienced Chrono Trigger before. This is perhaps not quite as cohesive an experience as its predecessor was, because it plays in a way that's more experimental and not quite as refined, and its plot is a bit harder to follow. However, because of its plot ties to the great original and how it connects to it, it is essential to play for fans of the latter, and despite minor shortcomings that hold it back from being as big a classic, it's still well worth experiencing today. With that in mind, Chrono Cross: Radical Dreamers Edition, as a new release of this classic, is not all that it could or should have been on any platforms, including Nintendo Switch, due to a poor level of performance that's just inexcusable, given that other PS1 games just as demanding as this one made the transition so much better, at least performance-wise.

Review copy provided by Square Enix Europe

Developer

Squaresoft

Publisher

Square Enix

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop

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