chrono cross got off to a, shall we say, difficult start. It was billed as a sequel to: chrono triggerone of the most beloved role-playing games ever made, but while the two are set in the same world, there are some major differences. chrono trigger was created by a super team of developers including: Final Fantasy mastermind Hironobu Sakaguchi, long time dragon quest steward Yuji Horii, and Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama. It is often cited as one of the best games ever made. That all-star team didn’t go on with the series, and though chrono cross was largely well received at launch, its legacy never reached the same heights as its predecessor. It’s always been that weird sequel with parallel worlds, a confusing story, and way too many characters.
Which brings us to the new remaster on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC and PS4. dubbed Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition, the release is a fairly minor update to the PlayStation-era version, with improved visuals, some quality-of-life features, and the addition of a long-lost text adventure. In terms of scope, it is comparable to the remaster of Final Fantasy VIII which Square Enix released a few years ago. And just like FFVIII† chrono cross is an often derogatory follow-up that could use a second chance.
chrono cross is not a direct sequel to Trigger but rather a kind of spiritual successor set in the same universe. The core of the fantasy world of the game is the idea of parallel worlds. At the beginning, the main character Serge is in an almost identical version of his own world with one important difference: in this he died at a young age. The story then becomes extremely strange and complicated, involving everything from an evil talking panther to a powerful supercomputer. Serge jumps back and forth between worlds, recruiting new team members (there are as many as 45 playable characters) in an effort to learn the mysteries of his past and the different worlds.
The story can be hard to follow, even by Japanese RPG standards, but it had just enough mystery to keep me moving forward. This is especially true for the characters you will meet; many are underdeveloped, probably due to the sheer size of the cast, but discovering and meeting new team members is one of the highlights of the game.
chrono cross has much more to offer. The Strange World is a fascinating place to explore, an intriguing mix of fantasy and science fiction filled with beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds. The game has an interesting twist on classic turn-based combat, with a stamina system that forces you to make important decisions about how to use your available actions, and a take on magic much like materia in Final Fantasy VII†
And, my god, the soundtrack is one of the best of all video games, a wonderful collection by Yasunori Mitsuda featuring one of my favorite compositions ever, “Shore of Dreams (Another World)”. When that song starts playing on the overworld map, I always have to stop and listen for a minute or two. (In fact, I’m listening to it right now as I write this.) PlayStation-era RPGs have a very distinct flavor that (mostly) no longer exists, but it’s captured perfectly in chrono cross†
This is all true for the remaster, but with a few tweaks. Most obvious are the enhanced visuals; the character models now look sharper and brighter, while the pre-rendered backgrounds now have a painterly, almost impressionistic feel. (The developers used a combination of AI upscaling and manual restoration to achieve the effect.) I really like the contrast, but it’s definitely a choice that might not appeal to everyone. You also have the option to switch back to the original 32-bit graphics, but switching between visual styles requires a full game restart. The CG cutscenes also retain their original look, which can be a bit jarring when you play around with the more modern-looking graphics option.
Other quality-of-life improvements include a fast forward option and an auto-battle mode so you can focus on the story and exploration. These are fun, especially for going through some of the more boring parts of the game, but the remaster definitely lacks a manual save feature. I’ve been playing on the Switch and there are some long gaps between save points that make the game feel heavier than it should be.
Perhaps the most interesting addition is a little known game called Radical Dreamers† It was a visual novel launched in 1996 exclusively on Japan’s Satellaview, an add-on to the Super Famicom. It is a visual novel that was billed as a side story at chrono trigger, but it also sets up a lot of the premise and characters in the follow-up. Essentially it serves as a very welcome bridge between Trigger and crotchand now it is available for the first time with an official English translation.
Square Enix could certainly have done more to celebrate chrono cross in this package (make chrono trigger available on the Switch would also be a nice touch for completionists). But even in a no-nonsense package, chrono cross still a great game. And the things that initially made it stand out — that complex story, the massive cast, the oddly immersive world — make it interesting more than two decades later.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition is available now on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC and PS4.