Over two decades after its original PlayStation release, Chrono Cross finally sees the light of day again with Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition. It’s an intriguing technical-level remaster that offers an identical reproduction of the original but with the option to turn on enhanced graphics, including clearer text, retouched graphics, and new character portraits. The rest looks like it jumped straight out of 1999 into our fancy 4K TVs, giving it the thematically appropriate feel of being time-shifted.
Despite its age, Chrono Cross is worth playing today for a number of reasons – including the amazing IGN review score it received in 1999. The praise our review gave back then for elements like the gripping story and great combat system pretty much stays with the remaster, barring a few negligible performance issues on Switch. And as an RPG classic from Square Enix greats Masato Kato (Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, Final Fantasy XI) and Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, Shadow Hearts, and tons more), Chrono Cross certainly deserves a visit or revisit on its own , especially as it wasn’t readily available without access to an old physical copy or PlayStation Classics. But the real jewel in the crown of the Radical Dreamers collection is one that could possibly be ignored despite being right there in the title: Radical Dreamers itself, the packed text-based adventure bridge game between Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross.
Radical Dreamers is a mysterious beast, a game somehow even more alien to space and time than Chrono Cross, and its inclusion in this 2022 re-release comes as a pleasant surprise, as its existence isn’t likely you should know unless you are a die-hard, very online Chrono fanatic. Radical Dreamers is a text-based adventure game originally released in 1996 for Satellaview, a Japan-exclusive Super Famicom peripheral for downloading games and other media via satellite broadcasts. The satellite view apparently had 100,000 subscribers sometime around 1997, a fantastic number for the satellite company behind it, St.GIGA, but a miserable number for Nintendo, which produced it. This means that probably fewer than 100,000 people in Japan played Radical Dreamers in its original form, a smaller number compared to Chrono Trigger, its venerated predecessor allegedly sold two million copies in the first two months of sales in Japan.
The Chrono series as a whole has had a strange life since the SNES. Chrono Cross was well received when it first released on PS1, but it wasn’t the direct sequel to Chrono Trigger that many fans were hoping and hoping for. The connections to Chrono Trigger are odd, with many of the fan-favorite characters receiving implied off-screen endings and others not being mentioned at all. Chrono-trigger lovers wanted a clearer connection between the two, and that’s exactly what Radical Dreamers provided…if they could get their hands on it, which understandably many of them couldn’t easily do. And that’s why its release along with the remaster is so exciting.
Unfulfilled dream of another world
The story of Radical Dreamers follows a trio of thieves: Serge, Kid and Magil as they try to infiltrate the labyrinthine Viper Manor and steal a strange gem called the Frozen Flame. Gameplay is entirely decision-based, with characters choosing actions for Serge as the trio encounter monsters, traps, and other obstacles throughout the estate. Certain paths will lead Serge to a Game Over, and after defeating Radical Dreamers once, there are also several alternate endings to unlock in true Chrono spirit.
For those who come to Chrono Cross’s Radical Dreamers, it may come as a surprise to discover that Serge and Kid’s personalities and backstories differ dramatically from their mainstream performances, particularly in terms of the way Kid’s History is even more clearly connected to Chrono Trigger than in the cross. In fact, Radical Dreamers’ connections to Trigger’s events and characters such as Schala, Lavos, Magus, and Lucca are much more explicit and tonally different than the outcomes of the more popular sequel.
But even when it comes to bringing some clarity to the story, according to director Masato Kato, Radical Dreamers was itself an unfulfilled dream. Kato says it started out almost like an independent film, putting it together in just three months. Although Kato was not originally intended to be the successor to Chrono Trigger, he eventually decided to continue the story of Magus and Schala to “tie up the loose ends properly”. But Kato considered the work half-finished, even going so far imply he withheld it from including it alongside the Chrono Trigger DS release in 2008 out of a desire to revamp it. A work as short and unfinished as Radical Dreamers being published at all is an amazing rarity in this industry where games are canceled so frequently and easily for much less.
[Some spoilers for how Chrono characters do and don’t appear throughout Trigger, Cross, and Dreamers are referenced below, skip ahead to the next paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled!]
Although Kato never returned to rework Radical Dreamers, he was able to revisit some of the unfinished plot points in Chrono Cross, particularly those relating to the nature of the coveted jewel of frozen flame at the heart of both Radical and Cross’ plots. But characters like Kid, Serge, and Lynx undergo massive changes between the two. Magil, who provides a critical link between Radical Dreams and Chrono Trigger, is erased entirely, seemingly in favor of the elusive but relatively random Guile in Cross. Schala herself almost entirely disappears into the periphery, although the entire storyline of all three games technically revolves around her role. Chrono Cross can be the fully realized dream (Or at least closer) conceived in Radical Dreamers but without the context of Radical Dreamers, much of its plot feels like an odd distraction for a direct sequel.
As unfinished as Kato found it, those gaps in the story left fans hungry for more chrono, and Radical Dreamers made sure of that throughout the Satellaview era… and beyond. ROMs of the interlude, accompanied by a fan translation by ROM hacking group Demiforce, circulated around the web, light enough for avid fans looking for more from the Chrono universe, but never explicit enough to be mainstream. As a text-based adventure, Radical Dreamers would have struggled to gain mainstream attention if it were ever released on a larger scale anyway, as the genre waned in favor of full visually realized worlds as early as the late ’90s.
Screenshots of Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition
But it may have been precisely this intangibility that made it so appealing for quieter dissemination. From reading the latest rumors about an upcoming Chrono fan game, digging through wikis full of Chrono lore, or staring longingly at Square Enix’s latest trademark filing, an unsuspecting adventurer could eventually find their way to a Radical Dreamers download. Its haunting retro maze would fill in the odd gaps between Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross while promising a resolution Cross never offered. As the years passed and there was never an official re-release, Radical Dreamers became almost a weird ARG, or hidden secret, with the aura of a fan game – enticing and mysterious in a way that could captivate Chrono fans who searched hard enough.
Now, in 2022, it’s finally real and available, even in physical edition, to make sure it can’t just disappear down internet rabbit holes again. The alluring, mysterious quality it once had may have waned now that it has the blessing of Kato and Square Enix to appear on a box cover, but Radical Dreamers is no less a must-watch for Chrono lovers. While Chrono Cross disappointed some because it wasn’t the direct sequel that many fans wanted, Radical Dreamers was always intended and embraced as the weird spin-off that it was and is. It exists both as a satisfying missing piece of the puzzle for Chrono Trigger and as a source of many questions of its own, making the Chrono Universe a little more appropriately mysterious than before. Kato may never have properly revised it, but the additions it still makes to the Chrono universe are wonderful in their own right.
Chrono Cross itself has long deserved a remaster to keep the critically acclaimed classic playable for as many as possible on current platforms. But playing Cross without Radical Dreamers when both are readily available again is an incomplete experience. Historically, temporally and narratively speaking, there is no Chrono Cross without its trio of Radical Dreamers, and it’s a triumph for game keepers and Chrono fans alike to see their full history finally celebrated with a remaster release.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.
https://www.ign.com/articles/chrono-cross-remaster-worth-revisiting-dont-skip-radical-dreamers The Chrono Cross Remaster is worth revisiting, but don’t skip radical dreamers