Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition
Chrono Cross was originally released in 1999 and a year later in the West during what many consider Square's twilight years. Games like Final Fantasy 8, Final Fantasy 9, and related spinoffs were released during this time. This also includes SaGa Frontier among many other titles. Contrary to popular belief to this day, Chrono Cross is not considered a sequel to Chrono Trigger despite there being some overlap between the titles. Aside from most of the staff returning for Cross, the only similarities between Cross and Trigger are the elements of time travel and multiverses.
Many decades before Dr. Strange would entertain the concept in the MCU, the Chrono series, Square would entertain the idea of many universes happening at the same time. In Chrono Cross, the protagonist, Serge, teams up with a sprightly thief named Kid and other allies to figure out an anomaly with time. The game begins with an opening sequence as the party infiltrates a tower. Shortly after, the game actually begins with Serge waking up on an island, convinced that the prior events were a "dream."
Pissing off his childhood friend, he sets out to the nearby caves to defeat komodos and win her favor by making her a necklace. Before I go into the gameplay, I'd like to mention how accessible the game is to this day. This was my first time ever playing Chrono Cross and even as I write this, I'm not too certain I understood the battle mechanics. However, I'll try to reflect on my understanding the best that I can with what was presented.
You Don't Level Up In A Traditional Sense
Fights in Chrono Cross revolve around a stamina bar, telling the player how much they can act in a specific turn. Rather than a conventional MP bar, this Stamina bar works in conjunction with everything a character does. For example, a stamina bar that has a value of 7 means that the player can attack up to 7 times in a row if they use their Level 1 attacks. The higher the level, the stronger the attack, but also the lower Hit %. For safer attacks, it's generally better to weave a mix of varying strengths. Spells in this game are called "Elements" and these ranges anywhere from items, defensive spells, and offensive spells. Using these will guarantee a hit but at the cost of a set stamina number. Going overboard will cause the player to lose out on a turn until their points recover.
Chrono Cross's system reminds me a great deal of Bravely Default 2's system where the "Brave" and "Default" system acts similar to the Stamina meter. Another important statistic unique to Cross is how leveling is handled. Characters don't "gain experience" after each fight but rather their stats increase and their health is recovered after every fight should they choose to spend their elements. The party only levels up after a successfully defeated boss, which encourages the player not to focus on grinding. I didn't play too much after catching the dumb komodos, but its gameplay elements proved to be unique and innovative. A staple of what Square was going for with their catalog at the time.
Now we reach the star of the show, Radical Dreamers, which is the prequel to Chrono Cross. Originally released in 1996 on the Satellaview, it remained a Japanese exclusive largely due to the platform itself. The Satellaview was a satellite modem add-on for the Super Famicom. The closest something like this existed in the states was of course the Sega Channel for the Sega Genesis, but in Japan, online services were far more common than in the States. As an online exclusive, Radical Dreamers fell quickly under the radar for decades until Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition.
The writer for Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross had worked on Radical Dreamers, far before Cross was considered a project. The characters, Serge and Kid, would eventually become central characters in Cross. The third-party member, "Magil," is actually Magus from Chrono Trigger. The main antagonist of the story, Lynx, would also be one of the main antagonists in Cross. In this story, Kid has a vendetta against Lynx for plot reasons, but it's related to another character from Chrono Trigger.
Okay, so maybe there is an overlap between Trigger and Cross more than I realized, but Radical Dreamers is more of a "one-shot" than anything. It's not considered to be "canon" in a traditional sense, but due to the wibbley wobbley timey whimey stuff, who's to say? Gameplay in Radical Dreamers is a text adventure where making certain choices will affect how Serge survives. If he survives. Rather than being a silent protagonist, Serge has his own personality and quips with Kid that I wish existed in Cross. It may appear a tad bit "OOC," but it's still fun to see the dynamic they have here.
Overall, despite performance hiccups on the Nintendo Switch, including the random slowdown in framerates, Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition is worth it to revisit one of Square's most requested classic RPGs. The inclusion of the elusive Radical Dreamers one-shot text adventure also helps to sweeten the deal. While it would have been even amazing to include Chrono Trigger for a complete Chrono collection, this double feature remains a solid purchase for fans of the original and Square RPGs in general.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition is available on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows, and Nintendo Switch.