Over two decades after its original PlayStation release, Chrono Cross is finally seeing the light of day again with Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition. It’s a fascinating remaster on a technical level, offering an identical reproduction of the original but with the option to turn on improved visuals including clearer text, retouched visuals, and new character portraits. The rest looks like it leaped right out of 1999 and into our fancy 4K TVs, giving it the thematically appropriate vibe of being temporally displaced.
Chrono Cross, despite its age, is well-worth playing today for any number of reasons – among them the amazing IGN review score it earned back in 1999. The praise our review offered then for elements like the gripping story and great combat system almost entirely holds up with the remaster, barring a few ignorable 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 merits a visit or revisit all on its own, especially since it’s not been easily 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 potentially be ignored despite being right there in the title: Radical Dreamers itself, the packed-in text-based adventure bridge game between Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross.
Radical Dreamers is a mysterious beast, a game somehow even more out-of-space-and-time than Chrono Cross, and its inclusion in this 2022 re-release is a delightful surprise, as its existence isn’t something you’re likely to know about, unless you’re a die-hard, very online Chrono fan. Radical Dreamers is a text-based adventure game originally released in 1996 for the Satellaview, a Japanese-exclusive Super Famicom peripheral for downloading games and other media through satellite broadcasts. The Satellaview apparently had around 100,000 subscribers sometime around 1997, a fantastic number for the satellite company behind it, St.GIGA, but an abysmal number for Nintendo, who was producing it. This means that probably fewer than 100,000 people in Japan played Radical Dreamers in its original form, a diminished number compared to Chrono Trigger, its revered predecessor that reportedly sold two million copies in its first two months on sale in Japan.
The Chrono series as a whole has had a strange life since the SNES. Chrono Cross was well received when it first launched on PS1, but it wasn’t the direct sequel to Chrono Trigger many fans did, and still do, hope for. Its links to Chrono Trigger are strange ones, with many fan-favorite characters receiving implied endings off-screen and others not mentioned at all. Chrono Trigger lovers wanted a clearer connection between the two, which was exactly what Radical Dreamers provided…if they could get their hands on it, which many of them understandably haven’t been able to easily. And that’s why its release alongside the remaster is so exciting.
Unfinished Dream of Another World
The Radical Dreamers story follows a trio of thieves: Serge, Kid, and Magil, in a quest to infiltrate the maze-like Viper Manor and steal a strange gem called the Frozen Flame. Gameplay is entirely choice-based, with characters able to select actions for Serge as the trio encounters monsters, traps, and other obstacles throughout the manor. Certain paths will take Serge to a game over, and after beating Radical Dreamers once there are also multiple alternate endings to unlock in true Chrono spirit.
For those coming to Radical Dreamers from Chrono Cross, it may be a surprise to discover that Serge and Kid’s personalities and backstories are dramatically different from their more mainstream appearances, particularly with the ways in which Kid’s story connects back to Chrono Trigger even more explicitly than in Cross. In fact, Radical Dreamers’ links to Trigger’s events and characters like Schala, Lavos, Magus, and Lucca are far more explicit and tonally different than the outcomes of the more popular sequel.
But even in providing some story clarity, according to director Masato Kato, Radical Dreamers was itself an unfinished dream. Kato says it came about initially almost like an independent film, put together in just three months’ time. Though initially not intended to be a Chrono Trigger follow-up, Kato eventually opted to continue the story of Magus and Schala, to “properly tie up the loose ends.” But Kato regarded the work as half-finished, going so far as to imply he held it back from including it alongside the Chrono Trigger DS release in 2008 out of a desire to revise it. Such a short, unfinished piece of work like Radical Dreamers being released at all is an astonishing rarity in this industry, where games are so frequently and easily canceled 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!]
Though Kato never did return to revise Radical Dreamers, he did get to revisit some of the unfinished plot points again in Chrono Cross, especially those related to the nature of the coveted Frozen Flame jewel at the heart of both Radical and Cross’ plots. But characters like Kid, Serge, and Lynx undergo massive transformations between the two. Magil, who provides a critical tie between Radical Dreams and Chrono Trigger, is completely erased, seemingly in favor of the elusive but relatively plot-incidental Guile in Cross. Schala herself almost entirely vanishes to the periphery despite the entire plot of all three games, technically, revolving around her role. Chrono Cross may be the fully realized dream (or closer to it, anyway) conceived in Radical Dreamers, but without the context of Radical Dreamers, much of its plot feels like a strange diversion for a direct sequel.
Unfinished as Kato felt it was, those story gaps left fans hungry for more Chrono, and Radical Dreamers provided that during the Satellaview era…and beyond. ROMs of the interlude accompanied by a fan translation from ROM hacking group Demiforce circulated the web, easy enough to come by for devoted fans looking for more from the Chrono universe, but never explicit enough to be mainstream. As a text-based adventure, Radical Dreamers might have struggled to get mainstream attention had it ever been published more widely, anyway, as the genre was already waning by the late 90s in favor of more fully visually realized worlds.
But that exact elusiveness may have been what made it so appealing for quieter distribution. By reading up on the latest rumors of an upcoming Chrono fan game, digging into wikis rife with Chrono lore, or staring longingly at the latest Square Enix trademark filing, an unsuspecting adventurer might eventually find their way to a Radical Dreamers download. Its haunting, retro maze would fill in the strange gaps between Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross while also promising a resolution that Cross never offered. As years passed and no official re-release ever emerged, Radical Dreamers became almost a strange ARG, or a hidden secret with the aura of a fan game – tantalizing and mysterious in a way that could captivate Chrono fans who looked hard enough for it.
Now, in 2022, it’s finally real and available, even as a physical edition, ensuring it can’t easily vanish into internet rabbit holes again. The alluring, mysterious quality it once held may have diminished now that it has Kato’s and Square Enix’s blessing to appear on a box cover, but Radical Dreamers is no less of a must-play for Chrono lovers as a result. Where Chrono Cross disappointed some by not being the direct sequel many fans wanted, Radical Dreamers was always intended to be and embraced as the weird spin-off it was and is. It exists both as a satisfying, missing puzzle piece to Chrono Trigger while also raising plenty of questions itself, leaving the Chrono universe a bit more appropriately mysterious than it was before. Kato may never have properly revisited it, but the additions it still makes to the Chrono universe are wonderful in their own right.
Chrono Cross itself has long merited 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 easily available again is an incomplete experience. Historically, temporally, and narratively, there is no Chrono Cross without its trio of Radical Dreamers, and it’s a triumph for game preservationists and Chrono fans alike to see their full story finally celebrated with a remaster release.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.