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As I stroll through Arni village, a pleasant seaside settlement, I feel like the last 20 years of my life never happened. NPCs loiter, offering dialogue at command. The backdrop, while flat as a JPEG, is a beautiful example of what late ‘90s JRPGs could do thanks to its range of colours. Fully aware of the limits this game has imposed upon it by being an upgraded port of the original 1999 Chrono Cross, I still feel a happiness brought on by more than nostalgia. The game does what all great role-playing games must: it fills me with a sense of adventure.
The vibrant scene feels comfortably familiar, delivering a similar vibe to games like Final Fantasy VIII and Grandia. And yet, Chrono Cross still feels unique. This is really because the game, from the very beginning, keenly discusses the theoretical nature of time and memories. Not only is this a great way to introduce an epic story, it’s also perfectly suited to the sentimentality of playing a game from one’s youth.
See the announcement video for the game here:
For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t go into much detail regarding the story. Chrono Cross begins with a young man who the player names (canonically known as Serge), who resides in the picturesque fishing village I mentioned above, with his mother Marge. You set out to meet a friend, and end up on a quest to gather Komodo dragon scales.
As events unfold, you end up in an alternate dimension where your character died as a child. This shocking revelation sets us on a wider journey, where we meet Kid, a friendly, if foul-mouthed, soul who offers to join your party. As things go on, you’ll meet many potential party members, and although they all have names already, you’re able to rename them as you choose.
One of the most striking things about Chrono Cross is the range of options. Not only are there plenty of companions to choose from as your adventure plays out, there are also multiple paths to take. For instance, early on you’re asked to gain access to a particular area, and how you do it is essentially up to you. The game presents several ways of doing so, and they’re all viable.
Another element that really stands in Chrono Cross is the music. It. Is. Beautiful. From the opening piece and its sombre, delicately arpeggiated tones, to the happy-go-lucky melody that plays as you explore, the score is packed with memorable tunes.
As for the gameplay, in addition to moving about the world in a 3D manner similar to an early Resident Evil game (minus the tank controls, for the most part), there is also an overworld for when travelling between locations, which is basically 2D. You can speed up or slow down your movement speed in this port, on Nintendo Switch at least, with the former being helpful when retracing your steps, although there were some framerate drops as a result. Having said that, there were some rare stutters while moving at regular speed, too.
Then there’s the combat. Essentially a turn-based system, your party members have stamina bars. When choosing the ‘attack’ option, you can issue follow-up hits in exchange for stamina points. Your attack also gives three further options of hit types, with stronger blows having lower accuracy rates.
There is also the ‘element’ system, which comprises all magical moves, items and unique abilities. The magic component is the one that requires the most attention. Not only is there an abundance of different spells to choose from in Chrono Cross, but each character has an innate element type, represented by a colour. This makes them stronger when using elements of said colour, but weaker against specific other colours, so think tactically about who and what to use depending on your opponent.
All of this may sound complex at first but it flows fluidly. The only issue I had with the battle segments was one enemy soldier who refused to vanish after losing a fight, leading to a few rematches. Whether this was intentional or some strange glitch, it was irritating but ended eventually.
Visually, Chrono Cross offers the traditional graphics from 1999 (as far as it can without a CRT TV, anyway), and a more polished aesthetic, which is the one I’ve been mostly using. You can also set the game to a 4:3 aspect ratio - listed as ‘normal’ - a ‘full’ mode which stretches to fit the screen, or a ‘zoomed’ option, which is similar to normal but easier to see. Ultimately, the visual updates aren’t drastically different, but it’s nice to see a subtle improvement all the same.
With the full title of this game being Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition, it’s no surprise to see that the text adventure Radical Dreamers is included in the package. This spin-off, originally made for the Super Famicom Satellaview peripheral and released only in Japan, is set alongside Chrono Trigger, the original game in this series and undoubtedly one of the greatest games of all time (even Sonic actor Ben Schwartz thinks so).
While I haven’t dabbled much in this separate game yet, the fact that it’s finally released outside of Japan is lovely, and definitely makes this port feel even more worthwhile. Text adventures and JRPGs go hand-in-hand after all, just ask Nier Replicant.
Overall, Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition is an excellent JRPG. Although originally released in 1999, it feels somehow more mature and ambitious than many games of its original era, and is absolutely deserving of your time in 2022.
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition code provided by Square Enix and tested on Nintendo Switch. The game releases April 7, 2022, for Switch, PC, Xbox and PlayStation 4.
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