While I was growing up, Chrono Trigger wasn’t an SNES game to me, it was a Nintendo DS game. Sure, I’d heard rumblings of the game before , but it wasn’t until finding the DS version in the used games section as a teen that I was blown away by the Akira Toriyama art on the cover. Chrono Cross, the spiritual successor that released in 1999, wasn’t given the same opportunity… until now.
There have been few ways to officially experience this time-travel RPG epic anywhere beside the original PS1 disc, and the backward compatibility release on PS3 and PS Vita. That’s why excitement from longtime fans and general JRPG enthusiasts reached a boiling point when Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition was announced. It’s incredible to see this ambitious game available on so many new platforms, but it hurts to realize how rough of a state this new version of the game is in.
There are plenty of other updated PS1 classics on modern consoles, like Final Fantasy VII or the Grandia HD collection, that run smooth as butter. You would expect Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition to do the same, and your expectations would be shattered. Somehow, this re-release is plagued with inconsistent performance and a choppy framerate, even when played on a high-end gaming PC. It’s hardly noticeable when you’re in villages or traversing the world map, but gets dicey when you’re exploring dungeons and can see the framerate chug a bit. These moments are noticeable and annoying, but not a massive detraction from the overall experience.
When you enter battle, though, it’s a trainwreck. Any encounter that isn’t against a single small enemy seems to chug, with menus and attack animations struggling to churn out. It would be one thing if this was just a visual hiccup, and a framerate in the single-digits likely wouldn’t bother old school RPG enthusiast if the game itself was still functional, but Chrono Cross is not functional in this state. The problem is that the game is not purely turn-based – you have normal attacks that rely on timed inputs to deliver varying strength-levels of attacks within your character turn, and each attack has a specified percentage chance of landing. It can be the difference between life or death for you to deliver an optimal attack combo, but the framerate slowdown during combat causes input lag that made me constantly miss my attack inputs.
Funnily enough, this new version of Chrono Cross adds a few assist tools that let you breeze through battles. The way Chrono Cross works is that you only level up from boss battles, with regular fodder fights just grant minor stat boosts or item drops. I soon found myself relying on the new auto-battle, skip-battle, and stat-boost tools to let combat take care of itself – I wasn’t in the mood to struggle with such severe input lag for the entirety of the game, and I certainly didn’t want rough combat to distract from the amazing story and iconic characters that make up the meat of Chrono Cross.
This isn’t a direct sequel to Chrono Trigger, but in a way it also… is. Chrono Trigger involved lots of timeline-altering shenanigans, and Chrono Cross takes place in the aftermath of a reality saved by constant alterations of the timeline. While Chrono Trigger was a campy adventure through dimensions, Chrono Cross focuses on the grim and unsavory side-effects of messing with time, and how the butterfly effect can mean a change in one person snowballing into disaster for everyone around them. It’s an inventive tale where your choices both big and small matter so much, and while every character you meet won’t get a fleshed out backstory or satisfying narrative arc, the excitement from meeting a talking skeleton-clown or a punch-happy waitress during your adventures never gets old.
For a deeper dive into the stories of both games, you can also check out the included Radical Dreamers game. This was a visual novel follow-up to Chrono Trigger that eventually became the inspiration for the story and characters of Chrono Cross. In a way, though, it’s a tale out of time that serves to link both games – and until this re-release, it was never officially localised.
The gameplay structure can be unforgiving, considering it’s such an old title. Despite that, it’s an incredibly well-written adventure with way more paths and endings than I was expecting – after spending time with the main game, I love that it gives you such a new perspective on the personality of the protagonist.
Chrono Cross is an incredible game – it’s full of ambition in terms of gameplay design, storytelling structure, and grand-adventure-vibes that few modern games manage to match. If you’re a die-hard fan of the original, I doubt that a wonky framerate or fuzzy-looking FMV cutscenes will stop you from calling this your favourite release of 2022 – but for anyone playing Chrono Cross for the first time, it’s a shame that they might have to dive into this version as their first exposure to it.