It’s 2022 and you can once again play one of the best JRPGs from Square Enix’s golden age on a modern handheld. But even enjoying it as I have been on Switch, it’s hard not to feel like the Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition remaster is another missed opportunity by a publisher intent on doing the bare minimum to bring its PS1 classics into the HD era.
For the uninitiated, Chrono Cross is the 1999 PlayStation sequel to Chrono Trigger, a beautiful time-traveling epic for the SNES. The first game was regarded by some, and for me remains, one of the all-time greats, both in the role-playing genre and in general. Chrono Cross, on the other hand, was never so widely or warmly received. It’s more ambitious, but also messier and less cohesive. It’s still fantastic and one of a kind, even if you’ll need a wiki to help you decipher its deeply fascinating but horribly muddled plot. And on April 7 it will be out on PS4, Xbox, Switch, and PC, ready for a long overdue critical re-evaluation.
I’ve been playing Chrono Cross on the Switch OLED (where the colors really pop) for a few hours now, and am as in love with the game itself as ever. I’m less impressed by the barebones way it’s been updated and repackaged for the new decade. The big additions are higher-resolution visuals, an option to turn off enemy encounters, and Radical Dreamers, a 1996 mini-visual novel that bridges the events of Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross and has now been officially localized in English for the first time. It’s something Chrono-heads like me have long pined for, and it’s nice to finally be able to experience the retro artifact, though it feels incomplete with Chrono Trigger, available on PC and mobile, still not on Switch.
Otherwise, the remaster is basically Chrono Cross as players like myself experienced it two decades ago, for better and often for worse. Here are some of the things that have been bothering me:
- Elaborate, pre-rendered backgrounds now look blurry and smeared
- 3D character models, rendered in higher res, stick out like a sore thumb in the new environments
- Combat often stutters and feels unresponsive
- There aren’t save states (but there is auto-saving in the overworld)
- There’s no option to swap graphical styles on the fly
- FMVs haven’t always been upscaled cleanly
- The HD fonts are clear but look out of place
Some of these things are a bit nitpicky. Others are harder to ignore. The quality of the uprezzed backgrounds varies wildly. In some places the general effect and sense of vibrant detail has been preserved, while elsewhere it looks like someone painted over a Van Gogh with vaseline. Fortunately, you can revert the game to the original graphics, but only from the main menu, rather than on a whim. And if you do, you’re basically playing a port rather than a remaster. (The original version of Chrono Cross has been cheaply available on PSP and Vita for years, and there’s a nonzero chance it ends up being one of the PS1 games Sony brings back as part of PS Plus’ $18 tier in June).
The remaster does make a fast-forward option available right from the start, but as far as I can tell it’s the same one that was included in the 1999 version of Chrono Cross’ new game plus. It doesn’t feel quite as fast as it should, and in battle it’s all but mandatory to deal with the random slowdowns. JRPGs have a lot of menu mashing, but even as a remaster Chrono Cross on my Switch feels occasionally as laggy with my inputs as the old PS1 game did.
Ultimately, Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition is a $20 game and that should tell you all you need to know. Like the lackluster Final Fantasy VIII remaster before it, it feels like a port with an HD mode, rather than a celebration of the PlayStation’s hyper-saturated, turn-based fever dream. And in a world where there’s an upcoming $50 full-scale remaster of Square Enix’s obscure Live A Live, or the modestly better $30 version of Legend of Mana released last year, I’m not sure why Chrono Cross was sent back out in such rough condition.
I’m going to continue playing it because even without a ton of modern-day upgrades and tweaks, Chrono Cross’ richly drawn and amazingly scored world is one of a kind and I want to get lost in its impressionistic seascapes all over again. But it’s hard to recommend it to others who have never taken the plunge before when the remaster does so little to help the underlying classic shine, or meet new players where they are with more modern conveniences.