For some, Chrono Cross is a classic PlayStation-era RPG, and it's nice to see it being revived all these years later. While we wouldn't say that it's remembered anywhere near as fondly as Final Fantasy VII through IX, or its predecessor, the legendary Chrono Trigger, it's still a title steeped in PS1 charm — from its carefully crafted prerendered backgrounds to its striking soundtrack.
And so here we are with Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition, a remaster that gives us the game at a higher resolution, complete with better character models, sharper menus, and an enhanced — but thankfully not rearranged — musical score. At a glance, Square Enix has done a decent job; it's retained that aforementioned PS1 charm while also scaling things up for larger displays, without turning the 35-hour adventure into a blurred mess. But once you actually start playing, you quickly realise how badly optimised the game is — whether it's running on PS4 or PS5 through backwards compatibility.
That's right, Square Enix has somehow managed to destroy Chrono Cross' frame rate on modern hardware. The whole thing's supposed to run at a locked 30 frames-per-second — why wouldn't it? — but the frames fluctuate between what feels like about 10 and 25fps constantly. You can barely walk across the screen without the frame rate tanking to an embarrassing extent — and it gets even worse in battle.
Indeed, these performance dips can lead to noticeable input delay during combat, which is just beyond a joke when you consider how slow-paced the turn based system is to begin with. Needless to say, the remaster's frame rate problems come dangerously close to outright wrecking the experience — although whole chunks of Chrono Cross haven't aged all that well anyway.
As you'd probably expect of a PS1 RPG with fixed camera angles, the controls are rather wonky. At times, lining your character up to interact with environmental details or talk to NPCs can be an exercise in frustration. What's worse, in certain locations, we found that our movement bugged out completely — to the point where we couldn't even walk in straight lines. It's a real shame that this kind of stuff wasn't touched up or fixed for the remaster.
Chrono Cross does tell a fairly interesting story, though. It's an ambitious tale, dealing in alternate realities, and boasting a huge cast of mostly fun characters. Aside from a handful of filler episodes — for lack of a better description — the plot is well paced, and as is typical of PS1 JRPGs, the writing is sharp and straight to the point.
Having said all that, proceedings can get a little confusing later on, when you're jumping between timelines in order to progress. Keeping up with your current objectives during these sections can be difficult as you attempt to remember which characters you need to chat with and which places must be visited. Chrono Cross lacks the copious quality of life improvements that have transformed the genre over the last two decades — and it's something that's painfully obvious here in 2022. Again, this was ambitious design in the 90s, but nothing's been done to bring it up to speed.
Now look, we didn't expect this remaster to reinvent Chrono Cross for a modern audience, but there's just no getting away from the fact that the game's a slog every now and then. Take the elements system, for example. It's similar to Final Fantasy VII's materia, in that party members can be equipped with magic spells and abilities of your choosing — except the elements menu is seriously awkward to navigate, and keeping track of equipped elements is a bit of a nightmare.
Chrono Cross loves its convoluted mechanics — a trait that's encapsulated by its divisive combat system. For what it's worth, we don't think combat is anywhere near as bad as some critics have made it out to be over the years, but it is a system that could lose one or two mechanics and arguably be better for it. Basically, you use standard attacks to build up energy, which can then be spent on unleashing elements. Great, fantastic, that works fine. But then your standard attacks have percent chances to hit, and using them drains your stamina, which is refilled to varying degrees as turns pass.
Because of the way in which the mechanics influence each other, battles can become tediously drawn out. Missing a normal attack purely by chance can set you back a turn or two — or three if you take a hit in between, forcing you to heal instead of dishing out all of the damage that you've been saving up for. There is an enjoyable level of strategy to Chrono Cross, but it's buried deeper than it needs to be — trapped behind repetitive design that grows tired long before the credits roll.
Fortunately, the remaster does come with the ability to speed the whole game up, which can be a godsend when you're having to grind through regular fights (even though it does nothing to alleviate the frame rate issues). You can also activate 'battle boost' at any time, which essentially makes your party invincible. A welcome option if you're only here for the nostalgia.
Oh, and The Radical Dreamers Edition comes with — would you believe it — Radical Dreamers. This is a text-based title that was never released outside of Japan, and it sort of ties Chrono Cross and Chrono Trigger together. It's a thoughtful extra, and you can check it out at any time through the remaster's main menu.
Parts of Chrono Cross really haven't aged well, but it's still a charming, characterful JRPG that evokes feelings of the genre's golden age on PS1. It's a game that deserves better than The Radical Dreamers Edition, which, at least at launch, is a dreadfully poor remaster. Crippled by frame rate issues, it beggars belief that a title from 1999 could run this badly on modern hardware. Unless you're desperate for the nostalgia, we strongly recommend waiting to see whether Square Enix releases a patch to improve the package on PS4 and PS5 before buying.