Before Chrono Cross, there was Radical Dreamers – Le Trésor Interdit, a 1996 text-based sequel to the renowned Chrono Trigger. Radical Dreamers was originally released for the Satellaview, a fascinating, Japan-only device for the Super Famicom which allowed users to receive downloadable content from satellite broadcasts. Its inclusion in the Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition is the first time players outside of Japan will have official access to Radical Dreamers. It’s a fun bonus addition, and finally allows players worldwide to enjoy the full Chrono saga.
Much of Radical Dreamers’ premise and story are familiar if you have played Chrono Cross. You play as a young man named Serge while he breaks into the deadly Viper Manor. Alongside him are his companions, the self-declared gentlewoman thief Kid, and the mysterious magician Magil. Together these three make up the eponymous Radical Dreamers. The Radical Dreamers are after the infamous jewel, the Frozen Flame, but Kid also dreams of taking the opportunity to slay her hated foe, the dangerous madman Lynx.
All gameplay is choice-based, from which direction to take at a junction, deciding how best to avoid traps in a new room, or battling against goblins, ghosts, and demons. The mansion is open for you to explore, but you will need to find various items and speak to its inhabitants to find your way past traps and locked doors. Your choices likewise increase or decrease Kid’s affection towards you, which is an invisible value that affects the ending of your tale. You don’t always have unlimited time to choose an answer either, so you have to be quick on your feet if you want the best outcomes.
You also run into random battles. These play out in a series of decisions that may result in you taking damage or making your way through unscathed depending on your choices. If Serge’s HP (which is another invisible number, only hinted at by the direction of Serge’s thoughts after each battle) reaches zero it’s game over, but there are various ways to heal yourself throughout the game. Sadly, there are very few different monsters to encounter, and once you know how to beat them, they no longer pose a threat, but it is still an interesting feature in a text-based adventure game.
As you explore the mansion you are treated to not just text, but beautiful pixel illustrations and animations of corridors, dungeons, bedrooms, characters, and monsters. The limits of the Super Nintendo make these depictions striking in a way that lends to the game’s melancholy and eerie atmosphere. Yasunori Mitsuda returns for the soundtrack, and while Radical Dreamers doesn’t have a huge variety of songs, it is still quite impressive for such a small title and boasts many tracks recognizable from Chrono Cross, such as “Star-Stealing Girl” and “Gale.”
The first time you play Radical Dreamers, you undertake its main scenario, a two-hour jaunt into the sinister manor. Despite the mansion being open to you, it is small enough to keep the pacing breakneck, and the writing is surprisingly witty and evocative. Even if the game didn’t have art, the descriptions make it easy to picture locations and events. Serge, Kid, and Magil are all well-realized despite the brief time you spend with them, and their group dynamics often take centre stage. Kid is especially notable; it is impossible not to care for her, though it helps to have previous knowledge of her from Chrono Cross.
After finishing the game and receiving its proper ending you can start the game up again, but with new choices cropping up. These lead to clearly non-canon, blooper reel-esque, weird, and just plain silly alternate endings. Some of these alternate endings have aged poorly (no Magil, it is not all right to kidnap a woman and expect her to marry you), but there is fun to be had in them nonetheless. One ending in particular goes completely off the rails and had me laughing the entire time.
As a long-time fan of Chrono Cross (and Chrono Trigger, of course), I have always been curious about Radical Dreamers, and it is great to finally get to play it. Radical Dreamers adds a new dimension to the series that many fans have not been able to experience before now. It is easy to see how much of Chrono Cross was based on Radical Dreamers, but it is also a standalone story that can happily exist as canon within the grand scheme of alternate timelines and dimensions in the Chrono series. It is a great addition to Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition, which makes it worth a buy even for those who already own Chrono Cross. A final note: I do suggest playing Chrono Cross first if you haven’t before, as Radical Dreamers spoils multiple of its plot points.