23 years after its original release, Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition revives one of the true gems of the PS1 era with enhanced visuals and a handful of extras. It’s available on the latest generation PS4 and Xbox One machines, as well as Switch and PC, with backwards compatibility allowing the game to also work on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S. Regardless of platform, it’s great to see one of Squaresoft’s great JRPGs remastered, but it’s certainly not a perfect package. Sweeping changes have been made to the pre-rendered 2D backgrounds, dramatically altering the look, while the frame rate is much less consistent than you’d expect from a remaster of a game created four generations ago.
So is the Radical Dreamers Edition the best way to play Chrono Cross, despite these issues, or is it still better to enjoy the original – perhaps augmented with a CRT or HDMI scaler like a Retrotink 5X Pro?
Before answering this question, let’s take a quick look at the changes that have been made. The first thing you’ll notice is that some character models have been upgraded, character art has been redesigned, and backgrounds have been treated with a high-end form of AI. All of these changes can be toggled with a single option in a front-end launcher, between a new mode and a classic mode – but alas, none of them can be toggled individually. It’s all or nothing..
Whichever mode you choose, there are universal adjustments to the Chrono Cross remaster. First, there’s a change to the iconic opening FMV sequence; a higher resolution version is now used, with noise suppression and clearer text – a very welcome improvement over the PS1 original. However, the downside is that the improvements stop there and later FMVs remain raw and untouched. It’s also unfortunate that all FMV’s music is heavily compressed, seemingly presented with similar quality to the PS1 original. Stake? The good news is that the beautiful soundtrack based on samples from Yasunori Mitsuda shines. It remains a true highlight of the Chrono Cross experience, and while the arrangements are left as they are, newly orchestrated tracks are at least added to the front launcher of this remaster.
And the visuals, then? The biggest tweak is the AI processing of 2D background assets to accommodate the improved resolution. However, due to the inherent dithering of the original PS1 backgrounds – apparently used as the source for this project – this results in artifacts on areas with a pure color element (sky blue for example). The result is sometimes pleasing, creating a watercolor effect that suits the aesthetic of Chrono Cross. In other places however, new details are added which were not intended; artifacts like a repeating wave and stripes are sometimes seen, while store signs feature an unusual pattern. Overall the preference is to use the new mode’s Ai enhanced backgrounds, mainly for consistency with the new 3D models – but that’s not always an ideal solution.
There are more changes too. For new and classic graphic modes, all 3D elements (character models and 3D combat sequences), we measure native resolution in the 900p to 936p region. The new character models are reserved for the new graphics mode only, and this one also sports a crisp 1080p HUD overlay. These revised 3D models can be found on both PS4 and Switch with equivalent quality. Meanwhile, Classic Mode uses the original PS1 templates and also restores its 240p backgrounds and portraits, with larger on-screen text. It doesn’t look great on a 1080p or 4K screen, especially in the outdoor world where we’ve accurately showcased 3D elements running on a pixelated map. Again, the preference is to use the new mode on larger screens.
A clear issue in the remaster is performance. To put it bluntly, frame rates on PS5 and Switch are just as low as the PS1 original – and sometimes worse when the ‘new’ graphics mode is selected. The issues are apparent right off the bat, with the very first opening lane dropping to 20fps compared to 30fps on the original PS1. It’s not as low as it gets either, as more taxing scenes can see the frame rate cap drop to 20, 15, or even 10 frames per second. That’s not to say the original release was perfect – the original PlayStation ran the game with a wildly fluctuating frame rate between 10 and 30fps as well – but it’s concerning that a remaster running on modern consoles would end up reaching a lower frame- rate in some of the same scenes.
Selecting classic mode in the remaster menu improves things, but doesn’t guarantee a 30fps lock. In general terms, it seems to put frame rates back on par with the PS1 original, with battles continuing to drop to 15fps and below. That said, regardless of the mode used, additional issues are introduced during battles in the remaster – such as during post-battle victory pose – that weren’t present on the PS1 original.
All the performance issues beg one question: how is such poor performance possible so many years after its 1999 release? One possibility is that the game runs as an emulated PS1 game, rather than being remade from scratch for modern systems. This theory is based on the presence of virtual PS1 memory cards in the backup menu, while the PC installation directory even displays two archive files for each physical disk. Proper remakes undoubtedly take longer than adding graphical tweaks and additional modes to an emulated version, but it’s hard to imagine Square Enix visualizing this inconsistency as the end result.
Given the performance issues on PS5 and Switch, we wondered if the game could run better and be more enjoyable to play on PC. Sadly, that’s much the same as what we were able to test – the opening hallway stays at 20fps in the new graphics mode, and battles drop to 15fps and below – even on a Titan RTX machine. . Clearly overall system power isn’t a limit here, but there must be some issue with the emulation contributing to those extremely low frame rates. The only difference on PC compared to the console editions is that you can press Escape to access a graphics menu, which shows the game works with MSAA and FXAA and allows access to higher output resolutions – not really a solution to the problems of the remaster.
So our final recommendations then: if you’re lucky enough to own the original game and hardware, this is still the best way to play. Using tools like a RetroTink 5X HDMI scaler can be a nifty way to improve the game’s appearance on modern screens without changing its character, while the select few who still have TVs or CRT monitors in their possession can enjoy the original presentation.
If you don’t have the original Chrono Cross handy, the remaster still has some value. If you pick up the Switch version, playing in handheld mode drops the resolution to 720p, bringing the 2D and 3D elements closer together in the presentation. And regardless of platform, the story, gameplay, and atmosphere of Squaresoft’s classic JRPG still resonates in 2022 – despite some technical and artistic limitations.
Ultimately, this remaster is somewhat underwhelming. Chrono Cross is an unquestionable cult classic, but the Radical Dreamers Edition underperforms in terms of visuals and performance. While some issues may be fixed post-launch, the challenges here should raise questions at Square Enix about the validity of their approach to porting PlayStation classics.