So let’s talk about getting into fights.
Today’s game is Radical Dreamers, the quasi-sequel to one of my favorite games of all time, Chrono Trigger. Radical Dreamers is a 2 hour (or so) itty bitty side story to the titanic Chrono Trigger, and was released exclusively on the Japanese SatellaView back in 1996. Unfortunately, despite the global success of Chrono Trigger (arguably right up there with Final Fantasy 7 as one of the most praised and influential JRPGs of all time), Radical Dreamers never saw localization outside of Japan. Why? Well, being stuck on unique hardware aside (which is a pretty big aside), Radical Dreamers is a text-based game, and much of the gameplay makes this more of a visual novel than a traditional JRPG. And combine that with the fact that “visual novels” have never been as popular in the West as Japan, and, oh yeah, an entirely text-based game having to be translated into another language would have been a tall order back when one guy named Ted was the entire translation department for a company… well… It is hard to blame anyone for the lack of Radical Dreamers in our lives. And this was the status quo through the years, as even when we saw rerelease after rerelease of Chrono Trigger, Square (and later, Square Enix) decided time and time again that we would not have Radical Dreamers on the Playstation or Nintendo DS. And besides, Chrono Cross was supposed to be a complete “perfect reimagining” of Radical Dreamers, so why would we need the text-based prototype? Radical Dreamers didn’t contain a single Lucky Dan!
But some kind soul at Square Enix finally believed we were ready, so Radical Dreamers was released in the United States in 2022 as part of the appropriately named Chrono Cross: Radical Dreamers collection. And now, after over two decades, this Chrono Trigger superfan finally got to play the “lost chapter” in his favorite franchise (that consists of like three games).
And you know what news I managed to miss over all the years of merely reading about Radical Dreamers? This mother fudger has random battles!
This should not have been a surprise. Chrono Trigger did not have distinctly “random” fights, but it did have battles across many different time periods, and several of those fights were triggered by something as “random” as walking on the wrong floor tile. Similarly, Chrono Cross had its share of fights that were generally only triggered by smacking into a spot on the map, though with the caveat that a shockingly high number of areas outright required combat (go ahead and try to wake up the Black Dragon without fighting a town full of identical fishmen). With its creation sandwiched between its two more famous brothers, it seems completely natural that Radical Dreamers would be another game wherein a three-person band must repel the occasional ghost or demon. And, while sneaking around Viper Manor is something that could be “the same every time”, it is hard to see how random battles could not spice things up. Serge, your POV character, has health points. You have a reason to keep him alive, and now there are threats that could potentially deplete his life force. It is not just about bumping from room to room, it is about surviving this dangerous situation, and what could be more dangerous than fighting undead guards?
Except… well… Battles are a little different in the world of a text adventure. Fight? Magic? Item? All normal things to see in a JRPG, but Radical Dreamers can be distinct. The nature of the beast here allows the narration to employ some fun tricks that would never fly in a traditional JRPG. One thing that flies, for instance, is Serge, as Magil defeats a ghost by enchanting Serge, and tossing the hapless teen at the ectoplasmic problem. Another example is a battle wherein a skeleton is described as assuming a position that is ”highly suggestive”, but the magic of text-based gameplay leaves the actual position to the imagination of the player. In short, whereas Radical Dreamers could have converted its simple “do you want to go left, right, or up the stairs” to “do you want to fight, run, or defend”, the writers did go the extra mile and craft a situation that feels wholly different from the traditional JRPG of the era.
But different does not always mean good. The first battle with a perverted skeleton is funny, but not so much on the third encounter that is exactly the same. This is a text-based game, and the downside of text-based games has always been that making the same choices will lead to the exact same outcomes. And, while that should simply be a problem when replaying the whole adventure, it is an issue that crops up over and over again in even a perfect playthrough of Radical Dreamers. It is possible in RD to continue to make progress and never see the same thing twice as you take your party through this mysterious mansion… except for the battles. There appear to be four different opponents (skeleton, ghost, demon, and goblin guard), and there are really good odds you will see the same fights repeatedly before you reach Lynx down in the basement. And if you do not know where you are going? If you get “lost” in this mansion and putter around the same hallways trying to remember just where the heck you found Radius’s dungeon the first time? You are certainly going to see the same fights continually. Nobody likes to do the same thing repeatedly, but, when your character has “real” HP, why would you risk not doing what worked earlier? Take the same path you did the last time you fought a demon. It means you will survive.
And the even greater sin of boring the player is that it makes your party look stupid. Or maybe there is some level of collective Alzheimer’s going on? A ghost attacks! Serge ducks behind Magil! But Serge is shocked when Magil tosses the boy at the ghost! No one is hurt, but Serge sure has some questions. Just like last time. Exactly like last time. And there is only the (large) chance that you will fight the same monster repeatedly across one adventure, but it is definite that you will fight five goblins in a row when you raid the treasure chamber. And it is entirely possible those five goblin fights will all go exactly the same way, one after the other, with the characters all reacting exactly the same. In my own playthrough of this area, no less than three goblins died muttering to Magil, “where did you learn that spell? What kind of human are you?” It was creepy and interesting the first time! Not so much when it was repeated three times in a row. In short, not only are these “random battles” seemingly wholly pointless (there are no levels or experience to gain, but there is the slightest chance of gaining a dropped jewel after a battle, which increases Kid’s affection), they also actively detract from the characterization happening. These random battles remind the player that they are not involved in an epic story, they are playing a videogame.
But how is this different from the “random” battles in any “real” JRPG? How many times did Crono and friends have to fight goblins that followed the exact same patterns as the last thousand times they fought? How many times did Serge in the Chrono Cross universe fight skeletons that charmed his party members, slightly delaying a victory as he paused to pull out a healing element? How many other JRPGs feature battles that, over and over again, are exactly the same? You make progress in the dungeon, you eventually find your way to the big boss of the area, but your little dudes and dudettes are repeatedly fried by the same lesser dragons using the exact same fire breath attack? Really? They couldn’t figure out how to dodge the same assault they saw 80 times already? What is wrong with you idiots?
Well, at least not every game is the same. For an easy example, Final Fantasy 5 features four characters that eventually accumulate 22 jobs. That means there are thousands of different combinations of jobs and abilities within a Final Fantasy 5 party. And you could try them all! You could make every inconsequential battle a different opportunity to try something new. And you and your characters are never bored. But then you play something like… say… Wild Arms 3, and you have the exact same party with the exact same skills and (depending on the location) fight the exact same monsters continually for fifteen floors of the same dungeon. And, gee, I wonder which game was reviewed poorly for having “too many random encounters”. It was never about the number! It was always about the lack of variety! Bravely Default can support an endless dungeon of distinctive challenges. Xenosaga… not so much.
So is violence the answer? Well, it looks like the answer is extremely situational. If there are choices, if there are real options the player can choose, that makes all the difference. Then combat can be fun no matter the narrative situation. But when options are limited? When all you have are a few text boxes that lead to a handful of results? Then it is pointless. Just ignore it. Just run away. There is no reason to get in a fight if the rewards are only going to be thinking less of your own party.
And as far as the Radical Dreamers? Well, they better stay out of any and all fights. Don’t even think about lifting that swallow, Serge, it is never going to do you any good. We went a solid 20 years without this incarnation of Serge throwing hands, and it would be best if that continued.
FGC #629 Radical Dreamers (Complete Edition)
- System: Super Nintendo kinda sorta but not really for anybody. Then, like a million years later, it was available as part of Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition for PC, Switch, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. So now you can play it.
- Number of players: It was very hard to make visual novels multiplayer in 1996, so this is single player.
- A shape of things to come: The main path of Radical Dreamers is arguably somber, complete with a finale that all but guarantees someone will die (though they get better). That said, the alternate paths involve a whole lot of whacky mischief, including an inexplicable giant mech battle, so you can see how the likes of silly characters Funguy or Skelly wound up palling around with the rest of the dour Chrono Cross cast.
- Returning Favorites: Radius (eventually of Chrono Cross) is locked up in a dungeon, and is lamenting the death of every other Acacia Dragoon (though they all have different names from CC’s luminaries). Riddel is Lynx’s adopted daughter, but now she is a blonde that is significantly more princess-y. The leader of the Porre forces is not Norris, but a creepy old lady named Vera that seems to naturally attract bats. And Lynx… might be a cat? It is hard to tell if he is supposed to be distinctly feline, or just has weird facial hair. Also, there is what is best described as “the nerd goblin”, and it is implied that he is Chrono Cross’s Dario… or at least someone that fills the same role as Riddel’s former lover.
- So, is Magus back? Despite reports I have been hearing for years, Magil is never overtly confirmed to be Magus over the course of the adventure. That said, he knows a heck of a lot about the Masamune, the Lost Kingdom of Zeal, dark magic, and, oh yeah, he looks exactly like Magus from the first second of the game. The only evidence that appears that Magil is not Magus is that Magil seems more jovial than Magus ever was… but that isn’t hard to do. There are some turnips that are more jovial than Magus (and, no, I am not talking about that Turnip).
- Did you know? Serge has a radically different design for Radical Dreamers. He is dressed like a complete moron. Or maybe the hero of Dragon Quest 7. Who was also a complete moron. It cannot be emphasized enough how Serge got a glow up for Chrono Cross.
- Would I play again: Unlikely. This is an important artifact of gaming, particularly for someone who so thoroughly enjoys the Chrono Trigger franchise. That said, I am not a guy who enjoys visual novels past an initial playthrough, and if I want to read a novel about Chrono Trigger characters, I’ll just hit some fanfic. Fans got me through waiting for Chrono Cross to be released, and they can do it again.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth! Time for an elf to take some time off her shelf. Please look forward to it!
Kind of looks like a preview for next week