Chrono Trigger is considered by many to be the best of it’s genre. Originally released for the Super Nintendo in 1995, Chrono Trigger was developed by Square at the height of their talent and went on to be universally lauded by both gamers and critics alike. Although not quite as well regarded as it’s predecessor, 1999′s Chrono Cross was still received incredibly well and is one of the shining stars of the original Playstation’s RPG library and a worthy sequel to Chrono Trigger. However, unbeknownst to most fans is the fact that Chrono Cross was not the first sequel to Square’s classic. That honour goes to an obscure little game known as Radical Dreamers.
How could a sequel to one of the most celebrated RPGs of all time fly so far under the radar? Well, there’s several reasons for that. For starters, Radical Dreamers was only officially released in Japan for the Super Famicom’s Satellaview add-on. The Satellaview itself was a relatively obscure and expensive addon for the Super Famicom that acted as a satellite modem, allowing users to download software over the radio onto specially designed cartridges capable of saving the data (think of it as a precursor to digital distribution). Radical Dreamers itself wasn’t actually released until 1996, well after both the Saturn and Playstation and while Nintendo was preparing to launch the Nintendo 64. As if that wasn’t enough, Radical Dreamers wasn’t a straight up RPG like Chrono Trigger – it was a visual novel. While Dreamers did feature some graphics, they were limited mostly to static scenes that simply served as a background to the text.
Developed by key members of the Chrono Trigger team (including writer Masato Kato and composer Yasunori Mitsuda), Radical Dreamers follows the story of Serge, Kid, and Magil – a group of thieves who find themselves in danger while trying to steal a fragment of Lavos’ shell from a powerful aristocrat named Lynx. Interestingly, after the game is completed the player can revisit the plot using a New Game+ mode where several new scenarios and side stories are unlocked that would otherwise be unavailable. Ultimately, the game serves to wrap up some loose ends left by Chrono Trigger. Chrono Cross actually serves as somewhat of a remake of Dreamers, featuring the same characters, themes, and story arcs. Since the two games cover the same story in a different way (and with different endings), the developers have instead positioned Radical Dreamers as an alternate universe “what if” scenario, making it an inessential but incredibly interesting piece of the Chrono universe.
Since Radical Dreamers was only released in Japan there is no official way to play it in English. Even if you can read Japanese you will have an incredibly tough time finding a copy. Since there weren’t many all that many Satellaview cartridges to begin with, combined with the fact that they can be rewritten and the subsequent discontinuation of the service, cartridges containing a copy of Radical Dreamers are incredibly rare. Any time one surfaces it sells for a small fortune. The game has never been re-released for any platform, partly because Kato (the game’s director) feels that the rushed development schedule hampered the final quality of the game.
While we don’t condone piracy, in this case we can make an exception. Radical Dreamers has been translated by fans and is able to be played, in English, in an emulator. Fan-backed efforts like this are important for historical and archival reasons; Without their work this piece of gaming history may have been lost forever.