E3 2019 saw the announcement of several un-localized games finally coming to the West, and Square Enix lead the way with three big titles. Between Trials of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 3), Romancing SaGa 3, and SaGa: Scarlet Grace Ambitions, fans of Square’s back catalogue outside of Japan have plenty to look forward to in the next year. Even more exciting are the recent comments by Square about how they’d like to make all of their games digitally available to players, which carries with it the implication that more of these localization announcements could be coming. But which one is next? What game of theirs needs to be seen by the wider world most of all?
Square’s list of un-localized titles measures about a mile long (hello, Live A Live), but my number one answer will always be Radical Dreamers: Nusumenai Hōseki (The Unstolen Jewel). Released in Japan for the Super Famicom Satellaview add-on, which allowed users to download games at fixed times essentially through satellite radio, Radical Dreamers is a visual novel with ties to Chrono Trigger. Though it was eventually used as the basis for the later PS1 sequel, Chrono Cross, Radical Dreamers is a version of how things could have gone in a different dimension, according to Cross itself.
Like some other games on the Satellaview, Radical Dreamers uses a mix of basic pictures, text, and music to tell its story. RPG mechanics are present, but kept to a minimum. The story concerns a group of thieves named Serge, Kid, and Magil as they break into the Viper Mansion to steal The Frozen Flame, and eventually come into contact with the manor’s host, Lord Lynx. After beating the game once, there are opportunities to explore other scenarios in the game by triggering certain events. Not all of these are canon, nor are they meant to be taken seriously, but they carry forward the use of multiple endings that the Chrono series helped pioneer.
With writing and direction from Masato Kato, art by Yasuyuki Honne, and music by Yasunori Mitsuda, key players in both Chrono games, Radical Dreamers represents a crucial bridge between the two titles. Many people cite Mitsuda’s work on the Chrono series as some of the best video game music of all time, and Radical Dreamers uses many songs that would be later rearranged in Cross with the instrumentation found in Trigger. It’s the best of both worlds, and in a couple cases Radical Dreamers‘ soundtrack outshines Cross despite using more restrictive technology. This is best shown when comparing the original version of “Gale” to the version that became Cross‘ main battle theme.
Kato, Honne, and Mitsuda all worked together at Squaresoft (as the company was known then) throughout the 90’s, and continued to collaborate after they left the company. Most notably, they were involved in the early days of Monolith Soft, becoming partially responsible for games like Xenosaga and Baten Kaitos. Radical Dreamers is an important step in this lineage because it was the first time this team was able to make something of their own, after Trigger became a high profile collaboration between new talent at Square, Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball Z), Yuji Hori (Dragon Quest), and Final Fantasy mainstays like Yoshinori Kitase, Nobuo Uematsu, and Hironobu Sakaguchi.
Aside from the fact that Satellaview games were made for a very specific niche of SNES owners, one reason Radical Dreamers has never been re-released is because of pressure from Kato. In the book Ultimania Chrono Cross, he remarks how the game was made in three months and left, in his eyes, unfinished. According to David Oxford at Old School Gamer Magazine, this left him rather unhappy with the game, preventing it from showing up on the Playstation, like Trigger eventually did, and calling Cross “the idea done properly.”
While I understand Kato’s concern, Chrono fans have waited almost two decades for a new game. At this stage, it would be difficult to make one that would please people because the development staff is so scattered, and technology is so different. Besides, according to a 2003 interview with IGN, several members of the remaining staff that worked on Cross went to work on Final Fantasy XI – an MMO that received new content for over fifteen years and is still playable to this day. The best chance Square has of pleasing their audience is by releasing this forgotten gem to the rest of the world, either as a standalone five dollar download, or as part of an eventual Chrono Collection.
Radical Dreamers is not like other Chrono games – it’s about reading text and becoming immersed in the atmosphere of the pictures and music. Enemy encounters occur at random and are all text-based. You can play through it in a day. However, for all of its differences, it does not deserve to be erased from history because of its obscure beginnings. Should you want one, a fan translation does exist, and there are Let’s Plays of it on Youtube. However, I believe it needs to be Square’s next big localization announcement. It probably won’t be, who knows if Square even has the source code anymore, but Radical Dreamers is a game more people need to experience.