Chrono Cross Interview: Koichiro Sakamoto On Radical Dreamers And Bringing Classic JRPGs Back To Life
Chrono Cross is a JRPG classic. While you likely won’t see it mentioned in the same breath as Final Fantasy, Persona, or Chrono Trigger, it remains a beloved example of what the genre is capable of, and a fond memory of many who grew up with the original PlayStation.
It passed me by as a child, but upon playing the recent remaster it became evident why people hold it to such a high standard. The Radical Dreamers Edition is a faithful revival of the revered adventure that simultaneously updates its visuals and mechanics while also ensuring it never veers too far away from its original vision.
Ahead of its release I caught up with producer Koichiro Sakamoto to talk about bringing the game back to life for the first time in over two decades, the challenges of maintaining such a storied legacy, and a few fun fan theories about the development of other such remasters.
“By listening to the stories of people working on the development of [Chrono Cross] and all the hands-on work, you could really feel how they felt at the time and their emotions when making the original,“ Sakamoto tells me.“By working on the remaster we could see how things were back then. ‘Fun’ isn’t the right word but we could sense how difficult it must have been and how much they must have struggled to make the game, but it was a really meaningful expression to sort of share in their emotions.”
Working on a remaster like this is always a double-edged sword. You are altering a legacy that so many fans have already committed to memory, meaning any change no matter how minor will stand out in the grand scheme of things. This has gone terribly in the past, and it seems Sakamoto is keenly aware of the expectations on his shoulders with this one. “From a modern perspective looking back on these old games, one of the things you can really feel is how hard the developers at the time had to overcome limitations of the hardware,” he tells me. “About how much they struggled and what a challenge that was, so it’s a really interesting perspective from my point of view. For Chrono Cross you can really feel how developers at the time worked to make the final visuals of the game look more than what the PS1 could actually depict and see that technical barrier they were working with.”
On new consoles, redrawn artwork and higher resolutions allow the game to shine brighter than ever before, but the team is still sticking strictly to the original’s core tenets. “I want people to be able to play the remastered version and have it look the same as it looks in their memories,” Sakamoto explains. “We do make adjustments and we do change things to brush them, but when people play the remaster I do hope they’ll look at it and go, ‘Yeah, this is what it looked like on the PlayStation, this is what it looked like,’ and of course if you put them side by the side it does look better. We want to capture that feeling and have it look as it did to them in the original state.”
Unfortunately this accuracy has its limits, and Square Enix is unable to alter performance too much or push past the original code without breaking the game altogether. Chrono Cross can be choppy both in battles and exploration, but with a game this old, there isn’t too much the team can really do to address that. “It’s an influence of the original program and the original code,” Sakamoto says. “To give a little bit of technical detail from behind the scenes, in the original game there was some form of slowdown when lots of models were displayed on screen. That has actually been improved in the remastered version but there is still an impact there from the original code. It’s a bit of a carryover.”
This brought my attention to Final Fantasy 8, with a theory floating around the internet ahead of its own remaster that the original code was in such a sorry state that fully remastering the game was impossible. It proved wrong in the end, but it turns out that fans weren’t entirely wrong about this. “There is a bit of truth to that,” Sakamoto admits. “With Chrono Cross as well it is true that the original data from development at the time wasn’t preserved in a complete state. So a similar situation was probably the origin of those rumours. First of all we have to look at what we have and what we don’t have.”
Fans have likely been emulating Chrono Cross for years, but this is the first time since its original release that the game has been available on modern platforms, so obviously it comes with a handful of new gameplay features. But none of them change the base experience, acting instead as optional additions that hardcore players needn’t touch at all.
You can now speed up battles and exploration with the touch of a button or skip potential encounters altogether if you want to progress through the story without interruption. We’ve seen similar features in Final Fantasy 7, 8, and 9. They’re great, and to be honest games like this are painfully slow in 2022 without such concessions.
To conclude our chat I wanted to ask Sakamoto for his perspective on the ‘golden era’ of JRPGs given how heavily involved he has been in remastering so many of them. It’s a time in the medium’s history that saw the genre achieve global appeal and change the landscape forever. Final Fantasy 7’s relentless popularity saw countless new games developed and localised to capitalise on its reach, and Chrono Cross was arguably one of them.
“In the PS1 era Japanese games still had quite a lot of influence on the world stage,” Sakamoto remembers. “People were looking to Japanese games to gain inspiration and they perhaps had more impact back then. Which means that these games that did come over to other countries remained more strongly in people’s memories. We’re seeing that again with all of these ports and remasters and that ties back to that time of nostalgia. I think that’s what it comes down to.”
Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition is coming to PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC on April 7.
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