GameSpite Journal 10 | Radical Dreamers

Radical Dreamers | Dev.: Square | Pub: Square | Genre: Visual Novel | Release: June 1996 (JP only)

Downloadable games serve as an inexpensive way to experiment with untested concepts that you would definitely not see lining today’s store shelves. But while this is a fairly recent phenomenon, early services like the Sega Channel and the Satellaview might have held similar promise had they taken off. Many of the Satellaview’s most interesting offerings were bizarre experiments in real-time broadcast elements grafted onto familiar games, but a rare few were truly offbeat game experiences that you wouldn’t expect to see out of a retail release at the time, with visual novel Radical Dreamers serving as the most notable of these by far.

On the surface, Radical Dreamers wasn’t actually that risky. Visual novels enjoyed a good deal of popularity in Japan. But instead of enjoying the same kind of success as Chrono Trigger, it became a weird curio that only completionists sought after. Having the follow-up to a beloved RPG take the form of a humble visual novel was a move not embraced with open arms. Instead of a lighthearted, time-traveling adventure, you have a simple story revolving around main characters Serge, Kid, and Magil as they attempt to steal a great treasure, the Frozen Flame, from Viper Manor. There are several distinct connections to Chrono Trigger, such as the many references to the Kingdom of Porre, Lucca, and the Kingdom of Zeal, but it clearly is a different beast than what the dream team of Kato, Sakaguchi and Horii came up with.

But Masato Kato was more concerned with telling a more laser-focused, nuanced story than he was with creating a worthy sequel to one of the greatest games of all time. The entire game takes place inside Viper Manor and can be finished within a couple of hours. Much of the background of the manor revolved around Porre, fleshing out an area that was previously known only for housing a greedy mayor who only discovers generous through the power of Jerky. Kid’s narrative reveals a journey of heartbreaking tragedy and revenge as she works towards killing manor master Lynx for the grisly murder of her foster mother Lucca. And the text-intensive nature of the game really drives home the point that this game is interested in the small details, the local conflicts, and the subtle ties that bind everything together. You can tell that someone who writes for a living was in charge of making the game. Everything is comfortably within Kato’s expertise, perhaps even more so than Chrono Trigger was.

The crux of Radical Dreamers rests on the fact that it was very much something Kato wanted to do, but wouldn’t have worked quite as well as a retail product. Small stories don’t normally sell as well as grandiose statements, especially those that span millenia. And though Kato even inserted “battles” into the game, they’re still in the same “choose your own adventure” style as the rest of the game. But though it may seem humble for a game related to Chrono Trigger, it’s meant to be that way. Fans eventually got their way when Kato expanded the plot of Radical Dreamers into another epic RPG with Chrono Cross, but the small scale of Radical Dreamers actually makes for a more detailed, endearing tale.

By Jeremy Signor? | April 29, 2012 | Previous: Super Mario RPG | Next: Star Ocean