Radical Dreamers, fully The Unstealable Jewel, is a 1996 text based adventure game (Visual Novel in Japan) set in the Chrono Universe. Penned and directed by series' scribe Masato Kato, Dreamers was intended to address lingering questions about the plot inconsistencies of Chrono Trigger, while also setting the game up for the eventual sequel of Chrono Cross. While this game was released on the SNES, it was initially only available in Japan on a special service known as Satellaview. The Satellaview was a Super Famicom add-on that users could download games via satellite. The potential of this technology was hampered by price ($180 at launch plus monthly subscription fees and actual game download prices) and a stringent time system. Being satellite based, most games could only be downloaded or streamed at certain times of the day.
Radical Dreamers was never officially released anywhere else in the world, so we have the ROM hackers to thank, who completed their fan translation in 2003, opening up this obscure game to a much wider audience.
The story in this game follows the team of thieves known as the Radical Dreamers, Serge, Kid, and Gil. While they are a team, their personalities couldn't be more different. Serge is a traveling musician by day with a carefree attitude. Kid is boisterous and pretty atypical for a 16-year-old girl (in theory...) Gil is a mysterious masked man who has great skill with magic and can fade into shadow at will. The Radical Dreamers seek the Frozen Flame, a legendary treasure with the power to grant any wish. It is hidden within Viper Manor, the home of Lynx. Lynx is a powerful aristocrat who took control of the mansion after killing the Acacia Dragoons, a family of proud warriors.
Graphics are difficult to comment on in Radical Dreamers; both because of their age and the fact that the graphics are minimalistic even for their time, as per most text-based adventures. When there are graphics, they are acceptable, such as the sprites for the main characters and the final confrontation. It is especially fun to see the similarities for Serge and the others to their versions in Chrono Cross. This doesn't quite work for Lynx and some other characters though...
Masato Kato suggested the return of Yasunori Mitsuda to compose the music. Radical Dreamers includes several ambient pieces, such as wind accompanied by strings. This ambience is mostly used as you are investigating the mansion for clues. The rest of the score consists of new pieces that would later be rearranged for use in Chrono Cross. These include Snakebone Mansion, Frozen Flame, and the Girl who Stole the Stars. I like the entire score not just due to its brevity, but how it works to elevate the game beyond the traditional simplistic trappings of the text based adventure.
Gameplay in text-based adventures is suitably simple, due to the emphasis on storyline and plot; Radical Dreamers is no different. The biggest difference to a game like Shadowgate, is the way in which combat works. All combat happens randomly, regardless of which room you are in, unlike the encounters that always reveal themselves the same way. Also, you only have a set number of choices, most of which involve fighting or running away.
While this system prevents the many inevitable deaths (due to puzzles only having one solution in these games), it can be stifling to have the only possibilities spelt out for you. Part of the fun of text adventures is trying to use the clues you find to figure out puzzles further on in the game. It's like the game rewards your forward thinking skills. Not so in Radical Dreamers.
Also, because Dreamers doesn't have a life display, it can be difficult to tell how you are doing in the game; how hurt you are, your affection levels with Kid etc. The game uses a subtler means of discovering this, with hint messages after encounters to gauge your level of health. These include messages like "little damage was suffered" or suchlike. Restoring your injuries can only happen at certain points in the storyline, like with finding potions or similar. All of these lends itself to a unique take on text games, but it certainly confused me while I was playing. Unfortunately, these hidden stats play into unlocking various scenes and endings of the game. If you can't check how you are doing, what is the point of having hidden goals based on it?
Challenge is perhaps the most difficult area to address in Radical Dreamers; these games are only challenging if you don't know what to do, so if you aren't using an FAQ or guide the first time through, you will find yourself making mistakes, possibly dying. There are also some areas in the game in which it isn't possible to die, despite some hairy situations you might find yourself in. Masato Kato and the others weren't sure what kind of game they wanted to make due to the quick development cycle. Text based adventure, role-playing, or perhaps even an early survival horror game? The inconsistencies of the game are most evident in some of these kinds of puzzles. Working on a deadline can strain creativity.
I'm told that the original Super Famicom version didn't have a way to record your progress. Thankfully, in the fan translation of the game, there are now save slots to address this problem. Overall, I would say that Radical Dreamers is definitely a challenge to those unfamiliar with the genre. If you've played a lot of these types of games, you should have an easier time.
Text based adventures cannot be said to have a lot of replay due to how knowledge plays into puzzles. I suppose one might forget the solutions if enough time has passed.
In Radical Dreamers, there is replay value but not for the main quest. Depending on various factors as you play through the quest for the Frozen Flame, you will be able to unlock side stories, some of which are pure fan service. These include references to giant mecha, talking sunflowers, and other crazy stuff. You can tell that the developers wanted these scenarios to add some humor and fun to this otherwise straightforward game.
In summation, Radical Dreamers is a great game for fans of text-based adventures, and especially those who also enjoy the Chrono universe. I played this game mostly for the story elements, but found myself enjoying the unique life-or-death situations as well. I was surprised to find a game of this genre with replay value, so you can tell that Masato Kato was trying to do something unique with the genre.
- Ugly Bob
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