Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles

Maybe they should have just called the game Crystal Chronicles


The Lowdown

Pros: Unique and innovative, great use of GBA connectivity, excellent graphics

Cons: Control takes time to get used to, single player mode is lacking, story lacks depth, leveling up your character is a chore

Purchase at Play-Asia
Nintendo and Squaresoft haven't been able to see eye to eye after their fallout during the reign of the Nintendo 64. Once Squaresoft moved over to support the Playstation Enix followed and it spelled the doom of the console in Japan. Fortunately for gamers, Nintendo and Square, now known as Square Enix, decided to work together on creating games again. Instead of re-releasing a popular title or creating another Mario RPG Square Enix made a game that revolves around Game Boy Advance connectivity. For most games that include GBA connectivity it is used in minor way, but Nintendo has been trying to push it forward. In some ways Crystal Chronicles is a test to see how much you can do with connectivity, and what it does it does well.

First let me say if you're expecting an traditionally epic Final Fantasy you're going to have to wait until XII comes out. Crystal Chronicles is more a kin to the mana series rather than the Final Fantasy series. The is about a group of young adventurers that brave the world in search of myrrth. This magical myrrth protects towns from the creeping miasma, a deadly mist. Myrrth doesn't last forever so there is a constant journey to acquire more myrtth. You play as one of the nameless (until you name them of course) young adventurers who is part of a caravan of other adventures in search of the myrrth. Once you start the game you will be given a chance to make your character. There are four races to choose from and four sprites for each race. You can also choose to be male or female, which leaves a total of 32 possible looks for your character.  The most human like race are the Clavats, which are strongest in defense. There are the tiny and aptly named Litllys, which are the strongest attackers. The Yukes are the furry dragon-like creatures that excel in magic. Finally there are the Selkies, which are the blue haired, fur wearing humans that have the fastest attack. It doesn't matter too much which race you choose because the difference in attributes isn't that noticeable. After you design your character you get to choose a job for your character's family. You can pick from a number of different professions including: merchant, blacksmith, alchemist and even a fisherman. Each job opens a different store in your hometown. So if you want more stores to open you'll have to create more characters.

Once you actually start on your journey, you'll soon see that Crystal Chronicles is at heart a hack and slash action RPG. Your character will always have the basic commands attack and defend. Whether you're playing using a Game Boy Advance or a standard Gamecube controller "R" and "L" cycle through your available commands and "A" executes that command. So if you want to attack you need to cycle through your commands to get to attack and then press A to attack. Cycling through commands takes some time getting used to. At times the command scheme seems somewhat ridiculous. Because when you're being pummeled by an onslaught of enemies you'll wish you had an extra button you could assign another command to. There should be at least a Gamecube controller scheme and a Game Boy Advance scheme, but since the game is designed for the Game Boy Advance, it neglects players that choose not to play with one. Actually if you play without a Game Boy Advance you'll be missing out on a personal status screen and even a helpful map. So there seems to be a strong push for you to use the GBA.

There are a number of questionable "features" that are included in Crystal Chronicles besides the control scheme. For instance, when you enter into a dungeon you have no magic. After defeating a few enemies you'll run into magicite, which can be equipped to one of your empty slots. When magicite is equipped you can cast the spell that is imbued in it. So if you find fire magicite you can cast fire and cure magicite allows you to cast cure. However, once you leave the dungeon your magicite is gone, even if you enter the same dungeon again you need to track down your magacite again. Later on you can get an item that errantly allows you to have a spell, but that's not until much later in the game. If you want to cast an advanced spell, which is anything stronger that single magacite, you'll need to use two of your command slots to combine spells. So if you want to cast holy you'll need to equip both fire and life. However, you won't be able to cast either fire or life, just holy. When you only have two changeable command slots using them to make one spell seems wasteful. What ends up happening is you're constantly going back to the menu to change your commands. The magic system works a lot better when playing with other people. If you synchronize your spell timing with a partner you can cast advanced spells. So if you wanted to cast holy one person can cast fire and the other life. This works out much better than single player, but it takes time for people to synchronize their spells. Another problem with the game is the way your characters "level up". At the start of each dungeon every playing character is given a goal. This goal can be "attack enemies" or "use magic" it can also be something as asinine as "collect gil" or "open treasure boxes". What makes matters worse is the goal can even be something impossible such as "get hit by magic" or "don't attack enemies". The secret goal is shown when you plug in your GBA. You can opt to tell your partners this goal, but you'll probably keep it secret since you're competing to achieve your different goals. When you beat a dungeon you are given a score towards how you completed your goal. The person with the highest score gets to pick from the artifacts found in the game first. These artifacts give permanent increases to status attributes, more slots or even a new ability. However, you can only have one of each type of artifact. This means if you complete a dungeon and all the artifacts that are left over you already collected you won't get an upgrade. This is a problem when playing with four people, only one or two players may get an upgrade. Most of the time it's not even in the player's control, when they have those impossible goals like "don't get hit". The game just doesn't seem fair or enjoyable at that point.

Probably the greatest annoyance of the game is the ever present miasma. Your caravan carries a chalice with some myrrth filled in it. The chalice gives you a radius to fight in. If you step to far away from the chalice you'll incur damage and eventually die. When playing alone you're given a moogle to carry the chalice around. The moogle does a pretty good job of following you, but if you move too fast the moogle won't catch up. This means you'll be taking damage unless you move through the dungeon slowly. The chalice problem worsens when playing with other people. First of all you don't have a moogle to carry the myrrth around. A player has to actually carry it. Whoever carries it, moves slower and they're forced to put it down to attack or pick up items. Also since the player that carries it moves slowly all of the other players have to wait for him or her to catch up before pressing forward. All of this makes the pace of the game feel slow, which an action RPG isn't supposed to be like.

When you actually want to play multiplayer you must connect Game Boy Advances to use as controllers instead of the normal controller. This means for four players you'll need four GBAs, four link cables, a copy of the game and a Gamecube. That's a lot of expensive equipment to play one game, more than even playing Phantasy Star Online. However, Square Enix does a really good job of using the GBA's a little bit more than a novelty feature. Each player is given different information about the battlefield. When playing with two players one person has a map and one person has a radar. The GBA also serves as your individual menu screen that you can access by pressing "select". This allows you to change commands, use items and such without stopping the flow of the game. Square Enix has even placed other mini games that use GBA connectivity like a Caravan racing game that looks strikingly like Mario Kart. Overall, just using the GBAs with Crystal Chronicles is an experience on its own.

One thing Square Enix rarely does is skimp on the visuals. While Crystal Chronicles has reverted back to the adorable look rather than the realistic look of X and XI, the graphics look amazing. When you're walking by water you can see a clear reflection of your character and your moogle. The backgrounds are breathtaking, with lush environments and lots of reflective surfaces. The game also makes good use of a fog effect to represent the miasma. The characters look awesome too, each of the sprites are packed with animation. Perhaps the amount of detail can be seen just by looking at the moogles in the game. The moogles look "furry" with what looks like realistic fur, a lot of time was put into what looks like a simple detail. One thing that fans may question is the lack of full motion video in Crystal Chronicles. While there is a great full motion intro, there really aren't too many other full motion scenes in the game.

The music in the game is something that you're going to love or hate. The fanfare is a mix of ambient music that sounds strikingly medieval. Instead of the emotional pieces in other Final Fantasy games you get a soundtrack from a Renaissance Fair. While the tracks are decent, they don't resemble the same aural experience expected by Final Fantasy fans. The sound effects are also lacking you can hear a clang of the sword and burst of fire when attacking, but that's about it. There is also little voice acting in the game besides introductions to the stage. The world of Crystal Chronicles feels awfully quiet. 

While the gameplay does have its nuisances it still is enjoyable, but mainly with other people. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles has the best use of GBA connectivity to date, but at the expense of a weak single player game. Besides the use of the GBA there isn't anything else that differentiates Crystal Chronicles from any other action RPG. One other problem with the game is that it came with the Final Fantasy headline. People have such high expectations for a "Final Fantasy" that this game would have been better off if it wasn't so directly associated with the name.

Import Friendly?

No need to import it. It has a US release date of February 11, 2004. If you are looking to import it for whatever reason, the Japanese version is not unplayable. The game is so simple that you can play through it without missing much.

US Bound?

February 11, 2004 is the date you can pick it up.

Overall

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles is a game that you're going to love or hate. If you're a die hard Final Fantasy fan you may want to get those expectations of a standard FF game out of the way to enjoy this one. While Crystal Chronicles remains a truly unique and innovative game, its not without its flaws.