Let’s get something right out of the way: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time is, at its core, a game designed around a co-op muliplayer experience. The single player mode is enjoyable enough, but multiplayer is where the game truly shines and exhibits its unique charm.
The game encourages you to hop right in, without having to deal with a dozen customization menus. You pick a race (Clavats, Yukes, Selkies and Lilties all make a return), pick a gender — and this is important because your character class changes based on your gender — name your character, and you’re all set.
Multiplayer is surprisingly well thought-out. You can access the multiplayer option from the familiar Crystal Chronicles save crystals scattered about the different areas. This makes sense because being disconnected from multiplayer makes the game save your progress (levels, items, weapons) before kicking you off. Echoes of Time is one of the first third-party games that manages to work around the limitations of the Friend Code system, too. You can either play with friends or with strangers, and the game allows you to add other people from your party to your friends list even if you don’t already know their Friend Codes. It’s a wonderful solution and one I dearly wish Phantasy Star 0 had adopted.
Once you’re in a game with other random party members or friends, you can communicate with them using customizable preset messages or a touchscreen keyboard. I did find myself wishing on occasion that the game allowed for longer sentences, but this is obviously a very minor gripe. The game allows for 12 customizable preset messages, and these are usually enough to get your point across to the other players.
Soon enough, you’ll find yourself grinning maniacally at your DS as you make your way through the game’s various dungeons and caves and numerous rewarding sidequests with your party. The puzzles are designed to be rewarding in that they require the cooperation of party members, but this cooperation often doesn’t even require verbal communication. One of the most rewarding experiences in Echoes of Time is the amazing sensation of “silent cooperation.”
The best part is, the longer you and your party members play together, the more comfortable you grow with each other’s playing habits and the more seamless your interaction becomes, during both combat and puzzle-solving. As if anticipating this, the game’s puzzles get trickier and start to require more of this silent cooperation as you go along. This is easily one of the game’s highs and I really can’t praise the designers enough in this regard.
Another fun little feature Echoes of Time offers — just like Crystal Chronicles and Ring of Fates before it — is the ability to pick up and carry your party members. I’ll admit to having a little too much fun with this feature while playing the game with my girlfriend. Every time I needed her to follow me and she didn’t, I’d simply pick her up and carry her off to wherever I wanted to go. It was also very useful in spots where the levels required some tricky platforming and she was having a hard time keeping up with my acrobatics.
The only major flaw that I could honestly complain about is that, in an online multiplayer game, only the host’s quest and mission progress is saved. If I was hosting and you were to complete the first five quests with me, you would still need to go back and complete those by yourself in single player or by hosting a game yourself if you wanted to unlock the story on your own cartridge. It’s a little annoying and makes me wonder why Square didn’t program in a “save party progress” feature.
Regardless, Echoes of Time is easily one of the best multiplayer experiences on DS and I would highly recommend it to everyone who owns the system. It says a lot that EoT is one of the biggest leaps a Square Enix game has made in terms of multiplayer design and features, discounting FFXI. Graphically, structurally and in terms of charm this is one of the most fun portable games I’ve played in the last year.
This is a playtest for the DS version of the game. The Wii version will likely offer a different experience.