Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition, the new update to the 2003 GameCube classic, is a game with difficult hurdles to clear. It was built around a gimmick—Game Boy Advance connectivity—to which it’s no longer attached. It was an early attempt at co-op dungeon-crawling, a genre that’s seen leaps and bounds in the intervening years. It’s a game that has a dedicated following… for its music, with the gameplay itself less revered even at its first launch. Players are excited for the game’s return, but there are a lot of variables to what exactly a “return” means.
To Square Enix’s credit, the approach Crystal Chronicles Remastered takes isn’t a cheap one. There’s a lot of effort! Delays gave the development team the time to implement new ideas better! Still, this sort of thing can be worrying. Is it the passion of the team to make the best game? Is it flailing to cover up existing issues with feature creep?
For the uninitiated (and in the realm of Final Fantasy, Crystal Chronicles counts as obscure): the game pits you and up to three friends through top-down action-RPG dungeons. The game’s original gimmick—GBA controllers for personal screens—means the design relies heavily on managing your loadout on the fly, equipping healing items and magic spells to take down larger enemies. You can use a melee attack, but most other options are ranged charge attacks with reticles.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition would benefit from more action buttons, but it leans on two, with shoulder buttons cycling through the main button’s function. Because it was made for a GBA. That didn’t change here, possibly because it’s too intrinsic to gameplay, but we have more buttons and higher expectations now. This part’s rough, and you’ll accidentally use an item when you need to slash at a roving critter. Constantly.
Outside of the control limitations, combat works fine. It’s a game about coordination, making sure each player’s doing what they should. As for execution, it doesn’t ask too much. You have more than enough time to avoid an enemy spell radius if you notice it, and outside of the first few levels (or enemies scaling up in multiplayer sessions and not back down when playing solo again), you should be able to beat the combat challenges with only a few extra tries. Along the way, you’ll pick up things like spells to use in the level, food to regain health or passive upgrade options to peruse at the end of the level. In this small way, it feels like a loot game, but ultimately it doesn’t throw quite enough at you to scratch that itch.
The original release, a GameCube showpiece published by Nintendo, was built around local multiplayer. It’s the reason exploration is built around the chalice, an object that creates a circle of safe space. You have to carry it around, and players who venture outside the circle take damage until they return. It’s an idea to keep everyone together. On one 4-by-3 screen.
Crystal Chronicles Remastered totally removes local play, in favor of an online multiplayer system. Removing local play is a choice, one that many modern games make. But it’s easy to envision a version of the game that instead used four small menus on the sides of the screen to replicate the old experience, so the choice isn’t necessarily inevitable. Menus that were once on a small GBA are now full-screen and blocking game action that doesn’t pause. The matchmaking functionality is in many ways impressive for a game like this, with full cross-play across PlayStation 4, Switch and mobile versions. You can even transfer saves across these ecosystems, if you want, with a code-based system. It’s perhaps a bit niche, but if you need it, it’s a welcome addition. We tested back and forth from PS4 to Switch, and it worked nicely.
It’s clear that the original game wasn’t built for this matchmaking, though, and that causes some issues along the way. You’ll need to make a new lobby and get all your friends back for each dungeon you enter, and navigating the overworld isn’t as intuitive as it should be with some of these multiplayer elements accessible out of context. Given this limit, though, it could do much worse at connection stability or handling the inevitable lag from weaker connections of the portables. The big momentum-killer is the game’s insistence on two things: that only the host makes story progress from a session, and that all players need to have made that story progress to advance to the next area. Yep, that means you’ll have to do each area a bunch of times, rotating hosts.
There’s a quick-chat system, and given how little communication needs to occur for the complexity of the game’s battles, it serves its function most of the time. Items drop, sometimes for everyone individually and sometimes just once for everyone. Picking up everything becomes somewhat confusing, as teammates run for things invisible to you while you’re trying to head the other way with the chalice.
And, um, yeah. The chalice.
It’s a part of the game that was despised by a lot of the community. It certainly didn’t pop up in Square Enix’s later Crystal Chronicles games. When playing solo, a moogle shows up to carry it for you. In four-player, it’s small enough of an inconvenience split among you that it’s generally fine. Two-player, though. Yeah, that’s not ideal. So investing in Remastered means bringing a full party or making sure you’re ready to join in with random players.
We mentioned Crystal Chronicles’ well-regarded music. And it’s here! The compositions of Kumi Tanioka are worldly and lush and rustic in all the right ways. It’s a great listen. Outside of the game, that is. Sadly, most of the time, you’re stuck with the in-dungeon loops. These repeat every few seconds, and don’t have the length to build musically or break monotony. It’s almost like—you may have guessed it—these parts were composed to be the quiet background to the in-room chatter of a gathered team of players.
If you’re headed into the world of Crystal Chronicles anyway, which platform is best? It’s hard to say. We experienced more lag playing on Switch than PS4, which is likely hardware-based rather than any deficiency of the port. Both versions look nice, and you get the portability with the Switch, but if you’re comfortable with a mobile, touch-screen button setup, the Android and iOS versions may hold appeal. Since there’s no local multiplayer, you don’t lose a lot going that way.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is a gimmick game without the gimmick. Without that, it’s a weak dungeon-crawler in today’s landscape. Why play this over, say, console Diablo? Why coordinate all your friends for instanced play sessions of this and not something with the depth of Monster Hunter? It’s a tough sell. One with clear development effort. One that sounds great except for when you’re actively playing. If it carries deep nostalgic value for you (like it does for us), it could be worth the effort. But the changes it makes — and the ones it doesn’t — mean it will have trouble finding a wider audience.