Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
What’s with Nintendo and its fetish with the old-school titles? As if the re-releases of Legend of Zelda and Super Mario titles wasn’t enough we have to endure a remake of the original Metal Gear Solid in the coming future and Crystal Chronicles, a very close cousin to the very first Final Fantasy title released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989. Like the very first FF you’re introduced to a band of four adventurers whose purpose is to travel the lands and replenish the magic crystals but strangely enough, that classic title actually has more flesh and depth than Square’s latest title. This title lags behind in so many aspects and suffers from so many debilitating design flaws that the game can only be recommended to hardcore fans or absolute Nintendo fanboys. Admittedly, it’s a little surreal to see a Square game appear on a Nintendo console once again but the fact of the matter is that Nintendo fans deserved much better than this.
The re-attachment to the series’ roots comes with some major positives and negatives. Like the original title the game places very little emphasis on the storyline, a facet that has since become one of the series’ trademarks. Those fanciful CG cutscenes that we have become accustomed to from 1997 are gone. In fact there’s no CGI at all, all of the storyline (whatever little there is of it) unfolds via some in-game rendered sequences that are accompanied by floating text bubbles. Upon entering a dungeon you’ll be given an overview of the level that’s accompanied by a female narrative, but like the opening sequence, these are nonsensical and don’t really make too much sense. All you have to know is that mist is bad, giant crystal is good, water makes giant crystal work and young caravans are sent off every year to retrieve said water. In a nutshell that’s the storyline for this highly anticipated title.
After you’re ushered in by a pretty pointless introduction sequence that essentially boils down to a bunch of super deformed characters running around in fields, you’ll be given the chance to create your own character. There are four races available for you to choose from, all of which have their own proficiencies and weaknesses. I’d like to say that the character creation process is an intuitive one but the designers made it so damn inconvenient that you’ll have to refer to the game manual just to decide which race is right for you. After consulting your handbook to see which race fits your gameplay style you’re given the option to select the gender and outfit. Instead of giving you an instant representation of what your character will look like you’ll have to select the attire and progress to the next screen to view your avatar. If you don’t like the look you’ll have to go back a few screens and go through the whole process over again. After going through all of this trouble you’ll be given a list of professions to choose from and again, they lack any sort of description as to what advantages you can get from them. Upon putting your controller down to consult the manual for a second time you can complete your character and then finally jump into the game.
I hate to say it but Crystal Chronicles really is a tale of two very different titles. There’s a mundane single-player element and an insanely addictive multiplayer element, but even this mode is flawed. In addition to the insanely expensive GBA component the connectivity actually hinders your gameplay experience. Sure the option to view items on the GBA screen is a pretty neat gimmick but it’s just that, a gimmick, a reason to justify the pretty inane GBA-to-GC connectivity. Gameplay would remain virtually unchanged had the gamer been able to utilize four standard GameCube controllers as opposed to the GBA. As a matter of fact the GBA’s lack of functionality makes the game extremely difficult to play at times. You have one main command button and a context sensitive action button. What makes this worse is that you have to manually map the commands out yourself. When you want to utilize a different command you have to manually scroll through it and set it up. Nothing is efficient here and the controls are more counterintuitive than anything. Let’s say you’re getting pummeled by an enemy, you have a “defend” command at your disposal but you currently have attack and a couple of spells selected on your command list. If you want to defend yourself you’ll have to look down at the GBA, scroll through your list of commands until you find defend and then map it out to your trigger. Only then will you finally be able to defend yourself, after losing copious amounts of health of course. Doesn’t sound very efficient does it? Even if you do have it in your command list you’ll still have to scroll through the commands until the defend action comes up. Now let’s examine this from the GameCube controller’s perspective. You can easily map out a number of spells and commands to the buttons and then use the Z trigger as the defend function. Boy, that Game Boy Advance connectivity sure does seem a little forced doesn’t it?
If you’re a loser with no friends then you’ll need to partake in the single-player mode. If you’ve played any hack’n’slash dungeon romper then you’ll pretty know what to expect from this. Venture to various towns, discover your next objective and then head into the dungeon/contained danger zone and mop up the enemies. Fight through the levels, pillage the treasure, beat the boss and then proceed onto the next area. It’s a pretty basic type of gameplay that won’t be too taxing on gamers who have a difficult time with problem and puzzle solving. All of the action is generally simple to get the hang of since the game only requires the usage of the A and B buttons. Unlike most other RPGs you don’t actually learn abilities but rather you pick them up from fallen foes that you slay throughout the course of the level. To be honest I thought this was a pretty neat gameplay element at first as it gets rid of all that ticky-tacky character development stuff that can be overwhelming to novices. Then I discovered just how inane and asinine this gameplay aspect really was.
Upon completing a dungeon you’ll lose all of the skills and abilities that you may have acquired. This means that you’ll have to kill the enemies until they drop that precious “cure” spell each time you enter a new dungeon. Come on guys, who the hell forgets spells like that when they step outdoors? Some will argue that this adds a bit of balance to the game, that it ensures that every member of your party plays a crucial role, and they’re right. It does ensure that the game is a difficult and tedious affair every time and it does add balance, but it does so at the cost of logic and common sense. Character development isn’t done via the usual experience point system that Square helped pioneer back in the day. Instead, you pick up artifacts throughout the levels and you’re given the choice to use one of them upon completing the level. These give you bonuses such as +2 attack or an extra command slot. What makes this really annoying is that you’ll have to play through the same levels over and over again to build up your character instead of being able to build up your character as your progress through the game. What’s even more frustrating is that although you can pick up a whole host of artifacts you’ll only be able to utilize one of them, forcing you to discard the rest. In short I feel like I’m being punished just for playing the game; actually I’m starting to get flashbacks of Unlimited SAGA.
Gameplay fares much better when you invite some friends over to the party but there are problems here as well. Before you can even begin to think about all of the hot multiplayer action you’ll need to gear up. In order to enjoy the multiplayer elements each player must have his or her own GBA or GBA SP and a link cable. Depending on whether or not you enjoy the fancier variant of Nintendo’s handheld playing this game could cost you upwards of about $400. This makes it extremely difficult for younger gamers and casual gamers to really get into the action. Unless you live in a college dorm that’s populated with GBA-toting geeks you’re going to have a hell of a time getting a group of guys together to play this. Yes, using the GBA connectivity yields the gamers some pretty neat benefits but that doesn’t mean the game should be unplayable without it. Many people already have three or four controllers laying around; why not let them use them? Square should have at least offered up the option to play sans GBA. Even though those gamers would be missing out on some neat extras they’d would at least still be able to play.
Barring that you can overcome some of the major obstacles that stand before you, multiplayer action is actually some of the best that we’ve ever witnessed in a videogame. Unlike some of the other multiplayer dungeon rompers, Crystal Chronicles not only encourages multiplayer co-operation but actually requires it if you want to have any kind of success. While I the single-player mode players can fuse together spells for stronger combinations (two thunders form thundaga and so forth) this option is available in the multiplayer aspect. Instead, two players will have to cast spells at the same time to form a potent combination that will mow down the enemies. Also, since there is only a limited amount of spells to pick up in each scenario you’ll soon delegate roles to players depending on their gameplay styles. For instance in my experience I’m the pure fighter, a friend of mine plays as the sole healer while the other two are support mages that fight from afar. When I get too damaged I run back to the healer for health while the other two pummel the enemies from across the screen. It’s actually a thing of beauty when the game is played right as you have players shouting commands and giving orders throughout the duration of the battles.
Even still this mode is flawed thanks to the painfully stupid aura of doom that the designers decided to employ. The chalice that players use to gather the mist-killing fluid also serves as a protection halo for gamers. Stepping outside of this halo causes players to gradually lose health until they keel over and die. This element wouldn’t be so bad if not for two things; one player must carry the chalice at all times and the damn halo only covers about 2/3rds of the screen. The circle of doom doesn’t really become a factor until you get to the hectic boss battles. Since the halo is so small and you only have so much space to maneuver you’re bound to get hit by the boss’s projectile attacks. Also it make spell casting difficult because you must charge up the spells before you can actually use them. You’ll probably find yourself designating someone as a counter to shout “1, 2, 3!” and then run close to the boss so that the mages can do their work before retreating. Also, since the halo area is so small it makes four player games very difficult to work with. I’d say that the perfect sized game is two-to-three, four players is a bit too hectic and one player is pretty bland overall.
Crystal Chronicles’ paper-thin plot is essentially a means to send players into the fracas. Generally this isn’t a problem as it’s been a trademark of this genre of gaming for quite some time, but I think that games have come to expect a little more out of titles branded with the Square Enix logo on them. Aside from a couple of franchise mainstays, such as Moogles and some enemies, this game actually has very little in it that would indicate it’s a Final Fantasy title. In other words it’s woefully generic and would have been exactly the same game had the game been shopped around for licensing rights. In short the game feels wholly generic and doesn’t really feature any intimate ties to Square’s most beloved franchise. I have absolutely no problem believing that our four adventurers could be replaced by Mario and crew and the enemies replaced with variants of Koopa troopers and Bowsers.
As you would expect out of any title to come from Square Enix’s doors the game is a visually appealing specimen. Square really found out how to push the GameCube to its limits with this puppy, utilizing nearly every trick that the Ati powered console has in its arsenal. You’ll get some very impressive water with real-time reflections, amazing particle effects that accompany the spells and some overall impressive character models. Some of the environments can get repetitive from time-to-time but the overall package is nothing short of impressive.
I’ve always had problems enjoying the audio in my GameCube games mainly because of the lack of a digital out port. Even though a number of the titles utilize Dolby Pro Logic II I never quite experienced a clean signal that knocked me off my feet. And even though Crystal Chronicles boasts one of the better GameCube soundtracks it’s nothing that we haven’t all heard before. Everything is of high quality but it’s pretty much what we’ve come to expect from a game of this genre. You’ll appreciate the series trademark music but I’d say that the audio is still a step below that of the PS2 entries.
When we first saw the title at E3 2003 James from Cinescape Magazine likened Crystal Chronicles to a next-generation version of Nintendo’s Zelda the Four Swords. At first I didn’t know what to make of this statement as it seemed like it could have been in a positive or a negative light. Initially I took it for the positive but as I spent more time with this title I began to see more and more just what he meant. The game has absolutely no depth and it seems like a graphically advanced GBA title. Aside from the visuals, there’s nothing that this title does that requires it to be on a next generation console. To say that I’m disappointed with Square’s latest foray into the Nintendo market would be a gross understatement. There’s some fun here for players who are privileged enough to own multiple Game Boy Advances but solo gamers or those who don’t play well with others would do well to pass.
I wouldn't say that it's a bad game, per se, but dammit, the Nintendo fanboys deserved better than this. Fun for multiple players but even then, there are some flawed elements that prevent this from being a great game.
Rating: 7.7 Above Average
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile