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Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (GameCube) artwork

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (GameCube) review

"About a decade ago, tragedy struck. After a long tradition of excellence on the Super Nintendo, ultimately culiminating in the digital masterpiece commonly known as 'Chrono Trigger,' Squaresoft was jumping ship. They would no longer be producing games for Nintendo. They were moving onto Sony's brainchild Playstation. Needless to say, people were furious. A schism was cut straight down the middle of Square fans, a scar which persists to this day. Those who chose to remain loyal to Nintendo bitter..."

About a decade ago, tragedy struck. After a long tradition of excellence on the Super Nintendo, ultimately culiminating in the digital masterpiece commonly known as 'Chrono Trigger,' Squaresoft was jumping ship. They would no longer be producing games for Nintendo. They were moving onto Sony's brainchild Playstation. Needless to say, people were furious. A schism was cut straight down the middle of Square fans, a scar which persists to this day. Those who chose to remain loyal to Nintendo bitterly denounced Squaresoft as "Not as great as we used to say." Those pledging their loyalty to Squaresoft quickly picked up a Playstation.

The Nintendo loyalists were bitterly disappointed by their choice. Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy Tactics were released not long after the Playstation's launch, and to this day remain two of the highest rated games ever created. Squaresoft also saw fit to squander their license on their Super Nintendo titles, porting SNES gems like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy V to the Playstation. But the Nintendo loyalists got the last laugh. Final Fantasy Tactics marked a high point in the series, a high point which quickly turned into a sharp decline. Final Fantasy VIII and IX simply couldn't hold a candle to the gaming caliber achieved in Tactics and VII.

Despite these setbacks, Square remained a steadfast supporter of Sony, and did not return to their Nintendo roots when the next generation of consoles arrived. The Playstation 2 was given Final Fantasy X, which while a step in the right direction still didn't hold a candle to VII. Nintendo loyalists stewed in silent mirth as, almost a decade later, the Squaresoft loyalists still clung desperately to the single gem they had been granted. But turnabout is fair play. At last, an original Final Fantasy title would appear on a Nintendo console for the first time in almost eight years. And like Final Fantasy's VIII, IX, X, X-2 and XI, it is a bit of a mixed bag.

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicle's heavy emphasis on cooperative gameplay is both its strength and its weakness. The basic gameplay is kept as simple as possible at all times. The game's four different races essentially act as four separate classes as well. The Clavats are defensively the strongest, and are well balanced in all other statistics. The Selkies possess the strongest and fastest 'Charge' attack, and are well balanced in other stastistics. The Lilties are physically the strongest, but have the longest casting time on spells. Lastly are the Yukes, who possess the strongest and fastest spell casting in the game, but are weak in nearly all other categories. There is enough space in each saved file (or 'Caravan') to store up to eight characters.

While on the World Map, the player's Caravan travels along a connect-the-dot road to the different towns and dungeons in the game. Every so often at an intersection on the road, a small cutscene will occur. Your caravan will encounter another caravan or travellers on the road, and the encounter will either progress the game's ponderously slow story a small amount, or reward the player's caravan with an item. These items are usually a weapon or piece of armor, and occasionally some other miscellaneous item.

The game's many dungeons are in a variety of locations, ranging from caves and riverbeds, to a forest of giant mushrooms, to goblin strongholds and magical canals. Each area is basically a good old-fashioned dungeon crawl, akin to games like Rogue, Diablo and Gauntlet, most of them consisting of a small maze or labyrinth. Other levels are simple Point A to Point B hack-and-slash, while still more are very open-ended levels which must be thoroughly explored to complete. All of them contain large numbers of enemies, each hellbent on getting in your way.

In order to navigate these areas, the player is required to cart around an item known as the 'Crystal Chalice.' This item, fondly (and sometimes less-then-fondly) known as 'The Bucket' by Crystal Chronicle fans, creates an aura around the player and his companions. While in this aura, the players slowly regain life. Travelling outside this aura, however, quickly damages the character. The camera is largely focused on who is holding the bucket, so it is difficult to travel outside the aura (but still possible). In Single-player mode, the player is given a moogle who will carry the bucket for him. In Multi-player, however, players must take turns carrying the bucket. The Crystal Chalice has an innate Elemental alignment which can be changed at the player's discretion by visiting certain areas, and depending on the alignment that player's Caravan will be more resistant to certain types of spells and will be able to pass through certain barriers into other lands.

In each dungeon is a collection of chests and other items to gather along the way. These items range from recipes for new weapons and armor, to materials needed in these recipes, to large magic orbs called Materia (real subtle, Square). These orbs are available in large numbers, mostly because magic cannot be cast without them.

Materia Orbs only works in the dungeon you find it in, meaning once you finish the dungeon it disappears permanently. This unfortunately means that early on, you begin each dungeon with no way to heal yourself or damage your enemy through magical means. This especially sucks for the Yuke race, who rely on magic almost exclusively. Luckily, there are items available which let the player cast a specific type of magic at any time. Materia Orbs come in several different forms, including: Cure, Cleanse, Fire, Blizzard, and Thunder. In single-player mode, these different types can be combined with weapons and other types of magic to create more powerful effects. Mixing two Fires, for example, lets the player cast Fira, while two Cures and a Cleanse can be combined to cast the Haste spell. Mixing a magical spell with a weapon adds an additional elemental damage to the weapon's charge attack.

In Multiplayer mode, however, it works a little differently. Magic and Weapons cannot be combined, or 'Fused,' as they can in Single-player mode. Instead, players must time their attacks and cast spells and attacks in the same general area at the same time. This requires teamwork and communication to succeed.

At the end of each Dungeon is a boss. These bosses are all huge and very detailed, each possessing a unique attack pattern which the players must learn how to avoid. Most of the boss' attacks aren't particularly difficult to avoid, but when they do connect they hurt. A lot. After defeating a boss, then the Dungeon is completed. In each dungeon, players are randomly assigned a goal they must accomplish which appears on the screen of their GBA (don't got a GBA? Tough luck, pal, you don't get to see the goal). This goal could vary from collecting lots of Gil, to picking up items, to collecting no items, to dealing magical damage, or dealing physical damage. The better the player accomplished this task, the higher the ranking he receives.

At the end end of each Dungeon, these points are added up and used with a table of artifacts. The better the player performs, the more rare the artifacts he is presented with will be. Artifacts are Crystal Chronicles' statistic levelling system. They can do many things, from raising a character's attributes, to increasing his hit points, to providing an additional action slot to hold more weapons or magic. Collecting all of the Artifacts is the main draw to keep playing the game, and it actually is a pretty fun goal if you're into that kind of thing.

After completing a dungeon, then the player's caravan is awarded a Dew Drop. That Dungeon is then disqualified for one 'round,' or year. Each year consist of three dungeons and three different dew drops, and though Dungeons can be repeated as many times as the player likes to earn additional artifacts and items, each Caravan can only earn a Dew Drop every other year from each Dungeon. This encourages players to explore the furthest reaches of the map as early as possible, and is actually quite effective. After a dungeon resets, then the difficulty of that dungeon is increased. Each dungeon has three different difficulty levels, and three separate Artifact tables for each difficulty level.

Traditionally, multiplayer games are kept as simple as possible, and Crystal Chronicles takes this concept to heart. Getting setup for Multiplayer, however, is not so simple. For starters, every player requires a Game Boy Advance as well as a Link Cable. Additionally, if they want to use characters from their own Caravan, then they will have to bring that Caravan on a memory card and transfer the characters over to the 'Host's' memory card. For multiple people with multiple caravans, this means a lot of memory card swapping. Luckily, once this is all set up multiplayer is actually a pretty fantastic experience, right up there with a good game of Mario Party or Super Smash Bros.

In Multiplayer, the game is controlled entirely on the GBA. Each player is given a different kind of map on their GBA screen. One is shown a map of the immediate area, one is given a radar which leads to treasure chests, the third gets information on his target, and the last is given a radar which shows enemy locations. When a player wants to change weapons or heal himself, there is no option to pause the game as there is in Single-player. So while one player shuffles through the game's simple menus, his companions must watch his back. This makes for a tense and exciting experience. The only downside to multiplayer is the ponderous Crystal Chalice, which one player is always given the Booby Job of carting around.

Crystal Chronicles takes place in the distant future of a diseased world. One day, long ago, the entire world was flooded with a poisonous aura known as Miasma. Nearly the entire world's population was wiped out, and only small pockets managed to survive thanks to the protective aura of Manna Crystals which dot the landscape. Pockets of life have gathered at these crystals, forming small tight knit communities. But these Crystals are fragile, and their life force must be maintained using Manna Drops. So, each town employs a Crystal Caravan.

The job of each Crystal Caravan is to travel around and gather Manna Drops from the magical trees that have sprouted in different areas of the world. Using a magical shard of a mana crystal, these Caravans can travel in relative safety from the Miasma. They are not safe, however, from the monsters who jealously guard the Manna Trees, and must battle their way through these hordes to save their town. Failure to retrieve the Manna Drops means the death of both the Caravan and their town.

Okay, so Crystal Chronicles has a pretty good story at its start. But that's really all there is to it. Very slowly over the course of the game, a small story is unfolded through chance encounters on the road with other caravans. The story of the Black Knight and his companions, and the shocking discovery about the Miasma they uncovered is decent. But the problem is, it's told so slowly and irregularly that the player has to be paying extra careful attention to keep track of the whole thing. And after you've finally figured out the truth behind the Miasma, there's nothing that can be done about it. All you can do is keep playing, even after the story has essentially ended.

Crystal Chronicles has remarkably simple controls, necessitated by the Game Boy Advance's primtive control scheme. The game can literally be played with only four buttons and the D pad. Pressing L and R shuffles through your Action Bar, which holds different functions ranging from using weapons to casting spells. Pressing A activates the selected Action, and B picks up items. That's really all there is to it. Even using the GBA and a link cable as a controller, the game is responsive and fast. Any problems the player has with the controls is purely pilot error.

You can really tell that Square took special attention with the game's graphics. It's just a shame they didn't put some of that attention into realizing just how frustratingly complicated and expensive getting into the Multiplayer mode was, because they clearly had some time to spare. The graphics in Crystal Chronicles are beyond competent. They are borderline the best graphics seen anywhere, even giving top of the line PC computers a run for their money. The water is eerily reflective and yet still clear, the thunder flashes brightly while still managing to be ominously dark. And don't even get me started on the character models. I could go on for pages about the genius behind the character design, particularly the Lilties and Yukes.

Like the Graphics, special attention was clearly given to the music. Each different area has its own musical theme, ranging from soothing flutes to pounding, pulsing drums. The music is a perfect compliment to each area. At the beginning of each dungeon, there is a small voice over which tells a short story about the area. All of these voice overs are very well acted, and usually carries ominous hints to what is really going with the Miasma in the world.

The main draw to keep playing Crystal Chronicles is collecting all of the Artifacts and getting all of the best equipment for each class. This puts the game in somewhat of a quagmire; there are enough artifacts to collect in the game that no casual gamer could conceivably accomplish the goal, but the game is too simplistic for hardcore gamers to weather such a task.

In addition to collecting the artifacts, each town and dungeon has a hidden 'Moogle House.' Locating these Moogle Houses and talking to its inhabitant will place a stamp on a special card. Collecting enough stamps on this card allows the player to download a brief little racing game to the GBA, which is slightly akin to Mario Kart. It's not a bad game for what it is: a short, silly kart racer with simple graphics.

Crystal Chronicles is either too easy or too hard depending on how you play it. Playing the game very slowly and deliberately, trying to gather all of the artifacts in a level with all of your available characters before moving on, is an extremely easy but boring and tedious way to play. On the other hand, playing too far ahead with one character will make the dungeon's so difficult that your other characters won't stand a chance. This may actually be a plus for some people, as the challenge of playing a Round 3 Dungeon with a brand new character is pretty great.

Like the difficulty, Crystal Chronicles' length and replay value is either hit or miss depending on how you look at it. The game really has no ending, and even after you have beaten the game's 'final' boss, worked all the dungeons up to Round 3 and collected all of the artifacts, you are still able to keep playing and gathering Manna Dew. Some players may be gratified by this total lack of a goal, particularly MMO gamers looking for some offline action. Others will probably be very turned off by it.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10
Story: 3 out of 5
Controls: 8 out of 10
Graphics: 5 out of 5
Sound and Music: 5 out of 5
Extras: 3 out of 5
Game Length, Difficulty and Replay Value: 7 out of 10
Overall Score: 7.6 out of 10

The Good: The graphics are just gorgeous, as is the music and narrative voiceovers. The game is kept as simple as possible at nearly all times, making it ideal for casual or younger games.
The Bad: Crystal Chronicles is extremely open ended, with no true ending or goal to accomplish. This is fine for casual gamers, but hardcore gamers will eventually tire of it. The game's simplicity may annoy hardcore gamers as well. Many of the items in the game, particularly food, seeds, and wheat, don't seem to do anything. This is because they don't. The Crystal Chalice is a nuisance in multiplayer matches, but because the player will rarely play multiplayer he won't notice much. Finding new Materia Orbs at the start of each dungeon is tedious, but Artifacts which let you cast spells without the Materia are available. Solo players still require a connected Game Boy Advance to view their Mission Goals.
The Ugly: The game's focus on cooperative play is defeated by the large number of "Extra Stuff" needed to access it. Very few players will have the proper equipment to play with even one other person, let alone three. It is possible, difficult but possible, to become permanently separated from the Crystal Chalice and be forced to abandon the dungeon. Progressing too far into the game with one character in your Caravan can make playing with your other, weaker characters a practically impossible feat.

Crystal Chronicles is, sadly, a potentially brilliant multiplayer experience which is severely damaged by nearly impossible benchmarks to meet. I would be frankly astonished if there were more then 1 out of 10 people who have the available hardware to play the game with two players, let alone with up to four. It plays best for the casual or young gamer, that odd subset of video game players who play for the sheer joy of playing. They have no goal or requirement in mind past having fun, and Crystal Chronicles is genuinely fun. Playing it for prolonged periods of time can become dull, however, which is guaranteed to turn off the more involved gamers.

A port of Crystal Chronicles is scheduled to appear on the Nintendo DS, and will thankfully have the Wireless Internet option. Hopefully, this will be the opportunity for Crystal Chronicles to truly show its genius when players are finally able to meet and play together for the first time. Because as it is right now, that isn't happening.

mrshotgun's avatar
Community review by mrshotgun (March 15, 2007)

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