Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
The famous RPG series finally returns to the Nintendo party after years of absence, but Crystal Chronicles might not be the same glittering homecoming queen everybody expected. "I think people will find the game to be quite different from all of the Final Fantasy games we've seen up until now," explains Producer Akitoshi Kawazu. It's hard to predict how fans of the PS1 and PS2 RPGs will react--Crystal Chronicles barely resembles the 10 previous proper FF titles. Forgoing the heavy plot, sullen heroes, and turn-based combat typical of the series, Chronicles is a multiplayer action-RPG that's meant to appeal to a much wider audience. That's not to say Chronicles lacks a gripping story line, but it definitely takes a backseat to the action. At the game's outset, you (and up to three comrades) assume the roles of Crystal Caravan members Ciaron, Lu'ge, Cyadd, and Hias-- four young heroes sworn to rescue the world from diabolical smog by finding powerful magic crystals. The adventure unfolds in a series of missions across fields, cities, and dungeons, with you and your companions swinging swords and casting spells against hordes of enemies all the while. Luckily, the combat is smooth and fun--you've got three-hit weapon combos (a la Phantasy Star Online), charge-up attacks, and real-time versions of familiar FF magic spells. Puzzles appear to be on the light side (i.e., match the key to the similarly shaped lock), and climactic boss encounters await you at the end of each mission. Overall, it's simple, easy-to-pick-up stuff.
HOW WAS IT?
All right, I get it--this isn't like the other Final Fantasy games, but then again, I happen to like them. Even so, I really enjoyed the early build of Chronicles. It's a truly unique blend--imagine Gauntlet meets Phantasy Star Online with a chaser of Final Fantasy mythos and you're almost there. I especially dug the slick visuals, haunting music, and rewarding combat. The jury's still out on the much-vaunted GBA connectivity, though. Your pals don't have to use a GBA to play, but it does offer them a map and enhanced inventory management. Neat, but quite gimmicky, really.
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Square Enix are arguable the master of role playing games and Nintendo has almost always been home to some of the best games in that genre, so the return of Final Fantasy to a Nintendo console was destined to be great ' an boy has Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles lived up to that destiny.
Developers can make a game fun, easy to play, nice to look at and a pleasure to listen to but to make any role playing game worth its salt you have to do one more thing ' you have to write a story. Playing Crystal Chronicles is all about unraveling the plot ' as much fun as this game is to play it just wouldn't last past a single play if it weren't for the deeply involved plot and branching side stories.
On first blush, the game has a fairly simple plot, placing you in control of a caravan that travels around the country side collecting myrrh to cleanse your village's crystal. The town's crystal protects the town from a miasma that is devouring the world. To get enough myrrh each year you have to travel around looking for boss monsters to defeat. You'll have to defeat three to last a year. As you fight and travel your way through this basic plot you will start learning the secret of the miasma. You will also start hearing about side plots from travelers ' making the game a must multiplay to fully understand what's going on in this latest Final Fantasy world.
The game's mechanics are a breeze to master, but still offer up enough intricacies to make playing the game more about skill than random button mashing and luck. At the beginning of any combat phase you assign weapons and magic to quick buttons which are cycled with the shoulder buttons during combat. Attacking a monster is as easy as tapping the A button or holding it for a charged special attack. One clever design built into the combat system is instead of just tapping away to inflict damage you have to learn the rhythm of the character and weapon you are using to perform combo hits.
The background graphics and character animation is top notch, as expected from Square Enix, featuring a wide variety of settings and a disparate group of characters and monsters to interact with. The sound and music is even better than I expected, which is quite a feat. Most noticeable was the fact that much of the cut scenes are fully spoken by a talented voice actor. The music, like most Final Fantasy games, is catchy and beautiful ' offering up much more than the annoying, repetitive junk that mars many video games today.
The multiplayer mode in Crystal Chronicles is quite unique but a bit of a let down at times. The disappointment comes from the fact that to play multiplayer, you'll have to have at least one GBA. To play with four players simultaneously you'll have to find friends who own GBAs. While I understand the preference for multiple screens, I don't think it's worth alienating a whole slew of gamers by requiring a GBA to play.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles very much lives up to its Final Fantasy name offering gamers a chance to immerse themselves in a world that is as fun to experience as it is to solve. It is great to see the Final Fantasy series back home on a Nintendo system.
Crystal Chronicles isn't exactly the classic Final Fantasy homecoming that Nintendo fans may have hoped for. While it might lure in series vets with distinctive FFtrappings--cuddly moogle mailmen, elemental spell-craft, and familiar foes such as ton-berries and cactuars--it's really a different beast altogether. You won't find any melodramatic love stories, lavish CG cut-scenes, turn-based battles, or over-the-top summon spells here; Crystal Chronicles reduces the Final Fantasy experience to a basic, action-packed concept that's all about gameplay and charm. Imagine Zelda crossed with Gauntlet, and you're close to figuring out this remarkable game's addictive formula. Actually, the first (and most important) part of that formula involves finding three friends. Nintendo has been preaching the gospel of connectivity (as opposed to, say, online play) for the last year, and Chronicles finally makes good on that promise: It truly is best when played with four players. Brave souls willing to fill their lives with cables (see sidebar) will reap fantastic rewards-- teamwork factors into the gameplay at a fundamental level. You'll want to recruit your friends so one of you can carry the Crystal Chalice, a magic device that provides a protective shield from the poisonous gas infesting each dungeon. Also, combat rewards combos--both physical and magical attacks power up when executed simultaneously. Simple hack-n-slash gameplay magically transforms into something strategic, wild, and addictive. Single-player action isn't quite as compelling (no combos, some puzzles are tough without friends, and your pet moogle isn't that adept at carrying the Chalice), but it's an acceptable alternative when your pals aren't around. And since you can move your characters in and out of each other's games at any point, you'll want to play solo just to find new weapons and artifacts for your hero. Gameplay isn't the only draw here. Chronicles is one visually arresting game--every location you explore harbors stunning details. Overhead torches sway in a mine, casting flickering shadows; rivulets of sand cascade down sun-bleached desert dunes; gooey, mucuslike cobblestones glint in a fungal forest. The graphics are so great that you'll actually start wondering what a realistic GC Zelda might have looked like. A haunting, subtle soundtrack matches the brilliance of the eye candy, and the evocative, folky tunes provide a great score for all the monster thwacking. Daunting as the setup might be, give Chronicles a chance and you'll likely get hooked. It's a simple, beautiful, and rewarding experience.
For me, playing this game is sort of like walking by the Hello Kitty store. I know I'm supposed to be too cool/sophisticated/old to go inside, but the disgustingly cute characters, blindingly pretty colors, and shiny objects lure me in and keep me there for hours at a time until I guiltily emerge into the filthy, impure real world (which, it then seems, just doesn't offer enough glittering mushrooms in one day to keep me happy). Lots of stereotypes work (this game's for kiddies, for girls, for Final Fantasy fanboys), but none even hint at how deep this action-RPG goes. You can specialize your character in magic or melee, or you can keep your guy a jack-of-all-trades. You can meticulously beat every boss in every level, or you can skip around wherever your little heart takes you (though this can make the game more difficult, since your character won't have the proper skillz to pay the billz). You can (in a fantastic homage to Animal Crossing) write letters and send gifts to your family and friends to win their favor. It's both intensely frivolous and intensely rewarding--everyone should try it.
I'm sorry if this sounds blunt, but calling this game Final Fantasy probably wasn't the greatest idea. Despite the moogles and traditional magic-spell names, this really isn't FF--there are no experience points or leveling, and really not much of a story, either. Instead, you've got a fair-to-middlin' action-RPG that graduates to a must-play experience with two or three friends. It's obvious that the developers concentrated most of their effort on the multiplayer game. Playing by yourself gets boring very quickly, even by the second "year" of in-game time, thanks to the repetitive dungeons and straightforward hack-n-slash gameplay. Your moogle companion is more of a drag than a support, too. Some sort of A.I.-con-trolled fighting companion would have been nice-- after all, you're in a "crystal caravan," right? That would imply traveling with more than one person, no? The single-player roughness, though, is covered by two features: a superb graphic and sound package (the most beautiful on GameCube, I'd say), as well as a multiplayer mode that's actually worth the cost of multiple GBAs and cables. I know most gamers won't have the money and time required to fully enjoy & FFCC with their pals, but the payoff in dorky couch-rocking fun is something unattainable anywhere else. Just make sure you're playing with evenly balanced characters--the monsters seem like they're tuned to the strongest party member, so very weak characters could get crushed in their wake.
Final Fantasy returns to a Nintendo console after a decade of exclusivity with Sony, but don't expect the same blend of angst-ridden teens, flying boats, and long-winded summoning spells that characterized FF VII through X. Chronicles strikes out in a new direction, with four-player simultaneous play, GBA connectivity (the handheld screen can be used as a radar or for inventory management), a fresh, new art style and actiony battles. The plot centers around a quest to restore magical crystals, honkin' hunks of quartz that protect the world from poisonous air pollution. Hey, if Mario can battle graffiti on the Cube, the FF kids can tackle the dangers of chlorofluorocarbons, right?