Title: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles
Developer: SQUARE ENIX/ The Game Designers Studio, Inc.
Publisher: SQUARE ENIX/Nintendo
Date Published: February 2004 (U.S.)
Players: 1 - 4
ESRB Rating: T
Additional Hardware: Game Boy Advance/SP, GameCube Game Boy Advance Cable, and 1 - 3 friends (suggested for single player, required for multiplayer)
Initial Retail Price: $49.99
Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles is the first game in the Final Fantasy series to be released for the Nintendo Gameube. What’s more, it is a departure from the more traditional and familiar Final Fantasy formula in nearly all areas.
This is a major step away from the more recent Final Fantasy games, and a step closer to a more MMORPG approach to character creation, as it is all up to the individual players. In all, there are four different races (or tribes as they are referred to in the game): Clavats, Lilties, Selkies, and Yukes, with each one being proficient in one area of combat.
Your hometown has a capacity for eight players, each of a different occupation (blacksmith
). Each occupation has a different affect on how you interact with your town. For example, if you choose to be the son or daughter of a blacksmith, then as you progress through the game and return to your town, your family can forge you new weapons or armor. None of the tribes or occupations offers a significant advantage over the others, especially if you play with a group of people. It really just depends on how you choose to play the game.
Here is possibly the most disappointing divergence form the Final Fantasy series. Those of you that have played past Final Fantasy games are undoubtedly used to the deep and intricately woven story lines. This is not the case in Crystal Chronicles. The story is simple: your world is plagued by a mist called miasma. Monsters thrive in this mist, and it is hazardous to the health of would be adventurers. The only hope of the cities and towns of the world is to send out caravans to collect myrrh in the “Crystal Chalice,” which supplies crystals, located within towns the power to repel the miasma for a year. Therefore, this process must be repeated every year. That’s about it. I mean there are a few neat plot devices that appear right before you fight the last boss, but not nearly enough to be considered enthralling. The developers did try to tie in some story elements by providing the players with a description of each level before you play through it, but they never quite seem relevant. Bottom line; don’t play this game for its story.
Here is one of the games strongest areas. The graphics are gorgeous. The characters and environments each have a distinct, creative look to them, reminiscent of Final Fantasy IX. Plus, many enemies from the Final Fantasy universe make an appearance at one point or another, looking better than ever. What really stands out though, is the water graphics. I know this sounds silly, but the water was done to look incredibly realistic, with mists coming off of cascading waterfalls, gentle ripples crashing up against the shore, and reflections of your character as s/he walks by. On top of that, the image refraction through the large crystals in towns is very easy on the eyes as well (as Shro0m emphasized). Also, there are no pre-rendered scenes (Shro0m again). In this respect, Crystal Chronicles stays very true to the Final Fantasy level of graphical excellence.
Here’s where the biggest differences can be seen. Unlike all other Final Fantasy games, the combat is completely real time. No Active Time Bars, no RPG-esque menu systems. In fact, all of your attacking is done via the “A” button. You can toggle through certain battle options (attack, defend, specific items or magic) using the “L” and “R” shoulder buttons, but all of the actual execution is done with “A.” Next, because of the miasma, you cannot stray far from the Crystal Chalice without getting injured. So, one player (or a moogle, if you’re playing alone) must carry and effectively navigate the chalice, so that all the characters can operate and move around. This is understandably used to keep the party together, and ensure that characters don’t wander too far from their groups, but at times, it just seems annoying. Also, your Hit Points (HP) aren’t represented with numbers anymore, but rather Zelda-like hearts. And characters don’t learn new spells either, but they can pick up “magicite,” which will let them cast a specific spell while there in the level they are adventuring in that level. Finally, there isn’t any EXP/level system. Rather, when a dungeon is completed, there is a selection of artifacts that the players can choose one from, which may add to strength, defense, magic, or add a command slot, or heart. This makes for a much slower advancement of characters.
This is the area that seems to be ruffling the most feathers. Crystal Chronicles supports up to four players. It does this by requiring that all people playing have his or her own Game Boy Advance or Game Boy Advance SP, and a GameCube Game Boy Advance Link Cable. So, in a multiplayer game, each player can look at the TV screen to watch their character walk around, or see which enemies are up ahead, but the Game Boys act as the controllers. Also, each Game Boy screen shows a different map of the dungeon currently being played through. There are four different maps in all:
- Terrain Radar: the terrain and basic layout of the area. This map provides no other information (available with 2+ players)
- Monster Radar: where enemies are located, without how to actually get to them (available with 2+ players)
- Treasure Radar: where treasure chests are located, again, without detailing how to get to them (available with 3+ players)
- Scouter: this isn’t really a map, but gives the player details on the enemy currently being fought, like its HP as well as weaknesses and vulnerabilities (available with 3+ players)
Also included on each individual’s Game Boy screen is a secret objective
. These objectives range from “Pick up items,” to “Don’t use physical attacks.” By following their objectives, players accrue points, which are tallied at the end of the dungeon. The players are then ranked and the player with the most points gets to choose first from the stat boosting artifacts. While overall trivial, this aspect adds a sense of competition to the game, and (should) prevent players from always being stuck doing one job
Another multiplayer gimmick is spell fusion
. If two players cast a spell on approximately the same time, on approximately the area, then the spells “fuse” and form a new spell. For example, if one player casts Fire
and another casts Blizzard
at the same time, on the same enemy, then the spell becomes Gravity
. Other combinations include Fire/Blizzard/Thunder and Life
, to make Holy
, or multiple Fires to create Fira (two Fires) or Firaga (three Fires). I don’t really understand the rationale of the some of the component spells, but it’s a neat concept... I guess.
The most aggravating aspect of the multiplayer game though, is the fact that to manage any menus, each player has to press the “Select
” button, which transitions their focus to their Game Boy screen, and then make any item management changes that they need to do, all the while leaving their character defenseless on the TV screen. While the in game danger of this can be avoided if everything is planned out right, it is a major source of slowdown, and requires a significant amount of planning before going into boss battles.
I like this game. I had reservations about it when I first heard about it, but the more I heard about it, the more I wanted to play it. The required peripherals can be a drawback for some, as a Game Boy Advance costs $69.99 and an SP costs $99.99, plus the cost of the actual game of $49.99, and the required link cable cost of $9.99. That all adds up to about $130.00 to $160.00. Also, I personally thought that the single player game was much more enjoyable for long periods than the multiplayer, as you don’t have to use your Game Boy to manage menus, and you have a moogle to manage the Crystal Chalice for you. It’s just easier to play the game alone. One thing that I did notice though, was that the difficulty of the game is very abruptly increased on the last level of the game. I’m not really complaining, it’s just that I would have preferred a more smooth transition to a harder setting. So, overall, don’t buy this game for the story, or the innovative battle system, or the character development, or... well, anything else that you might buy a Final Fantasy game for. This is a completely different experience than what you’re used to. Crystal Chronicles is more akin to game of the Gauntlet series than anything else. Despite all that, Final Fantasy fanboys will undoubtedly enjoy seeing their favorite enemies from past installments make appearances and delight at other familiar items and spells. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles isn’t for everyone, but it’s an acceptable venture into a new genre, with a well-known name slapped on.
Playing the game