Review by ZaleIsBackAgain
"The best part of a Final Fantasy was never its gameplay, and that's where most people go wrong with this game"
Ten years after the last Final Fantasy installment was released on Nintendo territory, Square has returned to us with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, reminding us that their talent in the role playing genre hasn't died out just yet. While it's simply Final Fantasy VI in real-time, many will consider Crystal Chronicles an outcast to the license. Rather than following the footsteps of the traditional Final Fantasy games, Crystal Chronicles takes on a more multiplayer approach. It's a refreshing change, though it's because of this feature that many have passed this game up. Each participant is required a Gameboy Advance system and a link cable, causing financial issues to all those desiring to play the multiplayer. However, playing alone is still a great experience, thanks to the game's amazing level design. It especially does a fantastic job of balancing the game's difficulty, while preventing it from becoming to linear or too confusing.
Another reason why it's considered an alien to the Final Fantasy name is because there's no real main character or cast here in Crystal Chronicles. Instead, a variety of different menus and options will be available to you, ultimately determining the outcome of your character. You can pick a member in either of the four tribes; the Selkies, the Clavats, the Lilties and Yukes. Each member of the four tribes specialize in one or more thing; the Selkies are able to produce physical projectiles faster, while the Clavats are superior in magic attacks. The Yukes however, are able to cast spells faster, while the Lilties excel in physical attacks. Later on, you'll have the decision of picking the gender of your character, and his or her family background. Picking the family background will allow you to gain items from them at the end of each year, or every time you visit them. For example, if you've picked blacksmith as your family background, you'll be able to buy weapons from them. Depending on your relationship with your family (which is determined by friendly family letters that are sent to you after every stage) you'll have discounts towards your purchases. Though one of the most unique things here in the customization stage is the fact that picking a member in a certain tribe will not only effect your stats. A Yuke may like a certain healing item more than a Clavat, resulting in healing the Yuke more rather than the Clavat. Also, some weapons may only be available to single tribes. In the beginning, the weapons are usually open to all.
Whether you're a Selkie or Liltie, everyone plays the same role. Your job is to retrieve a certain element called myrrh from around the world in order to replenish the crystal barrier protecting your town from the deadly poison known as miasma. This plague originated long ago when a meteor landed upon a large crystal, which had yearly united all the tribes under one group, symbolizing the peace they had among each other. The miasma spread, and the people were steadily dying, until it was discovered that the fragments of the crystal filtered the air from the poison. Its energy is limited, and the only thing that can recharge its power is myrrh. These warriors carry around with them a bucket to store their collected myrrh in. A small fragment of the crystal is placed on the handle of the bucket, protecting the warriors from the toxic. Each warrior carries with them a book called the Crystal Chronicles, recording all of their adventures in the journal. This diary especially comes in handy during the final hours of the game, where a very deep plot twist takes place. The story isn't on the same caliber of Final Fantasy VII's, though it's still great to be worthy of the Final Fantasy name.
Throughout the game, you and your caravan will be travelling around the world, collecting the purifying substance known as myrrh. As stated before, Crystal Chronicles is practically Final Fantasy VI in real time, so those that are familiar with the main installments of the famous Final Fantasy line will have no trouble learning the mechanics of the game. However, some changes were made for the better of the game. Instead of learning magic, you'll be finding them. From the spoils of your defeated enemies will come out spheres called magicite, and within them are the essence of a magic spell. When moving from level to level, you won't be keeping the magicite you found in the previous level to the next. It would be too easy if this were the case, but some magic items can be carried around throughout, such as rings. To create a superior magic spell, you'll need to combine magicite. For example, fusing fire and fire together will create the level 2 magic spell fira. Cure, cure and cure will create curaga, which will heal the entire party. In single player, you can fuse magicite together in the main menu screen. In multiplayer, two or more party members will be required to point their magic attacks towards a single location in order to fuse spells. This creates for some communicating frenzy, and if no order is established among you and your group, everyone will be limited to the most basic spells.
While your partners can be your closest friends in Crystal Chronicles, they can also be your rivals. Before entering each stage, each party member will be assigned a different objective on their Gameboy Advance screen. Performming your objective will earn you points, and whoever earns the most will get to choose which item he or she wants to pick first. These objectives range from going for long periods without healing, inflicting the most physical damage, using your magic attacks more often, etc. After every level, everyone will be able to choose their item, and the one with the most points will get to choose first. You can't take any object with you, only artifacts. Artifacts are your stat boosters, and Crystal Chronicle's way of leveling up. You can see why it's important to get that +2 strength rather than that +1 strength first. Defeating the most enemies won't earn you experience anymore, though they do carry some valuable items that will serve you useful against the stage's boss.
Despite being an outcast to the license, it still carries the same gameplay traits that made the main Final Fantasy installments wonderful. You'll be doing some of the old traditions, such as purchasing new weapons and armour for your character, completing side-quests, and learning about the various towns you'll be visiting during your myrrh hunting adventure. However, since the game doesn't focus much on the story, some of these traditions will be less inspired to perform. Buying new items, weapons and armour isn't compelling to do; in fact, you'll be able to strive through most of the game with the same weapon you've started with, if you want some extreme challenge that is. And items, especially the healing ones, aren't as helpful as they once were. Since magicite isn't limited here in Crystal Chronicles, you'll be abusing the cure spell a lot. And there aren't that many side quests to complete. There's one in particular involving you saving a supposedly kidnapped princess, but it's simply cutscene driven, and you won't be actually doing any saving, besides being at the right place at the right time.
While some of the old traditions aren't as great as expected, there are some other unique traits that make this a really great experience. When you've come upon an intersection within the world map, a random cutscene may play. It's different all the time; it may be about a group of caravanners being attacked by the infamous black knight, or local farmers simply lending you their crops. Sometimes useful weapons will be loaned to you as well. They can get annoying sometimes, but the cutscenes give Crystal Chronicles a lot of personality. These scenes will later on play a major role in the climax of the game.
None of these things are as impressive as Crystal Chronicles greatest trait; its amazing graphical design and effects, as well as its awesome soundtrack. Everything about the soundtrack, excluding the annoying world map theme, is excellent. Final Fantasy games were so famous for their soundtracks, but it would be unexpected to me that the best Final Fantasy soundtrack would be coming from a spin-off title. The graphics are also another big plus. The water effects are really gorgeous, some of the best effects you'll ever see in a video game. The water isn't the only thing making Crystal Chronicles look so nice; the character design, monster design, and miscellaneous spread through out the variety of levels also look very impressive. The spell effects, especially the level 3 based ones, look even better. They looked nice when they were in turn based, but they look extraordinary when the game is running in real time.
Despite the games beautiful interface and fun filled adventure, some of its flaw can annoy you because they're so obvious to fix up with a couple more months of work. The single player experience can be quite dull, just up until you've reached the good parts, which is near the end of the game. You could only wish that Square-Enix took the time by implementing an ally system like they did with Kingdom Hearts, allowing you to customize your own characters and letting them fight side-by-side with you. Walking around lonesome in the desert, mansion, riverbank is really distasteful. In a game focused on caravans, groups of warriors, you'd wish you were accompanied by some in the single player. In multiplayer, there isn't much to say about that, because it's a fantastic experience. However, getting the appropriate requirements to play multiplayer can be quite difficult. The Gameboy Advance's themselves don't feel very comfortable to play, so you can get quite uncomfortable during play time.
Though those are pretty much the only cons going against Crystal Chronicles. Everything else about it is solid; from its beautifully well structured levels, to its amazing soundtrack. It's not for everyone. This is a hate it or love it game, and I personally love it. Though don't judge the game based on its multiplayer requirements, because even the single player will please RPG fans. Though if you and a couple of friends do have the multiplayer requirements, then go right ahead and get Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, because it surely won't disappoint.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 03/30/05, Updated 04/22/05
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