Review by Sean Minler
"Not since Mystic Quest has a Final Fantasy game so thoroughly failed to impress"
When the Nintendo 64 came out, Square ended its long and successful relationship with Nintendo, stating that the N64’s cartridge-based hardware could not contain the kind of massive, epic games they were making at the time. One look at the Playstation’s Final Fantasy VII proved this claim. Filling three CDs, the game would have been a nightmare to squeeze on to a cartridge. Now, several years later, Nintendo has gotten with the times, and Squaresoft has signed back on to make games for the disc-based Gamecube. They recently released their first game for a Nintendo-based system (not counting the GBA remake of Tactics) in about ten years. The results are nothing to get excited about. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles is a short, simple, boring game which could have easily fit onto a cartridge.
The storyline in this game is about as good as the storyline in the original Zelda. Just replace “triforce pieces” with “drops of myrrh”, “Hyrule” with “Some place”, and “Zelda and Ganon” with “nobody”. In other words, your character’s entire motivation consists of traveling the world collecting something. There is no in-game plot advancement or character development. Your characters simply travel to a castle or dungeon or something, fight a bunch of monsters, kill a boss, get the thing they need, then head off to the next place. There is an attempt to flesh out your character a bit by giving him or her a family, and making the relationship between your character and your family a direct influence on the game, but this is shallow at best. It slightly alters the kinds of items and the amount of money your family gives you at various points in the game, and nothing more. The various recurring characters you meet along the road are equally lifeless, making the occasional random cinematic more of an annoyance than anything. Two points for the basic premise, which, if it had been expanded upon, could have been pretty cool.
At least they got something right. The graphics look like classic Super Nintendo Final Fantasy, especially Secret of Mana and Secret of Evermore. A lot of the environments are breathtaking, especially the outdoor stages, although caves and dungeons are fairly generic for the most part. The water is magnificent, but we can probably thank the Gamecube hardware for that. The animation is fluid and lifelike, especially on the enemies. Unfortunately, the world map is utterly dismal. Regardless of where you are in the game, the world map is always the same drab brown colour, and everything looks pretty much identical, a fact which can only be attributed to laziness.
Remember the world map music from Chrono Cross? Remember the Cosmo’s Canyon music from Final Fantasy VII? Remember all the music from Final Fantasy VI? Well, forget it. You won’t find anything even remotely as good in Crystal Chronicles. The music in this game is video game music. That’s it. It’s there to be background noise while you play. Most of the songs are forgettable, but some are downright bad, most notably the world map music. The sound effects are good, however. Spells sound like they should, including the classic Cure and Life sounds from past Final Fantasy games, but I expect them to get that right. Weapons and monsters and so forth all make the sounds they should. Ho-hum.
The general consensus seems to be that this game was designed to be played multiplayer. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is, Square has gone to great lengths to make Crystal Chronicles virtually unplayable by more that one person at a time. Let’s assume, for a minute, that you actually do have three other friends all willing to sit down and commit to a fifteen hour game together. That’s not so far-fetched, especially when the Final Fantasy name is attached. There are enough die-hard Final Fantasy fans out there to make this scenario work, if you’re lucky. Now, don’t dive in to the game just yet – first make sure your friends all hook their Gameboy
Advances into the Gamecube via their link cables. What’s that? Your friends don’t have Gameboy Advances? That’s a real shame. You see, in multiplayer mode, every player has to use a Gameboy Advance as their controller. There’s no way around it. It simply won’t let you play with a standard Gamecube controller. The idea is that each character’s personal stats management screens appear on the Gameboy Advance. A neat idea, and it works pretty well, but the option to just use the regular TV screen would have been nice, too. By forcing you to use the Gameboy Advance, Square has effectively alienated almost their entire market. Nice job, guys.
If you do somehow perform the miracle of getting a multiplayer game going, get ready for some frustration. The entire world is covered in miasma, which kills you when you touch it. Okay. I can handle that. So your party has to carry around a crystal chalice which repels the miasma. Sure. Makes sense. And the chalice only covers a small radius, so your party has to stay within a circle smaller than the size of the screen. Getting worried yet? I’m not done. The chalice is big – so big, in fact, that one player must constantly carry it over their head with both hands, leaving them incapable of doing anything else. No, that’s not a joke. It’s not funny enough to be a joke. This is one of the worst gameplay features I have ever seen. It seems like a conscious attempt to make this game bad. There are so many easy ways to fix this problem. For one, the crystal’s radius could at least be large enough to encompass, more or less, the entire screen. It’s not even close. Secondly, does the chalice have to be so big? Couldn’t it just be a necklace that one player wears nonchalantly around their neck? By making the chalice so cumbersome, Square has ensured that at least one player will be bored and frustrated at all times.
In single-player mode, the chalice is carried around by a Mog who follows you everywhere. The Mog moves slightly slower than you do, just enough to be annoying, which means you’ll spend the whole game walking a couple of steps, stopping, waiting, then walking a couple more steps. To further complicate matters, your Mog will stop every ten minutes or so and tell you he’s tired. You’ll have to take the chalice from him and carry it for about five seconds, at which point he’ll offer to take it from you again. What’s the point of that?
Spells and Battle
The battle system is about as basic as the format allows. You can attack, defend, cast a spell, or use an item. One of these options at a time can be assigned to the A button, and you scroll through them with L and R. Holding the A button charges your attack, or spell, or whatever, and that’s about all of it. Just keep slamming your button.
Spells can be combined with each other to create new spells. In single-player mode, this is handled easily in the menu screen. In multi-player, it’s a frustrating matter of having two or more players each cast the right spell on the same spot at the same time. It sounds easy, but it’s likely you’ll be attempting this with several monsters jumping around slashing at you the whole time. When three people are all trying to synchronize their spell-casting while simultaneously being mauled by goblins, the fun factor takes a serious dive. The fact that later monsters will more or less require you to use powerful spells like Firaga (Fire + Fire) and Holy (Fire/Blizzard/Thunder + Life) makes that flaw even more obvious.
The level-up system in this game is unrewarding. Throughout a stage, you will collect artifacts by killing monsters or opening treasure chests. At the end of the level, these artifacts will be thrown into a pot, and each player picks one. Just one. In multiplayer mode, this assures that player growth will be basically even across the board, and can therefore be justified. In single-player, however, it’s pretty rough. You could collect eight great artifacts in a stage, and have to send seven of them back. The artifacts, individually, do not generally cause any major change, either. Strength + 1 is no big deal. Sure, if four people take Strength + 1, your whole party is theoretically four points stronger. But for an individual, Strength + 1 is almost meaningless. There is a system of challenges in this game that determines in what order the players will take turns choosing an artifact at the end of a stage. Your challenge for one stage might be “Don’t use magic”, and the degree to which you succeed at this challenge determines your score. The system is also included in single-player, but has no practical use. What Square should have done is use your score in single-player mode to determine how many artifacts you get to take. Over a hundred gets you two, one-fifty gets you three, etc. This way, if you do really well on a particular challenge, you get to do some serious leveling-up. As it stands, you spend practically no time in this game character-building, one of the most enjoyable aspects from previous Final Fantasy games.
And then there’s the overall repetitiveness of the game. Enter a dungeon, kill some monsters, fight a boss, leave. Next dungeon. There are towns scattered intermittently, but they serve no purpose other than as places to buy and sell items. Townsfolk have almost no personality, and rarely tell you anything you need to know. You pretty much go from on stage right to the next, with no exploration or plot advancement in between. Lazy, lazy, lazy.
If this game didn’t have the words Final Fantasy in its title, there’s a chance I’d be less disappointed. Square has a nasty habit of putting Final Fantasy in the title of almost everything they make, and this game is one of the most inappropriate cases. Why not just Crystal Chronicles? There was no Final Fantasy: Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy: Secret of Mana. They gave those games their own titles, because they weren’t Final Fantasy. Neither is this.
Is it worth renting? Almost every game is worth renting, at least once, and this game is no exception, particularly if you really do have three friends with Gameboy Advances. It’s even worth checking out the single-player mode. I mean, it’s bad, but not so bad that you can’t get some enjoyment out of it. I can’t recommend buying this game, though. Even if it turns out you completely disagree with everything I’ve said, and this is one of the greatest games you’ve ever played, you’ll still only play it through once. It has nothing to offer a second time.
As a loyal Nintendo fan, and a loyal Square fan, I was seriously torn in the N64/Playstation era over which system to buy. Nintendo won, but I kept praying for the day when Square would hop back on board. Now that they have, I could barely care less. If Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles is what they have to offer us, they can keep it.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 02/19/04
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