Review by Shachihoko

"An interestingly unique game"

There's been a lot of hype about Square's return to the Nintendo fold after so many years devoting its efforts to the PlayStation. First we got Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, for the Game Boy Advance; now, finally (at least in Japan and for importers), the GameCube has a Square-made RPG on its shelves.

Or at least, it's being labelled as an RPG. Whether it actually deserves to be called a ''role-playing game'' is an open question in my book; if I could read the text better (it's Japanese, but in a font which makes life harder for the less-than-fully-literate) then I might have a better appreciation for the ''role-playing'' side of things. As it is, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles has as much in common with action games like Gauntlet as it does with Final Fantasy ... maybe more.

FFCC takes place in a world which is mostly covered with a deadly mist, called ''Shouki,'' which can only be kept at bay through the magic of giant crystals; every crystal needs to have its power renewed annually with ''Mirura water,'' and those who journey to gather this ''water of life'' are called Crystal Caravans. Travellers - including those in the caravans - are protected by the magic of portable Crystal Cages, which are also used for gathering Mirura droplets from the special trees which condense it.

When you start a new game, the first thing you have to do is pick a name for your caravan's home village; then you need to begin creating individual characters. There are four races to choose from: the human-like Clavat, the almost-as-human Selkie, the pint-sized Lilty and the bizarre-looking Yuke. Each of the four races has its own strong point and fighting style; you also need to choose gender, one of four character models per race/gender, and your parents' occupation (which has its own effects on later gameplay). Once you've created at least one character, you can begin your journey.

Once you're in the actual game, you have to move your caravan from one location to another on the world map screen; moving to certain locations for the first time, or after accomplishing certain stages or tasks, triggers cut-scenes which I assume are part of advancing the storyline. The bulk of the game, however, takes place in the ''dungeons''.
Dungeons (which can be aboveground as easily as not) take place in a 3/4 overhead perspective, and mostly involve fighting assorted monsters with a combination of weapons and magic; everything is in real time, rather than the traditional turn-based and menu-driven system by which Final Fantasy has lived throughout the ten single-player offline RPGs which bear the name. You toggle between different commands using the L and R shoulder buttons; every character starts out with ''Attack'' and ''Defend,'' but items and spells have to be acquired on the go in each and every dungeon. The good news is that there's no MP to keep track of; once you have a spell or two in your inventory, you can add it to your command list and use it to your heart's content without running out. You can even 'equip' two compatible spells to create a fusion magic like Gravity.

As neat as the game is, though, there are some downsides to the gameplay. First of all, ranged attacks and magic require that you hold the 'A' button down to charge them, then use the control stick (or on a GBA, the D-pad) to move the targeting ring under the target; that leaves your character totally immobile. Not quite as negative, but certainly a restriction, is the requirement that you keep the Crystal Cage moving with your party and vice versa; if you leave the area protected by the Crystal Cage then you'll start taking damage, but the character who's carrying the Cage is incapable of fighting - so in multiplayer mode, the carrier has to put the Cage down in order to assist with the battle. (Single-player mode gives you a Mog who'll fly along with your character, carrying the Cage, but occasionally you'll need to take the Cage back from the Mog to do something with it.)

Whatever else you have to say about Square Enix, you can't say they don't know how to make a pretty-looking game. The graphics in FFCC are typically awesome for Square and for Final Fantasy, with beautiful cutscenes and well-animated gameplay.

The music is decent, if not necessarily award-winning; the opening theme song, ''Kaze no Ne,'' is probably my favorite part of the ''soundtrack''.

As part of Nintendo's campaign to promote multiplayer games and connectivity, FFCC is designed to be played by anywhere from one to four people ... with the caveat that only in single-player mode can you use the GameCube controller! Multi Mode forces everyone to use a Game Boy Advance with the GCN-GBA link cable; menu-juggling is thusly moved from the TV screen to the GBA screen, which also gives you a couple of ''radar'' options to provide a different perspective on the action. You can also hook up a GBA in Single Mode, which provides a straight-overhead-view map of the area that I found somewhat useful.
Due to a general lack of gaming buddies where I live, I've been focusing on Single Mode ... which isn't as hard as you might think; the first boss fight (a mutant Malboro with two ''sidekick'' spitter-plants) was a challenge but not an impossibility.

Language barrier:
Very difficult to overcome. The Japanese text is small and displayed in a decorative font which doesn't make it any easier to read, and there are enough kanji that I'm unfamiliar with to make the game hard (but not impossible) to understand. Unless you're either a native Japanese speaker, or very fluent, you may want to hold out for the translated version - or play with a translation guide close at hand.

If you're looking for a solid RPG experience, either wait for FFCC to be translated and released in English in spring of 2004 (so you can understand the story!), or look elsewhere; as fun as FFCC is (with the right mindset) I have to say that it's not a ''proper'' RPG. On the other hand, if you're a fan of Square's games generally and/or just appreciate innovative gameplay, FFCC is a pretty good buy ... but you STILL might want to wait for the English translation. ^_^;

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 09/22/03

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