Review by yuzuki

"Immersive and Enjoyable, but not perfect"

After the disasters that were FFX-2 and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, I was very skeptical about trying any other game produced by SquareEnix. My lack of a Game Boy Advance has steered me away from Sword of Mana so far, but since I own a Gamecube I couldn't avoid playing Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles. I no longer had a valid excuse, since my friends refuse to let me get away with developer bias.
Since I formerly loved Squaresoft, I have been inwardly hoping for a glorious return - a gigantic phoenix, descending from the sky, proclaiming the rebirth of the empire that's been continually losing since FFVII. While FF:CC is far from the rebirth of a Square Jesus (what I was hoping for), it's definitely a step in the right direction to regain the former glory of the Squaresoft era.

Although, of course, there is one question: IS IT REALLY AN RPG?
According to SquareEnix and Nintendo, FF:CC is a ''multiplayer RPG''. However, I'm not especially sure that this is where the game really belongs. Many elements of a traditional RPG - such as levelling up, magic and ability points, and a ''team'' or ''party'' of preset members - simply aren't present in FF:CC.
Because FF:CC isn't a conventional RPG, it's very hard to compare it to other standards of that genre for purposes of review. So, to review the game more accurately, I'll be comparing it to action/adventure hybrids such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time instead.
This is purely to be more fair to the game. You wouldn't compare a racing game to a golf game, though there are some similarities, so I'm not comparing what obviously isn't an RPG to FFVIII.
However, my comparisons are few, and the game is basically enjoyable whatever genre you put it in, so we'll just get into the actual review now. This section was for the sole purpose of telling you why I'm mentioning Viewtiful Joe and not Chrono Trigger.

And what better place than to start with my driving point of a good game - the STORY. FF:CC's story is simple and far less overbearing than the traditional Square 'the world is ending!'-type plot. You are a caravanner in search of myrrh for your village. You need the myrrh to keep your village's crystal active; in turn, the village will keep you safe from the poisonous miasma that encircles the world for another year.
Boring? Well, yes, just a little. While the actual plot in the game doesn't thicken, you are given the idea that you're part of the world by your encounters with various NPCs, who are on their own quests. It doesn't sound like much, especially when you take into account the rarity of the events, but it does help to keep a gamer involved in the all-too-simple plot. In a way, it suggests that your story is just part of something much bigger, and the scope of how big is shown later on in the game. Stories between NPC caravans and yours will intertwine subtly, developing the game without all the plot twists that are characteristic of RPG and adventure stories.
The game has a very relaxed, easy-going pace, which is a nice change from many adventure games available on the Gamecube - such as Viewtiful Joe - that focus on blazing intensity, speed, and action. FF:CC is more likely to calm you down than rile you up, even in battle.

7/10 - decent premise, good subtle development, but gets boring at times.

So how exactly do you play out the story? FF:CC's GAMEPLAY is a revamped and mostly improved version of that of Kingdom Hearts.
You basic controls are exactly that - basic controls. You use the Control Pad or Stick to move. B is your action button, helping your character perform such tasks as carrying keys and talking to villagers. Y - or Select, if you're using a GBA - will open your menu. R and L circulate through your command list, and A will perform the command selected.
Fortunately enough for us, you no longer have to operate two control sticks/pads at once in order to cycle through command. The R and L buttons can easily be used with your spare hand while you're running around, and A can just as easily be pressed right afterwards. Thank God.
The commands that circulate through your list are defined by the Command submenu. Attack and Defend are always the first two. Tapping A with 'Attack' selected will result in combos with the right timing, and single swipes if you just press like mad. Holding A will make a circle appear after a certain amount of time. Place this circle around an enemy to launch a more powerful Focus Attack. Spells can be assigned to the command menu and work just like Focus Attacks.
In FF:CC, spells can be fused together to form more powerful spells. In single-player mode, you do this on the Command Menu and cast the spell just like any other. In multi-player, two or more people have to cast the spells needed on the same space at the same time. This is actually easier than it sounds. Items can also be assigned to a command slot, such as foods, which give you back some HP, and phoenix down, which can be used to revive a dead ally (in single-player, having one in your menu automatically revives you when you die).
SquareEnix has almost managed to get rid of camera angle fury with this game. Unfortunately, it results in the fixed-angle camera being slow and sometimes not the way you want it to be. The camera ends to give you a semi-overhead, mid-zoomed view. While I find it annoying that I can't adjust the camera, it's a drastic improvement over other fixed angle games (can anyone say Resident Evil?).
The gameplay take a bit of learning, but the tutorial should do it. It's a good system with few bugs, such the time it takes to cast a Cure spell (enemies tend to come and beat on you while you're casting, rendering trying useless) and the annoyance of tapping A and having your character move jerkily until you realize that you're trying to cast Fire over and over. The only improvement I can suggest for this system is having A always be attack, and Z cycle through the secondary command window. Otherwise, it's not too bad. Unless you're my mum.

8/10 - good system with a couple of flaws. takes awhile to get used to.

FF:CC's greatest marketing ploy is that of ''CONNECTIVITY''. You hear it every time the game is mentioned - ''Play with up to four people for a grand adventure! This is the game's true potential.'' However, SquareEnix and Nintendo's interpretation of connectivity isn't the same thing most gamers have in mind - online play. Perhaps to help the declining sales of Nintendo products, or because of an idiotic assumption that everyone in the world owns a GBA, to fully enjoy FF:CC you need the following:
...which totals close to $600 if you don't already own all this stuff. Not to mention a social life.
Being someone who only owns the Gamecube and Memory Card, and who has to ask her little brother to borrow his GBA to play Golden Sun, I am not able to play the game as it was meant to be played. I've hooked up with a friend a grand total of once. No doubt, it was absolutely amazing - it's obvious that's what the game was made for!
Unfortunately, that leaves the single player (me) completely out in the cold.
That's not to say that single-player mode is bad. I've managed to do well and enjoy myself while I'm at it. But it was certainly neglected - again, due either to a dumb executive or a grand marketing scheme.
There are many elements of the game that were very obviously meant for multiplayer. Two-person switches are common, and some areas you can't ever access if you're not with someone else. Being outnumbered is common, especially later in the game - which is annoying and sometimes near impossible if you're fending for yourself. Obtaining the magicite for Life is useless unless fused, because you've nobody to revive. There are around 20 spells that you can never fuse in single-player, such as the most powerful (-ga) elemental spells. The ''Blazin' Caravans'' minigame? Only for multiplayer. On top of this, unless you are actively playing four people, you can never gain higher leveled Merchant, Blacksmith, Alchemist, or Tailor professions, and sacrifice some of the best stuff in the game.
To it's credit, multiplayer mode is awesome, and single-player mode is all right. However, because of the bias toward those with a lot of time, friends with such, and a plethora of Nintendo products, playing multiplay is expensive and, for some, impossible. This wouldn't be a problem if more time had been invested into single-player. But, since this isn't the case, the game gets a less-than-mediocre score here.

4/10 - there, but expensive and not fair at all for the single gamer.

On the upswing, there are many little EXTRAS thrown into the game to up enjoyment and provide variety from dungeon-crawling. While they're not all minigames or treasure hunts, they do add a new level to the experience.
One such extra is character customization. You have 32 designs to pick from, encompassing four races and both male and female sexes. The designs range from the unbearably cute (female Lilty, elegant) to the just plain strange (female Yuke, tulip). Each race has its own attributes, equips, strengths and weaknesses. You can also choose the profession of your family, and you're given a set of favourite foods. You also pick the artifacts to boost your character's stats at the end of a level, and how you reply to letters from your family after collecting a drop of myrrh. Since your character doesn't have a predefined personality, it's little things like that that make them seem more real.
The small in-game events are also a treat, adding to the world of FF:CC. The only true sidequest in the game - finding moogle nests - lead to a caravan-racing game (only accessible in multiplayer mode). In single-player mode, you can paint your moogle different colours, which affects the radar shown on a GBA. Multiplayer boasts up to four separate radars. In addition, you are given a bonus requirement for each level, and succeeding in this will net you bonus points and first pick of the artifacts in multiplayer. It's the details of this game that make it good.

8/10 - add to the feel and to replay value, but some are multiplayer exclusive.

The SOUND in this game adds well to the overall feel without being obtrusive. There aren't any particularly outstanding tracks, but it's not music that will grate on your nerves either. Unless, of course, you can't stand the sort of cheery, child of Enya and Riverdance, world music that it is. It's a decent score overall, however - dungeon songs are appropriate for their settings and town themes fit the culture of the location.
Sound effects are appropriate various battle, digging, crackling, water, etc etc into infinity noises. They don't sound too ultra-realistic, but are easily believable - not out of place or so cartoony it makes you want to wear earplugs.

7/10 - fitting, but not outstanding.

The area in which FF:CC truly shines is GRAPHICS. It's impossible to describe them as less than amazing. There are absolutely no rough edges or broken polygons anywhere. Spell effects are small and far from earth-shattering, but appropriate. Character models are superbly detailed and move fluidly between every possible action. Locations are beautifully fleshed out, and the menus and maps are easy to read and navigate.
However, it's not just technical prowess that makes the graphical element of this game shine. Each location has a distinct feel and look to it, and no two dungeons look the same. The design of these locales gives you the impression that a lot of time was invested into making this game look and feel like an actual world. It's obvious that it's a fantasy world, but the land is so expansive and the cultures from miasma stream to miasma stream so diverse and authentic that is adds a whole new level to the game.
Unfortunately, this innovative design isn't carried over to the monsters, which look like they were lifted directly from FFIX. Normally this would bug me to no end, but they have been improved a hundred percent and fit seamlessly into the world. They don't look bad at all, so there's no deduction here, although it'd be nice if the designers put some effort into the monster designs. If it was a fraction of what they did in culture, it'd be amazing as well.

10/10 - you have to see this to believe it.

The REPLAY value of FF:CC hinges almost entirely on which mode you are playing in. Chances are, after running through the game with one character in single-player, you're not going to want to go back and make seven more. However, multiplayer mode allows almost infinite replay so long as you've still got an interested friend, in the same vein as a MarioParty or Super Smash Bros game.

5/10 - an 8 if multiplayer, but again it hinges entirely on this.

And so, we finally come down to that eternal question - BUY, RENT, OR BORROW?
It's a hard question to answer, in this case. The game is long and enjoyable enough to warrant a buy, however, it can easily be argued that without friends it'll just sit on your shelf afterward and won't be worth it. I recommend a good rent or borrow first, especially if you plan to go through single-player. If you like it, don't be afraid to shell out the $50 - if it sits too long, sell it back to the dealer. You'll get your money's worth. Otherwise, you're better just borrowing it or leeching off a friend with more than one GBA.

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles is, overall, an enjoyable and immersive experience that's even better when you play multiplayer mode. While it isn't the greatest game out there, it's definitely a good change of pace from other games, and a big step in the right direction for SquareEnix. I hope that the glimmer of hope this game has given me in the company won't be disappointed with the next game of theirs I plan on playing as of now - Kingdom Hearts II. While I wait for the return of Jesus, though, I've got FF:CC to keep me occupied.

STORY: 7/10
SOUND: 7/10

TOTAL - 7/10

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 02/21/04

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