Review by clarkisdark

"Bring a friend"

There hasn't been a Final Fantasy game on a Nintendo system since Final Fantasy VI on the SNES. It's nice to see Square and Nintendo have become good friends again, but don't think that their collaboration will give you what Playstation owners have been dawdling over for the past few years. This is, more or less, an experiment to prove that the Gamecube/GBA connectivity is a good thing. It does some things right... and it does plenty wrong, too.

My review is based on playing this game with two players.

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (FFCC, for short) is one of the most impressive-looking Gamecube titles to date. Unlike most Square games, there are no FMVs, but the in-game engine is remarkable. It's a mix between the real and the cartoony and is impressively smooth, clean, and poignant enough to give you that authentic fantasy feel. It also has some very fine lighting and water effects. The animation for the people looks a little choppy, but the different bosses move so fluidly, you'll forget you're just playing a game. The fixed camera is a bit strange, though, in that it likes to swivel around a lot, and the game is plagued by several obvious invisible walls.

The Japanese composer, Nobuo Uematsu, is responsible for the music to the first eleven Final Fantasy games. For you Nobuo fans, you will be disappointed to know that he has no association with FFCC. Instead, Kumi Tanioka takes his place, and she does a fantastic job. The music rings of Celtic festivities, with lots of horns and strings and other instruments you might find in a Harvest Moon celebration. It's all very fitting, but I found myself enjoying the music more out of context of the game. While the score isn't as compelling or moving as previous Final Fantasy work, it is perhaps the most upbeat and does the best job of making you feel like a part of a fantasy world. As is traditional nowadays, some of the songs have lyrics, but there's little voice acting. The only talking you'll hear is that of a [cheesy] narrator at the beginning of every dungeon.

You may have come to expect certain things out of your Final Fantasy games. Put all expectations aside, because FFCC is nothing like you think it is. Every year, a caravan sets out to collect myrrh, the substance that keeps you and your home town alive. A year lasts only as long as it takes you to collect three drops of myrrh, and there are an infinite number of years. The game doesn't end until you complete the last dungeon. FFCC has no direct overworld. It's a map that you move across to enter different dungeons, towns, and random cut-scenes (which are just as annoying as random battles). Dungeons range from the short and linear to the vast and confusing. FFCC has no turn-based fighting system. It's more reminiscent of a beat-em-up: kill the enemy with brute force and magic. That's okay, but it gets a little repetitive since you're limited to a 3-hit combo and a small handful of spells. At the end of every dungeon, you have to fight a substantially intimidating boss in order to collect the myrrh for that area. In a few "years," more myrrh is available at the same dungeon, but the enemies are stronger. There are 14 dungeons in all, but you don't have to play every one to beat the game.

Upgrading your character is not handled in the traditional RPG style. You don't gain experience points and you don't get to transfer magic from level to level. Instead, at the end of a dungeon, you get to choose from a handful of status-increasing options like +1 Strength or an extra heart container. Unfortunately, you sometimes get screwed and don't get anything good to pick from. While in-dungeon, you can find designs and material to forge new weapons/armor when you go into town. However, it's really hard to find someone who can make these things for you, and when you do, you usually don't have the right material, anyway. If you have any hope of beating the final boss, though, you'll need to spend a lot of extra time leveling up and forging better equipment. Mostly, this time is spent growing bored and frustrated with the game.

If two or more people are playing, you each have to have your own Game Boy Advance. Now you know. So stop pestering all the FAQ writers because there is no other way to go about it. The GBA gives you a personal menu where you can assign equipment, manage your inventory, read letters from your family, and look at specific maps handed out to each player. While you're in GBA mode, you are completely vulnerable to any monsters nearby, but you can leave the GBA on radar and just glance at it occasionally. The GBAs keep the TV screen clean and force more cooperation between players (i.e. sharing information), but I believe they could have pulled this game off without the connectivity by using "mini menus" and getting rid of some of the useless stuff like the family status.

Playing a 3D game with a Game Boy is somewhat awkward. It can really start to hurt your hands after a while, too. The A button is used to attack (or talk to NPCs), and holding down the button charges up for a magic spell or focus attack. Sometimes, this charge doesn't work because it either doesn't want to, or an enemy keeps hitting you. You use the L and R buttons to cycle through your equipped commands. It's kind of overwhelming at first, but it soon becomes second nature to switch from Attack to Cure then back to Attack in two seconds. There isn't any specific button to defend, however. Defend is one of the commands that must be selected, and I really doubt you will ever use it because of this.

There are two parts to this: frustration and stress. I rarely say a game is stressful, but FFCC is very much so. This stress comes from trying to work with another player. Because FFCC relies so much on teamwork, it can be really aggravating to get two (or three, or four) people to cooperate on one focused goal. You all have your own idea on where to go and what to do, and you always have to compromise since you can't split up. You must also take into consideration that your teammates might be careless and never pay attention to their life meter. They might be a bunch of show-offs, too, and always want to be the ones who fight rather than heal. They might be greedy and never let you pick up any items or power-ups. Or they could just be really stupid and never help in any way. So make sure you play with someone you can get along with.

Anyway, the game is frustrating, as well, but this is because of design issues. For one, you have to carry around a chalice of myrrh in order to stay alive, but the chalice slows the group down and confines you to a really small radius. Also, the enemies can be ruthless and give you barely enough leeway to heal yourself before they beat you into the ground. Some dungeons are very confusing, too. You end up spending a lot of time wandering aimlessly around, avoiding those monsters too strong for you while trying to figure out the far-fetched solution to whatever puzzle is present. My brother and I spent almost two hours in a particularly confusing and vague dungeon before we finally gave up, backtracked, and went to a different dungeon.

Lasting Appeal:
Well, let's see. It only takes eight hours until FFCC is no longer fun, but then you still have another 12-16 to finish the game. You can technically beat FFCC rather quickly, but, assuming you don't read a hundred FAQs before you begin, you will probably go about your quest all wrong and end up spending a lot of time correcting your mistakes. As I said earlier, the game is very repetitive, and by the time you get to your 5th dungeon, you're struck with a sense of deja vu. Still, 20+ hours is a long time for you and your friends/siblings to play together. You should congratulate yourself since it may be the only time you cooperate that long (of course, that's a gamble in its own right). However, the game is very involving and you will want to finish it, no matter how sick of it you become. Will you ever want to play the game again? I really doubt it. If you can find some more, or different, people to play with, it might be fun to save the world again, but... you do this at the risk of your own sanity.

As a Final Fantasy game, FFCC fails to deliver. But without the Final Fantasy moniker, I don't think this game would have sold. Is it even any fun? Ideally, yes, as a multiplayer co-op, because it really forces you and your teammates to work together, but it suffers from a plethora of awful design issues that ultimately bring the experience down. Remove the multiplayer aspect and you have pure rubbish. So take note: Do not play this game alone because it defeats the purpose of why it was made. You might think, "Ha! It was made to promote that gimmicky connectivity crap." Yeah, that's true, because the requirements are expensive and the end result isn't very novel. But if you already own a GBA and you known someone else who has one, go rent/buy FFCC and knock yourselves out. It won't give you what previous Final Fantasy exploits have, and it's going to irritate you to no end, but it's very rare you get to play a game like this, anyway.

+ Good fantasy feel
+ Involving
+ Cooperative play
+ Intense boss battles
-- Quirky upgrade system
-- Can be frustrating
-- Repetitive
-- Steep hardware requirements

Score: 7/10

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 08/14/04, Updated 11/07/04

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