Review by MalachiX

"One of the best multiplayer games ever."

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles has become one of the most controversial games released in the last few years. Its kind of a shame really as it seems that many have judged the game before playing it. Just as certain films end up being unjustly attacked for political reasons, Crystal Chronicles has come under fire for the type of game it is rather than it's objective quality. What's particularly sad is that many “professional” reviewers too have attacked using the same silly arguments that one would normally expect from angry Internet fanboys.

The first major complaint that many have been leveling is that Crystal Chronicles is not what they were hoping for. Where most other Final Fantasy games featured turn-based gameplay, epic storylines, and tons of CG cinemas, Crystal Chronicles is a team-based action RPG game with very little focus on story. Personally, I find it hard to understand why anyone would attack the game for this. Since the first playable demo was shown at E3, it was never a secret that Crystal Chronicles was not a traditional Final Fantasy. The fact that some critics who did previews on the title while in development suddenly acted shocked and betrayed at the game's lack of story or cinemas is downright mind-boggling. Criticizing Crystal Chronicles for not having a deep plot or characters is like criticizing Mario Kart for not enough platformer elements. Whining about a game because of what it's not is simply pointless. Rather, one should simply take a game on it's own terms.

The other major complaint that I've observed is frustration over the GBA requirement. For those of you who have been living under a rock, Crystal Chronicles requires that each player use a GBA as a controller during multiplayer. While this might prove costly for those who don't have friends with a GBA (though it is worth noting that there are now 25 million GBAs sold in North America, nearly four times as many as there are Gamecubes), this is hardly a fair criticism either. It's like docking points from a PC game because the system requirements are high. Games should be rated based on their quality not on their cost. Dragon Ball Z: Bodukai isn't better than Soul Calibur 2 just because it costs half as much.

So, in short, this review is not going to attack Crystal Chronicles for the types of reasons that others have. This is an evaluation of its quality based on the type of game it's trying to be. I trust that those who read it will have enough intellect to decide for themselves if they want this type of game and if they are willing to shell out any expenses that are required. Now that we have the formalities out of the way, lets get on to the review.

Crystal Chronicles takes place in a world that has recently become covered by a poisonous gas. The only things that seem to repel this gas are crystals filled with a substance known as the water of life. The various villages send out young warriors in caravans to collect this water of life from the ancient trees throughout the land. The player takes control of one such caravan and follows their journey to save their village. This is pretty much the only story one can expect from the game. On the road, players may encounter random cut scenes that delve into subplots involving other adventures searching for the water of life. These subplots, some of which develop over the course of the entire game, are nice little side stories but are pretty shallow in general. It seems that Square felt that a deep story would get in the way of the multiplayer fun and I for one am inclined to agree. During my run with the game, my friends and I would often groan allowed whenever a cut scene would come up and delay us from reaching the next dungeon.

It's clear from the get go that Crystal Chronicles was designed with multiplayer in mind from the begging so it's best to discuss the multiplayer first. As mentioned before, Crystal Chronicles is pretty far from other Final Fantasy games. The best way to describe the game would be to call it the best-damned Gauntlet style hack and slash yet. At the start of the game, players choose their race, sex, physical appearance, and the occupation of their parents. Their race determines their initial stats as well as what types of weapons and armor they may use. The occupation of their parents determines what types of shops will be available in their hometown. Players can also receive special rewards from staying on their parents good graces by writing to them over the years or sending them gifts. Once the characters have been created, it's time for the caravan to set out. Up to 8 characters can be saved in one caravan (one file) and up to four players can play at once. As mentioned before, each player needs a GBA in multiplayer. The GBA allows players to sort through their various menus without having to pause the game and freeze things for everyone else. Once the party is formed and everyone is ready to go, it's time to tackle the game's fifteen dungeons. As the players progress through the dungeons, they can expect to do the typical RPG stuff such as killing monsters, finding items, and solving puzzles. When players reach the end of the dungeon they encounter a boss. Their reward for defeating the boss is a drop of the water of life as well as an artifact for each player. Artifacts are what allow players to grow stronger. Rather than leveling up by killing monsters as in other RPGs, artifacts allow players to boost various stats. At first I found this odd but I later found that it encouraged teamwork. By forcing the players to improve their stats all at once after a boss fights, it allows them to coordinate and decide which upgrades would serve the party best. Ultimately, it's this sense of teamwork that makes Crystal Chronicles such a blast. This can also be seen in its magic system. Players find various magics in dungeons over the course of their journey. With the proper timing, players can fuse their spells together to create much more powerful attacks. In fact there is quite a lot of depth to be found in this fusing as it allows players to make tons of new spells buy combining the basic ones.

It's hard to describe but Crystal Chronicles is simply incredibly fun when you've got three or four people player. In many ways, it feels like the ultimate party game and there's a real sense of adventure that comes from exploring these massive dungeons with a trio of friends and working together to coordinate attacks and topple bosses. During exploration, one player carries a chalice which generates a protective bubble. Players who delve outside of this bubble for too long will take damage, thus furthering the sense of teamwork. Players are also forced to rely on each other by their GBA screens. At the start of the dungeon, each player is given a different type of map. One map contains a layout of the dungeon, while another indicates where treasures can be found, and another warns of approaching monsters and gives hints on how to beat them. I know it sounds like I'm saying this a lot but it's truly amazing how Crystal Chronicles gets the players to feel as if they are actually a party as one would see in a turn-based RPG, rather than just a group of adventurers who happen to be fighting next to each other. It should thus go without saying then that the single player game is pretty un-interesting as, without any of the team-based dynamics, there really isn't much to the game. Still, it should by now be clear to just about everyone that Crystal Chronicles is a game made for multiplayer purposes and thus, I consider the single player game to simply be an extra and nothing more.

The only real flaw that stops Crystal Chronicles from being the best multiplayer game of all time is the lack of player customization. In games like Phantasy Star Online or Diablo, different character classes differ wildly and the characters change dramatically as they level up. While there are four character classes in Crystal Chronicles and one can alter one's stats and selection of spells when acquiring artifacts, armors, and weapons; the unfortunate fact is that the characters really don't grow all that different. Ultimately, if the group's chosen healer wants to trade places with the group's magic user, it's not that big a complication. While this certainly does a lot to give the game a pick up and play feel to it, it also stops the experience from getting any deeper as it goes on. I had a blast my first 10 hours with the game but, while the second 10 hours were certainly fun, my excitement over the sense of teamwork had waned and I was left wishing my character could grow in a more specialize manner. Ultimately, while I was fighting stronger monsters and my stats were getting higher, I never really felt a sense of progression.

As far as value goes, Crystal Chronicles should last a long time. As I mentioned before, it took me about 20 hours to finish the first time through but it could take another 10 or so if one wanted to get all the best weapons and armors and make sure they tracked down all the artifacts. There's also the entertaining, if not terribly deep, caravan racing mini-game that can be played on the GBA and is unlocked by finding hidden Mogs (little furry guys who often appear in Final Fantasy games) throughout the dungeons. Besides, part of the game's strength (and to some extent its weakness) is that the dungeons are meant to be played over and over again.

Graphically, it's hard to fault the game as just about everything is nearly flawless. The polygon counts are relatively high. The textures are sharp. And the lighting and special effects are among the best I've seen. Even the character animation puts most games of this generation to shame. The game isn't just technically brilliant either but, as is often the case with Square, the game's artists have gone above and beyond the call of duty to give the game a very distinguishable look. The medieval atmosphere and SD characters are very reminiscent of Final Fantasy 9 but they have a rustic charm to them that makes me like them far more than the rather cartoony style of the former game.

The sound is quite impressive too. Most of the tracks have a very Celtic feel to them and it fits wonderfully with the rest of the game. The opening vocal track in particular is especially memorable as is one battle theme that plays during cut scenes. Ultimately, while the soundtrack may not be quite on par with the best Square has produced, it fits the game perfectly and is probably worth owning on it's own.

Replay Value-9
Rent or Buy?: Buy.

The bottom line is that, if you're willing to take Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles on its own terms, you'll find a truly remarkable game there. I went ahead and bought an extra GBA for $40 so that a GBA-less friend of mine could play and I can safely say that it was well worth the extra price. Sure, I still wish the experience could have gotten deeper as it went on (and I pray that if Square makes a sequel, they will include more specialized characters) but, at the end of the day, it's still one of the best multiplayer experiences I've had this generation or any other.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/20/04

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