Review by Aegis Shield

"Despite glaring flaws, the fun factor is still present in this GameCube comeback"

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, when it was announced back in late 2002, had been kept under a very watchful eye. After all, it's not every day when a franchise that has been MIA with Nintendo consoles suddenly returns with the hype machine blazing. When Square-Enix signed the deal to develop for Nintendo, the big N urged them to develop a title that utilizes connectivity to some extent, but not make it mandatory. Later in the development process, Square-Enix themselves decided that the alpha version containing multiple GameCube controllers was a no go, and thus decided that GBA's must be included in the gameplay. This sparked a veritable wildfire of conflict between those that agree with the controversial decision wholeheartedly, and those that claim it as blasphemy. And thus, FF:CC had been put into a whole negative light that it wasn't really deserving of...

Concept and Story

This story takes quite a turn from the standard Final Fantasy "Somewhat misunderstood villain goes insane and wants to destroy the world/become the new God" fare. Instead, it takes quite a down-to-earth and more original turn. Centuries ago, the planet has been covered in noxious miasma that proved fatal to those exposed to it in a matter of minutes. Nobody alive knows who or what caused this calamity to happen. Just as hope had expired, the discovery of legendary Crystals infused with the holy water Myrrh brought new hope to the tribes scattered across the world. For these Crystals had the power to draw back the terrible miasma so that an entire village could live in peace, but at a price. The Crystals lose their luster after merely a year, so the villages decided that in order to preserve their well-being, they must risk the adventurous youths by sending them on Crystal Caravans into the miasma in order to find the Myrrh that replenishes the Crystal's power. What's worse, is that somehow the entire populace is slowly losing their memories...

This story isn't nearly as dramatic as the mainstream Final Fantasies, but it never claimed to be. The presentation takes place in a myriad of tiny cutscenes, as well as interacting with key NPC's in the populace. What may turn some off is how it's story presentation is a lot more subtle than the traditional "hold your hand" FF's, as well. This approach is has it's good and bad ends, as sometimes you may have only a faint idea what is going on in your struggle against monsters and miasma. Your memories will also play a role in this game to some extent, as well.

Graphical Presentation and Audio

This a Square-Enix title, do you actually EXPECT it to be anything less than high quality?? The game just exuberates a medieval fantasy feel, and no detail was spared in the designing of characters, environments, and spell effects. For example, the first time I saw the spell Blizzaga casted (against me by a somewhat irked boss) my jaw dropped at beauty, and deadliness, of it. This title also boasts the most realistic, though non-interactive, water effects I have seen on the GameCube as well. Sadly, for a game based on customization, only a handful of pre-made character models can be found for the four tribes in this title, but they are high-quality nonetheless.

The music is one that gives mixed blessing. Despite Uematsu not heading this titles audio, Kumi Tanioka and Hidori Iwasaki offer their own wealth of orchestrated sounds. The overworld music can easily become extremely grating, but the music found in levels like Veo Lu Sluice and Lynari Desert is just beautiful to hear. This game blends a great mix of music found in ancient cultures, namely Celtic, old English, and somewhat Middle Eastern as well, although a lot of the sound effects for the most part are just slightly above average. (The standard clink, clash, thunk, spells going boom, etc)

Gameplay and Difficulty

This is where things get more controversial. Single player mode can be played through the use of a GCN controller with a Game Boy Advance optional, (used as a map) but 2-4 player multiplayer is mandatory. You will not believe how many people bought this game without looking at the front and back of the box and learning that GBA's are required.

The gameplay is entirely real-time based, and at least one person (or moogle, for single players) must carry a small crystal chalice around to protect the rest of the party. There is the standard 3 hit combo, a charged attack that does double the damage, and spells that can be linked to do higher damage.

Due to the limited buttons found on the Game Boy Advance, I can understand for the most part of why fighting is so simple, but I believe that some options could have been pulled off better. For example, I didn't really enjoy scrolling through the list for the 'Defend' option, and making it a mandatory technique in your Command List just wastes an entire slot. I would have liked the use of some sort of hotkey for healing foods rather than scrolling as well, but once again, limited buttons are available. Let's hope the sequel slated for the DS will improve on this. This simple gameplay, however, can easily become monotonous to some gamers.

This title does not employ the traditional leveling skill found in nearly every Final Fantasy to date. Instead, the use of the Artifact system makes players collect various treasures, named Artifacts, in the level they beat. After defeating the boss, each respective player can choose one artifact to keep, and who goes first, second, etc is determined by how much attention they payed to their 'Hidden Bonus' known only to them on their GBA screen. It can be a very slow way of leveling, but it is actually quite balanced to the gameplay, and drastically increases the replay value for completionists.

Spells that can be fused together is highly enjoyable, (it stresses on effective coordination and team work) but single and dual players WILL miss out on some of the better spells, namely the destructive -aga's and the ever-so-helpful Haste spell. In fact, to unlock the entire list of spells, four players must be actively playing, which furthers stresses Square-Enix's and Nintendo's point on multiplayer.

Some do clamor for the more traditional Seiken Densetsu ring display or simply in game menus, but it just won't work. Phantasy Star Online was plagued with huge menu's and a tiny playing screen when four players had to open up the menu. Square-Enix's newest Seiken Densetsu title on GBA was plagued with a large Ring grid due to the items contained within the game, and can you just imagine every character with their own ring grid interrupting the flow of the gameplay every minute?? No, this simply will not do.

The difficulty?? Well, I've seen mixed results through various sites. Most claim it to be easy, others very difficult, and to me, just the right mix of both. The game starts out fairly simple and not very threatening, but through the use of the Cycle System, even the first level can become extremely dangerous to those who aren't wary. Don't believe me?? For example, a player can wind up in a slightly sticky situation about halfway through River Belle Path on Cycle 3, where up to 3 Griffins and 5 goblins can attack you at once. As you can guess, the harder the cycle is, the better the money, items, and artifacts can be gained. Needless to say, those who have played late into the game can vouch for having to keep on their toes, and teamwork and coordination is a must.

Bonuses, Sidequests, and Miscellaneous

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles provides a variety of sidequests. While some are mildly short, others can be rather lengthy and can add a much better understanding to the story.

Upon character creation, you get to choose what occupation your mother/father has. Some are much more useful than others (Alchemist is arguably the most useful, and Fisherman is near useless) and in order to fill every house in your hometown of Tipa, every occupation must be chosen.

There are also some games to play as well! The Blazing Caravans game can be found for those who pay attention to their mog stamps, and tribes-only games such as Selkie Bounce offer a nice break from collecting precious Myrrh as well.

The Verdict

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles is Square-Enix's latest homage to a Nintendo-brand gaming machine, and it has met with many mixed results. I've seen it docked points simply because it wasn't like the original 12 (Counting X-2) but this side-story was never meant to be so in the first place. Offering simple yet compelling gameplay, a new twist on story design that's either love-or-hate, and more secrets and twists than it lets on, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles is easily worth playing at least once in a rental, or better yet, owning. It also makes for a great party game.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 08/09/05

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