Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles review
Crystal Clear


I'm sure most gamers are aware of the Final Fantasy series, even if they've never played one in their lives. While starting on Nintendo's console, Sony have benefited greatly from having the main core of this series from the PlayStation days. Away from the glory of the likes of the main series are the various spinoff titles. Titles such as Crystal Chronicles, a game that moves away from some of the usual RPG mechanics for a different take on the Gamecube.

The first obvious difference here is that instead of using preset personas with backgrounds and talents already set, you pick from a number of archetypes to determine available talents and pick a family occupation. There are four racial archetypes to pick from, with the balanced Clavats, offensive Lilties, magical Yukes or speedy Selkies. You can also pick the gender, although this has no practical use. From there you pick an occupation that your game family has, which affects both the shops in your home village, discounts and what items you might receive after completing dungeons via letters. My concern here is that they've sacrificed interest in the playable characters by turning them into generic soldiers, and all that for surprisingly little customizability. Occupation is a nice touch but I would want to see more along these lines for what we've lost.

Initially only a few dungeons are available, but as you plough further into the game more locations open up on the world map. Clicking an icon takes you to the dungeon or city. Sometimes you will be drawn into an encounter with other travellers, which might yield advice, warnings or items.

Dungeon exploring is done in a real time basis. You'll face various enemies like trolls or mages that will typically swarm around and rush you on sight. I never felt particularly overwhelmed by this generic monsters, although failing to grasp the concept that rushing in is suicide may catch you out. Instead you simply time your attacks for when they leave themselves open while avoiding potential counters. Enemies aren't as bright as expected, usually running around in easily recognisable patterns but they tend to cause problems when they start coming in large groups.

Bosses do bring in their own challenge with their massive presence. This monsters can unleash some pretty devastating attacks and will require a lot more work to take down, especially in later stages where damage values are getting higher and boss patterns trickier to work around.

You'll have a basic attack available to you which can either be repeatedly tapped for a 3 hit combo or held to do an charged strike. You can also make use of the command wheel by assigning spells (picked up as orbs) or items, cycling to the relevant slot and pressing the action button. Spells come in various forms, like the common fire, ice and earth attack spells, plus others like clear and life. Spells can be stacked by players or player and Mog moving spell casting targeting circles together to form bigger spells.

That might have hurt a little...

This might sound awesome, and at first I'm sure you'll have a blast with it, but ultimately it feels a bit too limiting. A is the source of every action you need, but having to cycle between everything makes things more awkward than it needs to be, especially when you consider that some of the Gamecube's controller functions are largely ignored. Comparing to something like Tales Of Symphonia, where the setup allows for varied combo approaches, the situation where doesn't feel as deep. It does start off well, but battling wears thin too soon because of this.

Things are hindered by the chalice effect. As part of the storyline you need to stay within the confines of a protective field emitted from a crystal chalice. This chalice has to be carried around, which can be a pain. Single players have a moogle called Mog who can carry it around, who has a habit of tiring and moving slower than the player. Multiplayer means one player has to carry the chalice, but honestly the whole stop-start nature of it is annoying at times.

Single player is one thing, but it's obvious that this game was built for multiple participants. The spell stacking system is one indicator of this, but the levels themselves and the enemy encounters just seem tailored to party based adventuring. There are issues involved here though. FIrst of all is the need for Gameboy Advances and link cables to use as controllers, which is a load of nonsense considering just how difficult getting this kind of setup can be. Crystal Chronicles doesn't do anything special with them anyway - putting in weak radar screens that can largely be ignored and menus that could have been done on the main screen - and instead presents problems like trying to control the action of a 3D game using a digital input method. A D-Pad is not suitable and it shows.

Of course, multiplayer adventuring is still better than solo play, but that's the nature of multiplayer. Even mundane experiences are bettered by getting friends around. The issue is that this could have been much more, but instead they opted for a hardware requirement that was totally unnecessary and unwanted.

Level design in general is very impressive. You'll have some lovely locations to explore and it really does feel fairly open. There is a good number of places to visit too and there seems to be plenty to do wherever you go. Even better is that levels can slightly when you revisit them later, providing a harder challenge but also better rewards, which is a neat way to reuse previous areas and encourage replays.

Time to head out.

The item system is as indepth as you might expect of a RPG. You can buy or have made for you various pieces of equipment to buff your stats and give you an edge while exploring dangerous dungeons. At the end of any given level you will also be offered a prize from a selection, with each player able to take something away with them. Making a choice can be difficult when several key items appear, but getting rewarded for a good run is nice and it makes you work for your goods.

Crystal Chronicles looks amazing. You can tell the team made good use of the Gamecube's capabilities to produce a visual style that works well to craft the fantasy setting. The locations you visit, ranging from lush forests, dank caves and abandoned mansions, are varied and stunning in their construction. Various effects, like running water, help to bring each place to life and it becomes a joy to visit the next location in your journey.

Character models have been rendered well too, with some wonderful designs used not only for the playable character classes but for the enemies and NPCs you meet along the way. A lot of work went into them and they fleshed out all they could from them all. Special effects also work out nicely, including the likes of spell explosions and charge attacks.

Music is that of the classic fantasy themed tunes you would expect, with composition good enough to compliment the whole setting nicely. There's plenty of tracks on offer as you travel around different places and will likely stick in the mind for a while afterwards. Sound effects are pretty good too, with the usual magical battle sounds coming out as you slash and cast your way through the opposing forces.

The background story comes across as simple but pleasant. The world is at threat of a poison that covers the planet, but special crystals emit a field that protects from it. However, these crystals fade over time and must be recharged by collecting mana. This is what your role is - to travel around collecting mana from various locations so your village can survive another year. There's more to it but it takes a while for that to come. The main problem is the lack of association with the main characters, which is caused by the design decision to have generics take the roles on.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles could have done without the attempted GBA linkup and a more complex control layout, but there's still some fun to be had. It comes with some cool concepts that raises the enjoyment, so provided you're willing to work past a few issues then it may well be worth a look.

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