Are you ready to spend about $525.00 for a video game? Well, it would be a bit less money if you didn’t have four Gameboy SP systems being used to play. To take advantage of Square-Enix’s new Action RPG you need a Gameboy Advanced, and for those willing to spend the money, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles offers a unique, challenging multiplayer experience that displays the pure power of Nintendo’s Gamecube system.
Leave it to Square-Enix, pioneers of such vanguard games as the Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy Tactics, to come up with an entirely different concept for action games. First off, Crystal Chronicles is not in the same vein as its recent Final Fantasy cousins. There are no long movies, no turn based combat, and especially no near human realistic characters. Crystal Chronicles is in essence an action title, somewhere between The Legend of Zelda and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance.
The storyline of the game is simple and functional. A poisonous miasma has overtaken the land and the only way to repel the vile mist is to keep giant crystals charged with a mystical substance known as myrrh. You create a character from one of four tribes and give them such stunning professions as farmer, miller or blacksmith. Said hero must then venture out each year in the crystal caravan to gather myrrh from magical trees. It isn’t Tolstoy, but it serves the purpose of the gameplay nicely.
Gameplay in this Final Fantasy is simple in theory. You have a character with a set number of slots in which to assign such commands as Attack, Defend, Item, and Spells. You run around, hack monster, and solve a few simple puzzles, just like in every other action RPG; however, there are a few complications to this tried and true formula.
In single player mode, the difference between Crystal Chronicles and other recent action titles isn’t as noticeable. The combat is straightforward, but a bit bland considering the lack of variety of special attacks and spells. One unique touch though is the presence of a little creature called a Moogle carrying a bucket on his head right behind you.
Which brings us to the first strange aspect of Crystal Chronicles – the bucket. Since the atmosphere of the land is indeed toxic, your character must carry a special chalice with him at all times. This chalice (that really looks like a bucket) radiates a field of safety that you must stay within while moving around the world. In single player mode, you get a trusty servant to do this for you.
However, in multi-player mode your party receives no assistance from little critters. One member of the party must carry the bucket around at all times. While it is nice to have a plot point helping with the always tricky mechanics of keeping a party together in a multiplayer game, sometimes the limited range of the field is frustrating, as well as the simple fact that one player cannot attack if the party is surprised.
The multiplayer mode of Crystal Chronicles has a few other idiosyncrasies worth mentioning. The biggest one is of course that in multiplayer mode the player cannot use a standard Gamecube controller. Instead you use a Game Boy advanced to move around. Your item list and menu are all only displayed on the handheld’s screen which does keep the main game screen from being cluttered, but it can be disconcerting to keep looking back and forth especially when under attack.
There is one final note about the multiplayer system. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is a game about cooperation rather than just a bunch of characters running around killing monsters. Often in fights one player must simply heal or cast magic while the rest of the party fights. Additionally, the party must also cover anyone who must access the menu screen, as that player is usually helpless while setting up commands.
Weird gameplay aside, there is one area where this Final Fantasy truly excels, the graphics. Lush, storybook-style world design blends seamlessly with adorable characters and fairytale monsters. The natural textures and vibrant colors caress the eye in a way not seen since the one-two punch last year of Metroid Prime and Zelda: the Windwaker. The water effects are simply stunning. Additionally, the game supports 480 progressive scan, so on high end TVs, this game is as pretty as you can get.
The audio matches well with the world design, sweet and unobtrusive. There is not too much voice acting to note, but the one voice that introduces each level is lovely.
Alas, it is the inherent beauty of the game that makes some of the more novel aspects of the game so frustrating. While the use of a Game Boy as a controller isn’t as terrible as it could have been, it limits the ultimate audience of the title. Without the investment of a seventy dollar plus system and a ten dollar link cable, much of Crystal Chronicles is lost. Furthermore, so much time and attention was obviously applied to the look of that game that it would have been nice to have a more fluid and varied combat system to go along with the scenery. The hack, hack spell combo provided by the game seems more fitting to the old days of Gauntlet.
In the end, Final Fantasy is still a game to be recommended, especially if you have the resources to play the game with four players. As frustrating and simplistic as the game play can become, the cooperation it sponsors – and swearing between friends – is a unique and engaging way to spend the evening. Hopefully, Square Enix will build on the foundation created with this game and create an Action RPG that is both different and intuitive to play.