Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
Square-Enix has finally brought back the Final Fantasy brand to a Nintendo console - but is it the game we've waited years to play?
There was once a time when Nintendo and Square walked hand-in-hand through the sixteen bit fields, so happy were they together Square was even helping to make Mario RPGs but as the industry changed to suit the demands of a more multimedia orientated time Nintendo no longer offered Square what they needed. The prospect of full motion video, crisp visuals and orchestral sound for their new generation of RPGs made Square jump to PlayStation and pledge an exclusive deal, which left RPG Nintendo fans feeling very angry out in the cold. Since then we've seen many successful incarnations of the Final Fantasy brand on the PlayStation. Now Square-Enix has finally brought back the Final Fantasy brand to a Nintendo console - but is it the game we've waited years to play?
It's gotten to the point where the Final Fantasy name is more than enough to sell a game. Square-Enix could release Final Fantasy Golf next month and most fans would quiver at the thought of being able to take Cloud and Squall round eighteen holes. The fact is Crystal Chronicles has very little to do with the classic Final Fantasies we have become used to, there is no turn based fighting, random battles or even Chocobo - so what's in this game for fans of the series aside from the name? Anyone who's played a few of the main series will know that they can expect to see some similarities, names (Cid, Biggs and Wedge, etc), creatures and of course the summons (Ifrit, Shiva, etc) but apart from a few Flans and Float Eyes you'll find very few familiar elements in FFCC. We don't want to make a list of what this game doesn't have; we'd be here for hours. But make no mistake, this is not Final Fantasy as you know it, and people looking for a story-rich, one-hundred-hour-plus adventure need not apply.
Many years ago a huge meteor crashed down to earth and with it came deadly Miasma that enveloped the whole world, not long after this monsters started to appear across the land. Many lives were lost before people found that the worlds crystals could repel the evil gasses and keep villages alive, but the crystals' power would only last just over a year and needed to be regularly replenished with Myrrh. So began the yearly caravan journeys across the world where each village sends out four of their residents to collect the Myrrh and return home.
Everyone knows about Nintendo's connectivity obsession, so it's little surprise that Crystal Chronicles features GBA compatibility. Playing the game alone is a lonely and often uneventful experience due to the lack of story and side quests but playing with friends is one of the most enjoyable multiplayer experiences you can have on the Cube. The feel of the game is very Middle Earth; you come from a small Shire-like village named Tipa, where you grew up friends anf families in completely idyllic surroundings. Now you have all reached the age where you must travel out into the world to collect the required Myrrh to hold the surrounding Miasma at bay and keep your village alive for another year.
The journey is a long and dangerous one but with friends beside you it is never feels lonely. As you travel through the land in your crystal caravan, you meet many other caravans from the other villages who are often willing to help you out with information or maybe even a nice meal. The long trek filled with dungeons, travellers, serene music and friends all comes together to make one of the best bonding experiences you can have in a game.
While playing alone you use your GameCube pad to control the action and have the option of plugging in your GBA to gain access to the likes of maps and stats but when playing a multiplayer quest you all have to use your Gameboy Advances to play. Each player will get one tool on his or her GBA; player one will get the dungeon map, player two will get the enemy location chart, player three will get the treasure chart and player four will get the team stats. Having all these tools split up between the team requires a good level of communication, you can't all split up so player one must navigate, player two has to warn the group of approaching fiends, player three has to keep an eye out for treasure and player four has to keep everyone aware of their health and status. The lack of the option to all use joy pads is an annoying one, not because the game would be better with pads though because it wouldn't it's the money. To get you and three of your friends playing you need at least one copy of the game, which comes with one link cable, three more link cables on top of that and four GBAs so we're talking a few hundred bucks here.
One of the main aspects of gameplay is the Chalice field; as the world is covered in Miasma that is fatal to its inhabitants you need protection much like the villages. As you play through you must take the crystal chalice with you at all times, in one player mode a Moogle named Mog will carry it for you but in multiplayer mode one of your team must bear the burden. The person who caries the Chalice is slower and can't fight until he drops it but around him he has the force field that everyone must stay within to avoid damage. This brings another element of teamwork, as you have to protect the defenceless Chalice bearer at all times.
When you start the game, everyone must make a character to play with. There are four races available, each with male and female genders that have four variations each. Once you create them you choose a family trade which alters what each person's family can do for the team. For example, a farmer's child gets vegetables, a fisherman's child gets fish, a merchant's child gains access to a store and a blacksmith's child can have weapons and armour made for the team. Having one of each race on your team brings the best results - but there maybe arguments over who gets to be which character.
Crystal Chronicles's in-game visuals outshine those of any previous Final Fantasy, game and probably a few PS2 versions yet to come. You have to believe that this is some of the best work seen on the GameCube yet. The map textures look amazingly detailed and the characters look stunning right down to the fluffy Moogle hair that sways in the wind. We never encountered any slowdown or pop-up.
The quality of the art direction is what really brings the game to life though. The level of imagination that went into creating the world tops anything we've seen on the Cube before - this is how you tell it's a Square-Enix game. Despite being in the middle of a forest dungeon battling huge foes, it's still very easy to become lost in the beautiful and serine surroundings. Look at the water effects as you sail out to the new continents, and honestly, say it doesn't bring you calm...
The music captures the mood perfectly; the composer Kumi Tanioka used many folk instruments such as panpipes, Renaissance guitars, lutes and daf drums to reinforce the comfortable calming world but at a moments notice she manages to turn the music to suit a more sinister or exciting mood. Sometimes though the music can become tiresome when you hear the one piece of music that is used for encounters over and over again but it doesn't do anything to dampen the production as a whole. It's going to be interesting to see what Tanioka moves onto next as the Chocobo Dungeon composer is still fresh in the job and it's going to take a lot to reach the levels of respect some Square-Enix composers command.
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Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles
The E3 2003 trailer.