I have made no secret over the years that Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is not only my favourite game of the underappreciated Nintendo Gamecube era but also one of the most enjoyable games I have ever played. While mostly relegated to playing the single-player mode given the cost barrier to playing multiplayer, some of the highlights of my youth were getting a friend or two around, connecting our Gameboy Advance units to the console and spend hours tackling the threats faced by the Tipa Caravan to obtain Myrrh.
I was beside myself with happiness a few years ago when Square Enix announced plans to offer the game across home console and smart-device platforms, with cross-platform compatibility between them. With the promise of new challenging dungeons, voice acting and network which should be a cinch to set up, surely this should be an immediate five-star game right? Well…
No Change: The Storyline Still Takes a Back Seat
Long ago, miasma swallowed the world. Its very touch was fatal, and it claimed many lives. But we have since discovered a way to hold it at bay. Crystals protect us from miasma. Smaller crystals now guard the villages of the world, while greater ones guard the cities. We all live our lives within the embrace of the crystals’ blessing.
The power of the crystals is not limitless, however, it gradually diminishes over time. We must rekindle the radiance of the crystal each year by purifying them with myrrh. In turn, they protect us from the miasma for another year. But myrrh cannot be found just anywhere. We must seek it in the dark depths of dungeons, across forbidding mountains, even beyond the sea.
This task falls to groups of young men and women sent off each year by every town in the world. It is their duty to collect myrrh and bring it home. They are known as crystal caravans.
The storyline of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles shares many elements with other instalments in the franchise, including a looming threat to the world, the involvement of crystals in avoiding an utter catastrophe, and several iconic characters such as Moogles and Cactuars roaming the land. But unlike mainline games where the storyline is central to the overall experience, this narrative takes a backseat in the experience, and is more or less a means of getting players to the final dungeon.
Split up into years, the primary goal of players is to collect three drops of myrrh each year through three of the game’s fifteen levels. During your travels, the story is presented through short encounters with caravans from other towns and other odd personalities, who share stories of their adventures and the history of the land. While these experiences do come together at the end, many are simply time wasters that earn you the odd item or two. These more frequently happen during the first five to six years and given you can reach endgame by that point, don’t progress much further if you continue further than that.
Character development is very weak, justifiable given the protagonists you control are of your creation, and you make their decisions and experiences. Up to eight caravaners can be created by players, who travel from the town of Tipa to collect myrrh. Each character is the son or daughter of a family who fills the role of a different profession – determining their house, interactions and annual gifts. Outside of this essential information, you have free reign to create your own tale mentally or otherwise use them as a pawn to get to the end. There is minimal new story content included in the Remastered Edition of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, but a majority of the cutscenes are supported by full English and Japanese voice acting. Although not a required addition, it is of a consistently high standard with some big names in voice acting.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is not a game for those who purely seek and desire a ‘Final Fantasy’ storytelling experience. But given its origins as a multiplayer RPG where groups of friends don’t want to sit around for half an hour watching a cutscene and just want to jump into the action, I think the development team struck a good balance between the narrative and gameplay.
No Change: The Gameplay Stands the Test of Time
The gameplay is just as good as it was originally on the Nintendo Gamecube, with minimal changes from the core experience. Each in-game year sees players make their way through three of Crystal Chronicles‘ fifteen dungeons – defeating enemies to unlock artifacts, complete environment puzzles and then defeat a boss to lay claim to a drop of myrrh. Each dungeon is typically unique from the others, featuring different design language, enemies and puzzles; so there is incentive to try them all out rather than stick to the few you are comfortable with. After the collection of three drops, the year will end and the next year will begin. To prevent you from farming the same three locations, each location only refreshes the drop after every few years, and gets more and more difficult as the years go on, therefore increasing the replayability.
Despite being released during the time where turn-based battle systems were still a staple for the series, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles makes use of a real-time battle (RTB) system where you have direct control of your characters. A relic of when the game made use of single-screen multiplayer, all participating players are confined to a small circle surrounding the crystal chalice, with moving from the safe zone resulting in incrementally decreasing damage. Therefore, you don’t really get a sense of exploration within the expansive dungeon environments, but are encouraged to tackle the dungeon incrementally – as going to fast will easily leave you overwhelmed or trapped.
There is no MP or AP bar in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, with the use of all magic being unlimited. In each of the worlds, you can find balls called magicite, which relate to spells such as cure, life, fire, blizzard etc. which allow the character the picked it up to use the spell indefinitely. Some spells are more useful than others, especially CURE which you will likely use religiously or RAISE when you are playing alongside others. In single-player some of these magicite can be fused together to generate more specialised spells such as Holy or Gravity, while in multiplayer up to four players can fuse spells together for powerful variants of each. Typically in multiplayer sessions, you can go quite well with two front-line fighters, one spell mage and one healer – but there are opportunities for each player to be as specialised or jack-of-all-trades as they like.
The major improvement to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition are a few improvements to its user interface, making it more accessible to players than the original release. Surprisingly though, while it has been more than a few years since I last played the Gamecube Version, the gameplay still holds up to modern-day standards, and does not drag on after a few dungeons.
Multiplayer is, Unfortunately, the Game’s Biggest Weakness
When porting across Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles over to current generation hardware, multiplayer was always bound to be a challenge to find a solution for. The game was ultimately developed as a multiplayer game, and despite being costly for consumers to do, having each player control their character by a Nintendo Gameboy Advance unit was hands down the best solution. This enabled each player to effectively multi-task on-the-fly instead of pausing the game each time someone wanted to use the menu, receive a personal objective to get first dibs at unlockable artifacts, and enabled a much more verbally communicative experience.
Not knowing anything about the development of this game, as a layman, I would have gone with replicating the original experience by offering Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles on the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, with the Android and iOS versions serving as controllers. While the more obvious choice for any developer, unfortunately, Square Enix chose to forgo local multiplayer for online multiplayer.
The end product is, to put it bluntly, best described as forgettable. Not only did I experience connection issues every second dungeon I would try and run with someone, but multiplayer instances are on a per-dungeon basis and progression is only saved for the first player. A novelty at first, I quickly took to playing Crystal Chronicles single-player, and was left wishing they went down a local multiplayer route like the earlier days of gaming. The game’s multiplayer experience is meant to be a collaborative one, and missing out on seeing your friends as you travel the world map or coordinating your actions verbally just isn’t the same.
The New Dungeons are Legitimately Challenging
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition boasts several new post-game dungeons, designed to offer players new challenges. Unfortunately, these are not brand new dungeons, even if this news doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. But they are not the same dungeons you have been running through before. Each level has been reskinned, with each environment representing a different season, time of day or climate. Furthermore, each offers new threats, puzzles and challenging foes that will block your way, with a nice boost in attack power and defence to ensure even those of have grinded their stats will be faced with a challenge. The main issue with single-player Crystal Chronicles on the Gamecube was that there was virtually no endgame… and this resolves that issue nicely.
The Game May Be Remastered, But It Doesn’t Lose Its Visual Identity
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles has a visual style which few other games have have. It boasts rural yet scenic environments, semi chibi-style character models and an aesthetic which really screams “Nintendo Gamecube era game”. When it comes to remastering the game, the development team could have gone with a completely different visual identity, making it look like a game developed for this generation rather than one more than a decade ago. Some may see it the other way, but by not going overboard in remastering it and instead upping the resolution quality, they kept so much of its original charm.
To this day, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles remains one of my favourite video games of all time, and I believe will stand the test of time going into the next generation and beyond. If you are after a substantial single-player experience, then this is a 20-hour adventure I can wholeheartedly recommend. However, while the gameplay is strong and the split between remastering and maintaining its original charm was well balanced – the approach taken to online multiplayer was poorly implemented. As multiplayer was the one thing many original players were limited in accessing, the decision to not have a local friendly option was a missed opportunity. Perhaps with future updates, these limitations can be explored and remedied.
A complementary review code of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition for the PlayStation 4 was kindly provided by Australian distributor Bandai Namco Entertainment Australia.