Memories can be an odd thing. We remember the games we grew up with, how they made us feel, and then years later, we can revisit them and find that sometimes, our memories have been altered by the flow of time.
I can remember sitting in a small bedroom, my friends and I huddled together closely with our Game Boy Advances plugged into the GameCube and playing the original release of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Maybe it was the feature of linking the GBA up to the system, maybe it was that it was a multiplayer Final Fantasy game. What I remember is categorized into my brain as a fond memory.
However, many things have changed since then. What may have been a great game 17 years ago may no longer be one with the way that games have evolved. Of course on top of that, I now analyze games differently since, you know, I review them.
So, now that Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is just about here, I find myself taking a trip down memory lane to see if the game lines up with what I remember (or think I remember), and to see if it has aged (and been improved) gracefully.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, developed and published by Square Enix is out tomorrow, August 27 on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Android, and iOS. We played the game on PS4 for this review.
Don’t Go Outside Without Your Crystal
The world of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is one filled with deadly miasma – a substance that can only be kept at bay by using the power of the crystals to form a barrier around villages and towns.
As a member of your village’s caravan, it’s your duty to venture forth into dangerous, monster filled parts of the world in order to secure myrrh to help power your crystal and keep your village safe for the coming year.
The story itself is mostly made up of small cutscenes encountered while traveling the roads between destinations. You’ll come across an assortment of odd characters, as well as other caravans that are traveling and collecting myrrh. These work great as little “on the road” moments, but can also be a bit irritating as they make your journey to the additional map screens take that much longer.
Because of the miasma-filled world, the caravans must carry their own small crystal to protect themselves. This crystal is attached to a chalice that will hold the myrrh collected as each dungeon is completed. After three completed dungeons, the chalice will be full and you’ll be sent back to the village to celebrate your accomplishments and then wait for the next year to come.
Each new year can bring new surprises. New areas may pop up on the map, and previously visited areas may see a change in the number or type of enemies inside. You’ll also encounter new snippets of story while on the road. A downside however, is that you need to give the myrrh-producing trees some time before they can reward you for your dungeon-clearing efforts. Because of this, you’ll need to tackle different dungeons each year.
This is My Caravan. You May Join It, but the Progress is Mine.
Before setting out on your myrrh collection journey, you need to decide who you’ll play as. You can choose between one of four races for a character: the human-like Clavats, the small-but-fierce Lilties, the magic based Yukes, or the more tribal human-like race of the Selkies. When creating a character you have the option to choose gender, pre-set appearances, character voice, as well as a home job. Depending on which job is selected, you’ll have your family occupy a specific area of your home town as well as provide services. If you select a blacksmith for example, every time you return to town, you’ll have the option to visit the blacksmith house and get new weapons and armor crafted. In all, you have eight slots for characters, meaning that you can ultimately create a character for each of the home jobs and fully populate your village.
The gameplay of Crystal Chronicles can differ quite a bit depending on whether you’re playing solo, or with others. To put it more plainly, the game gets harder and more frustrating in multiplayer.
When exploring a dungeon, you’ll have your caravan’s chalice with you. If playing solo, you can have an AI moogle companion carry it around for you. If you’re playing with others, however, you’ll have to decide who is going to carry it around. The chalice, protecting you from the miasma, will form a decently sized barrier for your group to stay in. If you venture outside of this barrier, you’ll begin to take damage. I can certainly remember this mechanic from when the game originally released, and I’m finding myself as annoyed with it now as I was years ago. At one point, my moogle complained that It was my turn to carry the chalice, so I picked it up. Not ten seconds later were they telling me that they would carry it. Make up your mind moogle!
You have several actions that you’re able to execute in a dungeon. You can attack, defend, cast spells, and use various food items to restore health. The controls here, while unchanged from the original release, are…a bit archaic. You can cycle through your command list with L1 and R1 to select the single action you want to perform. This means that you can’t simply use one button to attack and one to guard – you have to attack, hit a shoulder button until “defend” is selected, and then hit the button again to raise your guard up. This control scheme feels a bit clunky. Luckily, it’s usually pretty easy to bait an enemy attack to create the timing or opening you need to cure or attack.
One downside with spells is that they need to be gathered inside of the dungeon. Furthermore, after the completion of a dungeon, these spells are gone, meaning that if you want to be able to use the cure spell in your next area, you have to find it once again by defeating enemies. In multiplayer, spell acquisition becomes a little trickier, as the spell orbs that are dropped from enemies are shared with the group. If someone picks up every single spell that drops, there’s really nothing you can do about it. There’s no way to drop or trade spells, and the only way you can tell what the spells are is by simply learning what the different orbs look like. A little pop-up text here could have done wonders.
By using spell fusion, you can take multiple spells and combine them into one. By having two spells such as fire and blizzard set in your command list, they can be combined to make gravity. If you decide you don’t want gravity, you can split them back up – a nice option to have since later dungeons use spells as a puzzle-solving tool. If playing with another player however, this easy method of fusion is unavailable. In multiplayer, spells are fused as they’re cast, meaning that players will have to coordinate which spells they want to make and then time and aim them just right in order to fuse them into something stronger.
Spells and items are automatically thrown into your command list when beginning a dungeon if you don’t have anything pre-assigned. Swapping spells or items in and out of your command list is fairly easy while playing. Switching between the different menus however, especially to heal with a food item from your inventory screen in multiplayer, wasn’t very easy since the game doesn’t pause.
There are no experience points in Crystal Chronicles. Characters are upgraded by finding artifacts in dungeons. After defeating a boss and collecting your myrrh, you’ll be able to look at all the artifacts you collected from that area and select one to apply to your character. The options can be anything from increasing your command list by one slot, adding another heart to your life bar, or giving you strength and magic bonuses. There are even rings that can give you access to a particular spell all the time.
If playing in multiplayer, an order will be determined based off of special objectives you’re given at the start of the dungeon. Whoever does the best job at their goal will be first in line for selecting an artifact. After that player picks one, it becomes locked out and other players are unable to obtain it. This could create a level of frustration when playing with random people on the internet, as your given bonus goal will likely differ from other members of your group, which could make it easier or harder to rack up the most points depending on what it is. There’s also a timer here, so if you don’t select your artifact quickly enough, it locks you out altogether and you get nothing.
Speaking of getting nothing, I’ll use that as a transition into what is probably the biggest problem with this game. When playing with other people online, only the player acting as the game’s “host” will make story progress. This means that if you run through three different dungeons and fill your chalice up, only the person that hosted those games is going to actually progress into the next year. This also means that the next set of dungeons aren’t accessible to to the rest of the group.
Why a decision like this was made with a game that has such a strong focus on cross-platform multiplayer is beyond me. This decision doesn’t respect the time of the players and will no doubt cause players to quickly grow bored of the game since a full party of friends would have to run a single dungeon four times in order for everyone to progress together.
If the odd choice of progress isn’t enough to deter those interested in multiplayer, actually getting into a game with friends is also…not great. Since the game features no local multiplayer, you need to couch co-op while using your WiFi. You’ll also have to make a lobby/group for each new dungeon you want to play. I can excuse the gameplay itself feeling a bit outdated since the game is 17 years old. I am, however, quite surprised that the multiplayer feels as rough as it does.
During my time reviewing the game, I got together with another member of the site to test out the multiplayer only to be greeted with the following message:
Of course, they had no issues on their end, and so for an hour I tried various things in order to troubleshoot what this problem could be. Ultimately, I had no idea. I gave up. I ended up resorting to deleting my save data after several days with the game and started anew. After going through the opening, the online component magically worked. I still have no idea why it wasn’t working. Hopefully this isn’t something that many people encounter once the game is officially out.
After getting past the mysterious issues, we finally got into some online matches. Multiplayer in Crystal Chronicles requires a certain level of communication for attempting to fuse spells or even with trying to cure the group. Taking a game that was meant to be played in a room with three of your friends and moving it into an online space where that communication is no longer present will likely prove to be one of the game’s greater frustrations for those matching with random players online.
The one positive aspect of the game’s multiplayer component is that even if you don’t own the game, you can still play through most of the content as long as you’re connected to a host that purchased it. So if you pick up the game, and have friends that want to play, they can easily download the free versions of the game for any of the other platforms and play alongside you in up to thirteen dungeons.
While elements of the gameplay design will constantly be questionable with Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition, one that that I don’t believe anyone can deny is the charming aesthetic of the game. While yes, the game certainly isn’t up to today’s graphical standards, it looks pretty good for a 17 year old game, likely due in large part to its art style.
The Remastered Edition, also features voice overs in several cutscenes now, though the performances aren’t terribly noteworthy.
The game’s soundtrack, composed by Kumi Tanioka, is as great as it was when the game first came out. In fact, there’s also new music here by her as well, which is sure to be a treat for those that have come to enjoy the music of the Crystal Chronicles games. For me, the music is probably one of, if not the best part of the game.
The Long Path
Originally, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition was set to arrive in January of this year. Unfortunately the game ended up being delayed as the team at Square Enix knew they needed more time to make this game the best that it could be.
The game that we ended up with is one that will sate the appetite of fans of the original, while also likely irritating the many that are interested in the multiplayer component. The online multiplayer feels very much tacked on and could have used more time to make the experience more friendly. Hopefully they’re able to make adjustments post-launch.
Ultimately, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is a game that, mechanically, shows its age, and even its newest features don’t feel quite as modernized as they probably should. By that rationale though, maybe the game will end up being exactly what you remember it as.
Review copy provided by Square Enix for the PlayStation 4. Screenshots taken by reviewer and provided by Square Enix. Featured Image courtesy of Square Enix.