Shattered Crystal

Final Fantasy as a series blew up to become a phenomena during its first phase of the PlayStation era and gave more recognition to the genre as a whole. Previously synonymous with Nintendo consoles, it was fans playing almost exclusively Nintendo consoles wondering if they would get a main entry of the series. While players had to wait an extra generation, it was until 2003/2004 that Square Enix gave fans a taste of something new and fun on GameCube as an exclusive title and what would become a mainstay spin-off series for Nintendo hardware in the future. However, while it wasn’t the grand epic many had hoped it to be, it felt fresh and filled a niche, that at the time, was lacking. What wasn’t needing to be lacked were the extra peripherals, such as the GameBoy Advance and GameBoy Advance Link Cables, needed in order to get the most out of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Although it was a hassle, couch-multiplayer Final Fantasy with friends has its appeal. The feeling of these extra steps in order to play the way the game was meant to be played (though there was single player mode) vary, but Square Enix supporting Nintendo’s innovative ideas (at the time) should be commended as the idea itself could’ve been a huge failure to get behind.

Fast forward to 2020 and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition makes it was to various platforms and with new features to boot. And with that boot, FFCCRE takes a step backward in ways that made a title that was worthy of a remaster not get the improvements it truly needed. While online multiplayer is a new feature and definitely welcomed, its implementation is more obtrusive and archaic than it needs to be. The more damaging part is fans of the series who once dreamed the Nintendo Switch version of everyone kicking back and playing together on their own Nintendo Switch screens in handheld mode won’t come true. Local multiplayer simply doesn’t exist, due to “development reasons”, as Square Enix stated. This means you’ll need to have friends willing to playing with you online in a confusing lobby system, but yes, you could still technically be in each others presence running on the same connection. This review will focus on a solo experience (as no other gaming journalist was found for online play) and what this remaster needed most in terms of quality of life and general improvements to mechanics. Nothing drastic, just small things needed. Upfront, multiplayer is this game’s strongest point to play. But even with that mind, know what you’re getting into.

The premise of ‘Crystal Chronicles’ tells the story of individuals and/or groups of heroes set out in a beautiful land poisoned by the toxic miasma in the air, and their annual mission to revitalize special crystals that keeps the miasma at bay in order for everyone to be able to breathe freely and not be harmed. Crystals run out of power, so enough myrrh collected by special trees will be sufficient for a year’s time. Players begin in their coastal edge hometown of Tipa, though this name may be changed to your liking from the onset. This small village houses its own crystal and residents. Once a player character has been created, they are greeted with an introduction based on their choices along with their family also living in Tipa. The odd thing is Tipa is more populated and live in by how many characters you’ve created. There’s a reason for this, but it doesn’t suit solo players or even online play for that matter.

Players get to choose from one of four tribes to play as, being: Clavat, Lilty, Yuke, & Selkie. Each tribe offers their own proficiency brought from their unique styles. For instance, Clavats are well-rounded, good at basic physical attacks and use shields to defend, while Selkies can perform physical attacks from a distance and perform backflips as their defense instead. Lilties are small fierce warriors and Yukes handle magic best. All of them can perform physical attacks and use magic. Once you’ve chosen a tribe and its gender, you get to choose their Family Trade, which are character backgrounds that helps not only carry the type of narrative your character is, but aid your travels along the way as well. Players can choose between Blacksmith, Tailor, Farmer, Rancher, Miller, Fisher, Merchant, and Alchemist. Say for instance one chose Rancher as their Family Trade, then during your adventure your family may provide meat items when visiting home which can then be consumed to regain health, or they might send you something similar through Moogle Mail in a letter. Essentially, in order to get the most out of your hometown, you’ll need to create new characters in offline mode to get all the benefits. Yet, there’s no offline multiplayer. This is quite a task for something that doesn’t pay off too well.

The core gameplay is has a storytelling “trail” vibe. Players navigate on a world map to destinations. Locations to visit include scenic stops, towns for bartering (required for crafting new armor, weapons & accessories), and most importantly the variously themed dungeons. The themes of these dungeons are varied and unique enough from an aesthetic standpoint that they remain interesting. It’s no real looker today and the technical aspects show its age, but the artstyle is charming, especially when it comes to its characters. It’s what if Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy XI would look like if it had a baby, from the charming chibi characters to its approach of trying something different in everything else. Occasionally on closeups of textures, the lows are really noticeable, but from an overall design the remaster is crisp and cleaner allowing one to appreciate the artistic approach.

As you navigate the world map, you will also get random encounters. You might meet soliders who offer advice, you may even run into the same group of people repeatedly throughout your travel. You may learn a helpful tip as well as receive items. An issue that crops up repeatedly is how the game runs on a technical level and how it can seriously bog down your experience even in a short span. This game is loaded with… loading. Load times aren’t excruciatingly long by any means, but even if they’re 10-15 seconds, their frequency takes you out of the experience very quick. Random encounters and visiting locations are the meat & bones of the game and there’s plenty of teasing you for a bite just around the corner. Even navigating menus aren’t snappy when you wish to select something right away. There’s a bit of lag upon highlighting and moving between menu items. While the game looks like it should be able to do 60 frames per second, it runs at 30. This is fine for the most part. Really. However, there should be little reason to have dips in frame below 30. This is apparent during camera tilts. The game would much rather focus on your current location when moving around in locations.

Miasma being harmful, every caravanner set out to recover myrrh, the very essence able to push out miasma, carries with them a Crystal Chalice. This provides a safezone aura around them while adventuring. On the world map there are Miasma Streams that are tears in the world that only allow passage if a Crystal Chalice contains one of four myrrh elements that coincides with the element of the miasma (water, earth, wind, or fire). When passing through one of these, players will be able to explore more of the world map. One issue is how tedious it is to travel to a previous dungeon to change out the element in order to pass through one of the tears. This requires more backtracking and the occasional random events that pop up when you just needed to switch one element before traveling all the way back again. Luckily, switching them out can be done on the world map instead of playing through the dungeon again to get it. There’s also a ways to take transportation by ship for example, helping out later down the road, though it only mitigates some of the stress.

In multiplayer, once player can carry the Crystal Chalice of their free will and keep other party members safe. The fun back & forth of taking turns and working together is the experience Crystal Chronicles was made for. Players can even link up two magic attacks to create a more powerful version of one or create a new effect altogether. The simple mechanics allow for gameplay that’s easy to grasp, yet fun to master with friends. Syncing attacks is true teamwork. Healing a party member with the Cure spell because you’re the only who currently has the spell means you’re relied on when your friends need it most.

Attacks are performed by pressing the A button. Defending is performed by the A button. Using magic is performed by the A button. The only combo breaker is having a charge attack by holding….the A button for a short time. This also applies to magic except here magic requires the charge. Once charged, a cursor colored round cursor appears allowing you to direct it in a limited range around you. This allows the cooperation of fusing two or more spells together in multiplayer. When playing solo, players can fuse the spells themselves in the menu. For instance, Fire + Blizzard will create a Gravity spell, useful against aerial enemies. Combo attacks can be done by pressing Attack in time succession up to 3 times.

There is no character leveling and EXP. The only grind comes from what you earn through each dungeon. Magicite are spell orbs that drop from enemies or found in chests. They are obtained in each dungeon and only for that dungeon’s run. Once you’re out, you’re a clean slate again except all for your weapons/armor. And it’s worth grinding out the dungeons and seeking all the corners for chests and enemies as they drop the most important piece of item that contributes to you getting stronger: artifacts. Artifacts dropped by enemies or found in chests contain the rewards you want, be it a stat upgrade like Magic +3 or a legendary item recipe to craft in one of the towns. You’ll want to pick up as many of them as you can in each dungeon just so you have more to choose from, because you only get to choose one after each run. In multiplayer, the player with the most bonus points gets to choose first. Players can even choose to have extra slots to hold more items/magic at once or even find rings that provide a spell at all times without having to find one first in each run.

One quibble that comes up repeatedly is the number of slots available for spells fills up no matter what. This means there’s a lot of going in & out of menus to swap out one spell for another. One overlooked issue is that spell fusions takes place automatically upon selecting a spell. Say I have 2 slots available, one for Fire and one for Cure. I now want to swap out Cure for Blizzard and then get back into the action right away. Instead of having two slots for both Fire and Blizzard respectively, they automatically fuse into Gravity and take up both slots. While I’m able to split them (un-fuse) and be able to use both, they shouldn’t fuse unless I made that distinct call. Since swapping out spells will be frequent, the arduous process of constantly having to split spells that automatically fuse becomes a tedious process that should have been remedied. What’s more is a small bug even occurred even after splitting them. My next magic attack ended up being Gravity, although I had split them to just have two slots of Fire & Blizzard respectively.

If you’re playing solo, then someone’s gotta be responsible for carrying the Crystal Chalice for you, right? This is where the a Moogle named Mog remains by your side. Mog can carry and drop the Crystal Chalice at your command by pressing the X button at any time. Unfortunately, his speed to keep up with you will eventually reduce as he asks that you take a turn of carrying it for a while. He’ll always carry it if you choose not to, but the fact that he doesn’t want to keep up with you on top of all the other minor intrusions the game has to offer, means you can’t play at the pace you want to play. Furthermore, should you choose to carry the Crystal Chalice for a moment while he takes a break brings on hilarity since it can only be a few seconds later of him saying he’ll take over for you now. Sometimes you’re battling more than you need to or carrying an important piece to advance through the dungeon that it doesn’t seem logical from a gameplay point of view to have to drop everything at once in order for his sake. Like come on, buddy. Keep up with me when I’m the one doing all the heavy lifting.

Dungeons can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour if you truly want to clear it out and do everything. Playing solo is certainly more challenging, but not impossible. You just miss out on the important tactics. It’s just not ideal to toggle Defense to take a blow and toggle it back to Attack in order to land a blow yourself while enemy maneuvers and animation weren’t made for that clunky button combination on the fly. Ideally, in multiplayer you could have one party member solely use Defense in a situation to bait enemies and take them one while other players can do the offensive shenanigans. There’s simply no point in defending yourself while playing solo if there’s nobody else doing enemy damage. Quite simply it’s a mechanic that can be ignored. No roll dodge? Then it’s time to feel even more oldschool by relying on the good ol’ move-out-of-the-way strategy. It’s a setback in not that this game or any game requires a dodge ability, but to set all actions to one button in the first place. There could be fun in its simplicity, but quality of life and adjustments needed were overlooked as a single player experience. Still, there’s some scratch itching when it comes to just pure dungeon crawling and boss battles. Boss battles are some of the biggest highlights. You’ll definitely be able to choose some favorites. And you’ll be going through 14 differently themed dungeons, each one beginning with a narration that feels like your getting morels of lore along the way. If only the online multiplayer functioned well enough, this is a title worth checking out with friends that much I can say, alas I cannot speak on such matters. At least there’s crossplay between all platforms, including PlayStation 4 and iOS and Android mobile devices.

The game could be completed in under 30 hours. What’s as good as the artstyle itself is the music here. Kumi Tanioka provides a fantastical Celtic soundtrack that brings out some very cozy and magical sounds used from ancient instruments. There are new English recordings for songs, too. The opening cinematic song alone is very good. There’s new character voice overs, even if it’s substandard for the most part. Narration by Donna Burke is good, though, and feels appropriately cozy. One new feature is being able to “Mimic” unique NPC’s you’ve met, basically allowing you to disguise yourself as them and change your appearance. Though, this only works if they are your exact gender and exact tribe. Still, your handy diary that keeps log of all your events will keep them for any new character you’ve created. Logs kept in the Diary remain there and events are now able to be replayed.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is just one of those games from the era where you either have a good time with it or you just don't have a good time at all. For recurring players of the original who knows what they're getting into, they will likely enjoy it. However, they very well may end up disappointed as there is no offline multiplayer and online multiplayer seems convoluted and archaic probably not worth the hassle. Even if we had all the offline and online modes created as wonderfully smooth experiences, the core gameplay didn't get the quality of life improvements it very much needed to have. Check out what others have to say about it, maybe get some friends who are on board with playing, and it could provide a decent time worth the number of hassles.
The Stellar
  • Simple mechanics to grasp.
  • Beautifully done soundtrack.
  • Variety in themed dungeons with fun boss battles.
  • Best experience done with friends.
The Lesser
  • Lacking in much needed quality of life improvements.
  • Susceptible to technical issues.
  • Not optimal for single player experience.
  • No dream come true of local Switch multiplayer. No offline multiplayer at all.
Gameplay - 5
Visual - 7
Audio - 7.5
Value - 7

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