Thursday, April 16, 2009

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time (DS) Review

Capping off the trifecta of Final Fantasy reviews, here is an all-new review for everyone! It's Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time. This is perhaps the longest name for a game I've reviewed yet. Congratulations, Final Fantasy Crystal Chroni-- done. Too long to type again. Enjoy the review, all!

Crystal Blue Persuasion

Back to the days of the Super Nintendo, the Final Fantasy series was more than just the mainline games. There were the Legend and Adventure games for the original Game Boy. Into the Playstation One era, and there was Final Fantasy Tactics, Chocobo Dungeon, Chocobo Racing, and Ehrgeiz. Fast-forward to present day, and we seem to be drowning in spin-offs. Now we have another entry in another spin-off, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time. It may seem like Ring of Fates with online play, but are there echoes of something new?

Long ago the world was filled to the brim with luminescent crystals. In current times? Not so much. In fact, one of the only crystals left intact lies within a quaint little forest resting behind an even littler village. This particular village is home to a coming-of-age ceremony that takes places on every child's sixteenth birthday, and it just so happens that your character's birthday is the beginning of Echoes of Time's story. What follows is the link between this ceremony, the crystal, and a sinister fellow wanting the world for himself.

If you don't care for the story, most scenes
can be skipped at your leisure.

Unlike Ring of Fates, your hero isn't predetermined. You don't rename the main character like you did in the first DS Crystal Chronicles game. Instead, you choose your hero from one of four races. There's the sword-wielding Clavats, the magic-casting Yukes, the double-jumping Selkies, and the height-disadvantaged Lilties. Though much of the equipment and goods in Echoes of Time can be used by every race, there are clothing and equipment exclusive to each race. Weapons, armor, and accessories can be leveled up to boost their effectiveness, but each item has a maximum amount it can be upgraded. Additionally, gems can be attached to equipment giving bonuses from higher protection from fire to recovering more HP or MP from items picked up. A nifty feature included in Ring of Fates and included in the sequel, too, is that whatever you equip changes the appearance of your character. You can look as cool or as goofy as you like.

Welcome to the glorious town of... Town!

Echoes of Time retains much from its 2008 predecessor. The structure of the game is pretty much the same. Talk to a key person, open up a new location on the world map to explore, head to new location, beat up monsters, beat down bosses, talk to a new key person, and rinse and repeat. Echoes of Time has plenty of intriguing dungeons for feverish gamers to crawl through. Advancing to the next room or area may be as simple as defeating all enemies, or it can become much more complex such as pushing stone rocks onto buttons to keep them down, carrying a stray energy source to its home in order to energize a nearby door mechanism, dousing a spiral of fire that's blocking the path, freezing a pond of water in order to push a block across, or a plethora of even more complicated puzzles. Most assuredly, there's plenty of variety as well as times where you'll need to use both brain and brawn to proceed. Don't feel bad if you're just stuck without a clue on how to solve the puzzle in front of you. It can get that tricky.

Combat, while a stretch above hacking and slashing, is relatively unchanged from Ring of Fates. Mashing the attack button will get you somewhere nine times out of ten, but be warned that monsters and enemies can shield themselves from attacks. If you strike a foe who is guarded, you'll get dazed for a second or two, leaving yourself open. Many of the game's monsters as well as your own party members can be picked up and tossed away. It's hilarious bashing a monster repeated against a wall until it finally submits or picking up a dazed party member and moving them out of harm's way.

The Echoes of Time version of
that Sixteen Candles scene.

And what is a Final Fantasy game without magic? Magic is something that is readily available for any character no matter what level. Instead of learning new magic by gaining experience levels, all the magic spells in the game are yours for the casting-- if you can gather the cooperation to cast them. The original six spells, Fire, Thunder, Blizzard, Cure, Raise, and Clear, are easy enough to cast on your own. They require you to hold down the casting button as you move the spell circle towards where you want to unleash your spell. By combining two or more spell circles, you and/or your party can discharge a more powerful spell. For example, two Fire spell circles when cast summon the more devastating Fira flame spell. You can mix and match spells to see all of the different spell types that Echoes of Time has to offer.

Echoes of Time allows you to recruit party members and take up to four of them into battle. They can be very helpful-- freezing enemies still so you can slice and dice them to destructive fruition. Other times though, they can be unbelievably dimwitted-- falling into holes, healing themselves but never you, standing around not doing anything, not following you at all, and getting in your way. Let's touch on that last one. "Getting in your way." When you defeat an enemy, usually they will drop loot for you to pick up, be it, materials for new gear, money, or orbs to increase your magic power. It can get very vexing to try to pick up one of these dropped items and instead pick up one of your in-the-way party members. Not only that, but sometimes the item will drop onto the top of a party member's head, and while you're trying to retrieve it, that party member is moving away from you. Additionally, trying to solve delicate puzzles with three ADD AI party members is a puzzle in of itself. You'll be pushing a block to the left, and they'll be trying to push it the other. You'll try to drop an important item down, and it'll land on one of their heads instead of your intended destination. ...I don't know if you can hear that, but I just sighed right now. It's rather obvious that the same AI problems of Ring of Fates were overlooked for Echoes of Time's online multiplayer.

With friends or with the AI,
you don't have to go it alone.

It's true. Finally, a Final Fantasy game on DS has an in-depth online multiplayer mode that isn't sending painted Moogles to one another. Essentially online is the story mode, but instead of going it alone or with AI party members, you can have adventurers from around the world slay bombs, mus, and chimeras with you. You can opt to invite or join players. Invite has players joining you while you're playing. Story progress and character information is saved for you, but not for the invited players. Instead, they just keep their experience, loot, and items associated with their characters. Joining another game just places you in that player's party from wherever in the story mode they're at. You can't send custom messages with random gamers online-- you can only select from a series of pre-made comments like "What happened?" or "Heal me!" You can, however, add a player in your game on-the-fly without dealing with friend codes. Of course, both players must accept each other as friends, and then they can play with their own pre-made comments instead of the game's. Besides playing through the story mode, you can also compete against your human party or the clock in a series of increasingly difficult quests for bonus booty and rare items.

From the year difference between Ring of Fates and Echoes of Time, there really isn't a noticeable change in visuals. Everything looks great (I imagine it wouldn't look quite so nice on a larger screen), but there are problems with slowdown when there's a lot of action on the screen. Minimizing the amount of members in your party helps remedy this mostly, but for those who were expecting a flawless graphical experience with three other friends, you'll be disappointed. The full-motion video scenes are really nice to look at, and the voice work sounds pleasant save for a rotten line here and there. The soundtrack has a few memorable tunes, but it may be just from playing through the same areas again and again that they'll stick with you instead of actually being of a remarkable quality. The original Crystal Chronicles still reigns supreme by a wide margin in the music department.

There's eight secret characters available to recruit.
Each has their own way of unlocking them.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time is the first title in the series to feature online multiplayer, and that's really the selling point of the game. The adventure is still enjoyable even with wacky AI partners, and there's even plenty of replay value through a New Game+ feature, multiple difficulties with harder enemies and greater loot, and much fun to be had online. While it's not a big step for the series and while it looks and feels extremely similar to last year's Ring of Fates, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time's clarity is rather bright.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.25/10]

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