Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates (DS) Review

Leading up to tomorrow's Echoes of Time review, we have Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates, also for the Nintendo DS. How will it shape up to the online multiplayer sequel?

One Ring To Rule Them All?

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Square-Enix has made it clear that the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicle series of games is Nintendo-exclusive; the first of which premiered on the Gamecube. This title allowed the lucky twelve people who had buddies with Gameboy Advances to link up and play the engrossing multiplayer mode together. While it wasn't the type of Final Fantasy experience Nintendo fans were clamoring for, it was a rather solid title both alone and with friends. The second installment of the Crystal Chronicle namesake, Ring of Fates, has players wirelessly linking up their DSes together for multiplayer fun. Is Ring of Fates a step-up from the Gamecube original, or will this ring leave a green stain around your gaming finger?

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Someone left the toilet seat up.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates is a prequel to the very loose story of the Gamecube title. Ring of Fates has a much more expanded narrative than its predecessor. The royal kingdom of Rebena Te Ra (which is played through as a monster-filled labyrinth of ruins in the original Chronicles) is home to The Crystal Temple which houses the Great Crystal. This holy entity is the yin to the sinister red moon's yang in power. Lately, the balance of the two forces have shifted-- tipping towards the strength of the red moon and its "moontouched" followers. Foreboding rumors flood out from the Crystal Temple, the best crystal users of the city have vanished, and the king himself is suffering from an unknown decline in power. On the other side of the continent the situation isn't so bleak, two young twins Yuri and Chelinka live with their father in a small mountainside village. Unknown to them, however, they were born with a magic power that only the two of them share, and these two twins will soon be in for the fight of their lives. Playing as essentially a four year-old as the main character is certainly not appealing-- at least to me. The cast grows up a little bit, but you can't help feel separated from the characters which is a shame.

One of the greatest criticisms of Crystal Chronicles was the burden of having to carry around that damned chalice to and fro. This time around the world isn't polluted with miasma, so no chalice is needed. The chalice is dead! Long live freedom!

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The many faces of Ring of Fates.

Starting off in the game, you play as Yuri by his lonesome as you enter game's starting dungeon, but by the time you reach the climax of the game you'll have a party of four characters which you can change control of simply touching a character's icon on the bottom screen. The AI will then do its best to follow you around, but quite frankly the AI is really brain-dead: perpetually falling into holes, passively allowing monsters to slap them, and otherwise just making you constantly heal them for their stupidity. Regardless, Ring of Fates is very much a dungeon-crawler and a fun one at that even with the clumsy AI. You take on foes small and large from series staples like Mus, Bombs, and Sahagins to Behemoths, Ochus, and Zus. There's plenty of baddies to whack and slash at as well as treasures to obtain. These can house magicite-- the orbs that give characters the ability to perform spells like Fire and Ice-- gil-- the currency of the Final Fantasy series-- or even scrolls and materials. Scrolls are weapon, armor, or item inventions that are made from the various materials found in treasure chests or dropped by fallen monsters. A man in Rebena Te Ra sells armor and weaponry, but it's usually better to invent new items just the same. All equipment is displayed on your party in-game which is very cool. Nothing like seeing a boy dressed up in a frog costume kicking the ass of a behemoth.

Dungeons play out as most dungeon-crawlers operate. You go from room to room or area to area, defeating monsters, scoring loot, unlocking doors by either magic, stepping on a pressure plate, or tossing a stone tablet onto a switch, and facing the area's boss in a final showdown to further the story as well as gain a ton of treasure. These boss battles require you to attack a foe's weakpoint (usually for massive damage) to unleash the most suffering and HP loss to a boss. The first boss battle you face is a giant yellow scorpion. Your main goal is to leap onto its back and attack the glowing red crystal on its tail for the most effective way of bringing the ol' stinger down.

And there's much more to the combat in Ring of Fates than in Crystal Chronicles. You can obviously attack normally with the A button, but there's more options than that. Smaller monsters can be picked up, carried around, and slashed from beneath. You can grab onto flying foes and attack while you hang onto them. You can also leap onto of some monsters and attack from above. There's a variety of ways to defeat a monster, and you'll most likely need to utilize all of them if you want to survive.

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Work as a team to push that platform!

Then there's the game's magic system. Using magic does not consume MP-- there's simply no such thing as MP in Ring of Fates. Instead, you use up one of your orbs of magicite. So if you use a Fire magicite, you've used it up. Your means of gaining more magicite is by either picking them up from treasure chests or dropped goods from a monster or purchasing them at a shop in Rebena Te Ra. You can only carry so much also. At the beginning of the game you're stuck with only five of each of the main spells. However, you can purchase pouches with let you carry one more of a certain magicite. Magicite is used by selecting one from the touch screen menu and then holding the X button to initiate it. You then guide the ring of impact to the area you wish to unleash your magic. By stacking rings of the AI or other players you can unchain even stronger magic attacks such as Fira and Thundaga. While magic isn't useful for everything (this reviewer had more fun just hacking everything to death), for some bosses it's instrumental in defeating them.

Ring of Fates is a visually impressive title. There's a lot of great 3-D work from the sparse CG cutscenes to the enemy and character models. I really believe the models are twice as striking than they were in Final Fantasy III which is no small accomplishment. The game is sprinkled with wonderful effects like the detailed grass, rolling clouds, rain and thunderstorms, as well as rolling dust and snow. Things get dicey though when there's a lot going on in battle in multiplayer; things can slow down just a bit. Remarkably, there's very nice voice acting mixed into more than half of the major events in the game, and the music-- while not of the caliber of the original's score-- is quite good and gets you in the monster-mashing mood.

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Square-Enix knows how to get the most out of a platform.

After completing the main mode which took me just over ten hours, you have the option to play through the game all over again only this time the enemies are stronger, drop better loot, and you get to keep all your levels and inventory. There's also a secret dungeon that can only be unlocked after the first playthrough. Of course, the biggest draw here is multiplayer. Each player needs a DS and their own copy of the game, and then they can wirelessly scrounge the eight dungeons (harder versions from the single-player game) the game offers. Unfortunately, there's no online play for playing with folks from around the country or even the world. While there's good reason for this (lacking dedicated servers, loot-stealers, etc.), one can just hope that a sequel gives players the opportunity for this. Instead, you have a very much throwaway Moogle-trading mode which leads me to believe that this mode was only included so the game could have the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection logo on the box. Go figure that Square-Enix was sneaky (remembers the constant milking of Final Fantasy VII).... Never mind.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates is very much a fun and entertaining game-- even on single-player. With friends, it's even better. I've happily played through this game three times just to get the best equipment possible and have logged in over thirty hours total. Many problems of the Gamecube original have been fixed, but there's still room for correction. If you have friends wanting to get down with some dungeon-crawling action and they own a DS and a copy of this game, you folks will have a smashingly good time. If you're all by your lonesome, the story and consequent playthroughs will give you value for your money.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.0/10]

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