Sunday, September 6, 2020

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition (NSW, PS4) Review

SuperPhillip Central starts off this new month of reviews with a recently released remaster of a Nintendo GameCube game from 2004. It's Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition, and SPC has its in-depth review ready for you, looking at the home console versions of the game.

O keepers of the crystal...

I have fond memories of breaking out my indigo Nintendo GameCube, putting my copy of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles into the system's disc tray, hooking up four Game Boy Advances via link cables to my GameCube, and playing the game how it was meant to be played--with four players on one TV screen. Oh, wait a minute--no, I don't! Next to nobody I knew or had heard of had four friends with each of their own Game Boy Advances, with link cables, who also gave a Chocobo's feather about Final Fantasy, much less a spin-off. But, that's what Nintendo and Square Enix figured with Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles in 2004.

Now, sixteen years later and some change, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is back, but no longer is the multiplayer anywhere near as inaccessible as it was on the GameCube. With online play and a plethora of new features, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition brings the oft overlooked spin-off in the Final Fantasy series to more platforms and more people.

Random events such as this occasionally happen when wandering the world map
in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition.
The world of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is blanketed in a cover of deadly miasma and creating a horde of monsters in its wake. The only protection from the hazardous mist is that of giant crystals at special settlements. It is there that crystal caravans set out, one for each respective village and town, and bravely enter danger and monster-filled dungeons to collect drops of myrrh to fill their chalices. A full chalice brings a year's safety to a settlement from the wrath of the miasma.

Settlements like these are safe from the miasma's ill effects...
AND they serve as great places to buy, sell, and craft new equipment.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles puts you in the role of a custom created caravaner, given the duty of venturing into dungeons around the world and collecting drops of myrrh. Collecting three drops of myrrh results in the current year being complete and a resulting festival at your village being held. When a specific dungeon's myrrh is collected, it will be empty for two years, meaning that you can't just pillage the same dungeon to collect myrrh over and over again. Though you can return to a completed dungeon for treasure.

Dungeons in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition feature the aforementioned miasma blanketing the entirety of them. The sole sector of safety is the area around a crystal chalice that each caravan possesses and uses to fill with a drop of myrrh, earned from defeating a dungeon's boss. Go outside the field of protection that the crystal chalice provides from the miasma, and you'll find your character quickly succumbing to the harsh elements.

In solo play, Moogle generally serves as the carrier of the crystal chalice.
They will occasionally offer to help with spell fusions as well.
In solo mode, you get a partner Moogle to help carry the chalice, but obnoxiously, the Moogle will occasionally proclaim that they're tried from carrying it and move much more slowly. This results in either you taking on the role of carrying the chalice or taking a breather from moving around too much. Either way, it's a tedious aspect of the game. In multiplayer, depending on how many players are in the party--up to four--the role of the crystal chalice carrier can change often. When monsters appear, the chalice can easily be dropped so all players can engage with the enemy.

Speaking of combat, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles never had the most complex or deep battle system around, and this element stays true in the Remastered Edition. Some might call it slow, basic, and a bit plodding, but there's a slight level of charm and sophistication to it--and dare I say, simple satisfaction derived from it. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition utilizes a command ring, which you cycle commands via the shoulder buttons. There's a basic attack, and as you pick up Magicite from defeated monsters and from discovered treasure chests, magic spells that get added to your repertoire of commands. Attacking is as simple as hitting a button. Hitting it with the right timing can result in a three hit combo, which deals more damage than simply striking an enemy three times with a single blow.

That Goblin picked the wrong day to mess with my Clavat.
Stronger focus attacks and spells can be cast by holding the attack button, and moving an area of effect ring over to your desired position and then letting go of the button. While these obviously take more time to unleash (and can understandably leave your character vulnerable), they can dish out damage well and provide elemental-based pain too. In solo mode, you can fuse together magic on the command ring menu to create much more powerful and potent spells. Two Fire magic when fused will become the stronger Fira spell, for instance, while Raise and Thunder fused together make the undead wish they were just plain old dead with the Holy spell. Multiplayer requires teamwork and proper timing to fuse spells. When one player starts conjuring an area of effect spell, which causes a ring shape to appear on the ground, another player or series of players need to put rings on top of the first player's ring. With proper timing and a compatible spell, a spell fusion will take place.

Magic can be used by itself or fused together with devastating results.
Of course, enemies won't just stand there and take the world full of pain you wish to give them. They wish to reciprocate on their end. While you can defend against their strikes, I found it more useful just to run out of the way, as there is no designated "Defend" button. Instead, you have to cycle over in the command ring to the "Defend" action, which is highly inconvenient and cumbersome as all get out.

Enemies use their own attacks and myriad magical spells--some which can temporarily freeze, paralyze, or otherwise make you unable to move for a temporary period of time. My "Game Overs" were generally a result of me getting stunned over and over again, and taking damage in the process with no ability to move, even with shaking the analog stick furiously to more quickly come out of my character's stupor. Frustrating. Otherwise, my deaths simply resulted from being overwhelmed by too many monsters at once. Fortunately, the Remastered Edition of Crystal Chronicles features an auto-save function and makes "Game Overs" hardly end of the world-inducing. You simply can continue from the area of the dungeon you perished in, and pick up from there without much in the way of punishment.

Monsters don't fight fairly, so keep an eye on your health!
Dungeons in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition take place in a wide array of locations: from a forest of mushrooms and a cozy riverbed path, to a lived-in monster-sized mansion and a dried-up sluice. There are plenty of opportunities to go off the beaten path most of the time, and this will result in unique discoveries in the form of treasure chests containing items of value. At the end of each of the dozen or so dungeons in the game is a boss which stands between you and your much prized drop of myrrh for your chalice. These bosses aren't too strategic in their encounters--as you can usually just pummel them a bunch, then after you've taken enough damage, retreat to safety and heal--but they serve as a nice way to cap off all the exploration and battling of smaller monsters you do in the dungeons leading up to them.

Familiar Final Fantasy foes big and small stand in your party's path to collect drops of myrrh.
You don't level up or gain experience points from defeated bosses or monsters in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition like you would in a traditional action RPG. Instead, you acquire artifacts from treasure chests and from beaten bosses, which bestow effects like increased strength, defense and magic, as well as added health and slots to your command ring. While the artifacts you pick up in a playthrough of a dungeon count towards your stats, it's only temporary and for that dungeon. Once you actually beat the dungeon, you only get to choose one of your collected artifacts to keep for a permanent stat boost. You need to replay dungeons to collect more and more artifacts for your character to get stronger and stronger in the game. In addition to artifacts, you can acquire materials to craft equipment in the form of weapons and armor to further strengthen your characters. This is paramount for completing harder dungeons, such as the final dungeon, as well as beating more challenging versions of dungeons, including the all-new post-game dungeons. The latter features new enemy types, new boss variants, new artifacts to collect, new materials to build new equipment, and different aesthetics altogether.

Multiplayer is of course a major component to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. It was in the original, and it is now in the Remastered Edition. The original was incredibly inconceivable to realistically find four players with four Game Boy Advances and four link cables to have a full party with, so with the advent of online play in this remastered version of the game, it's much easier. Though, to be honest, it's not as enjoyable as I would have liked. For one, there is no local multiplayer to speak of, which is quite disappointing. The only option for multiplayer is online with players being able to host their own rooms, locked to only friends or with anyone, and where they can select which dungeon they wish to play. The other option is that they can join games via lobby or ones already in progress.

Online play features cross-play with owners of the Switch, PS4, and mobile versions of the game.
I do have gripes with how rooms work. For one, once a dungeon has been completed together, there is no option to change dungeons without disbanding the group. You can replay the dungeon, but you can't select a new dungeon to play. Secondly, there is no voice chat to "speak" of (see what I did there?), instead you have to use pre-made text inputs. You're also at the mercy of your party and the chalice holder in online games. If the person with the chalice wants to just storm to the finish of the level, they will do so, leaving you without much opportunity to scour and explore the dungeon for treasure and other goods. Additionally there are the issues of not being able to skip boss introductions online, Moogle mail segments, or myrrh tree ceremonies. The latter only allows the host to collect the drop of myrrh.

This particular screenshot shows all four character classes available in Final Fantasy
Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition, each with their own benefits and disadvantages.
With all of these issues, it might seem like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition's online play isn't that enjoyable. For me, it actually couldn't be anymore the opposite. There's something to be said about having an easier time running through dungeons as a group instead of the occasional tedium of slogging through them solo with nothing but a whiny Moogle. Furthermore, it's more fun to collect artifacts with other players, though you are essentially competing against each other, despite Crystal Chronicles being a co-operative game overall. There are bonus points that each player earns from doing a challenge specifically assigned to them. Many are easy like inflicting or taking damage, collecting items or money, etc., but some require defeating enemies a certain way. The player with the most bonus points at the end of a dungeon gets the first selection from the list of artifacts earned from the dungeon, followed by the player in second place, third place, and finally fourth place.

Like the "Remastered" part in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition would lead you to believe, this GameCube cult classic has received some upgrades since we last saw it almost two decades ago. Higher resolution characters and environments are featured, as is brand-new voice acting, mostly used in the absolutely pace-breaking caravan scenes that occur randomly and "more often than I wish to see" throughout the game. Some new and rearranged music tracks have been included, added to an already superb worldly and rustic soundtrack. Seriously, I can't say enough good things about Kumi Tanioka's compositions with the original Crystal Chronicles. All isn't well in this remaster, though, as I do regularly suffer through slow-down when I emerge from loading screens into different areas of dungeons. Other than that, performance is pretty solid.

A humongous giant versus a small Clavat. I'm liking the Clavat's chances here.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition is a better version of the 2004 GameCube original, though that didn't take TOO terribly much to accomplish. Multiplayer, while immensely imperfect (and perhaps that's putting it a bit nicely), is much easier to organize and find a party of four players to enjoy the game with. Even in solo play, there's a fine level of fun to be found. For action RPG veterans, the combat on display in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles will most likely be a bit too basic and boring, and for those new to the game, the structure might be too confusing to understand without some outside help. Still, for fans of the GameCube's only Final Fantasy game, there's a lot to like about Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition. Just don't expect it to totally live up to your decade-old nostalgia.

[SPC Says: B-]

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