The original Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles on GameCube was a strange beast, a four-player multiplayer game designed entirely around a pricey gimmick that involved everyone buying Game Boy Advances and Link Cables to use them as controllers with a mini second-screen experience – a pretty early precursor to the Wii U. Did it add a lot to the experience playing a game this way? Not really, but I imagine it certainly added a lot to Square-Enix and Nintendo’s bank accounts, as Crystal Chronicles spun off into its own short-lived side series, fizzling out before the 2010’s. However, with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition bringing the original back onto PS4, Xbox One and Switch, and removing the whole GBA kerfuffle, is the series due for a revival in interest?
Crystal Chronicles was notable as the first FF game to appear on a Nintendo console in the decade since Final Fantasy VI, made by a Square-Enix shell company so as not to affect their deal for first-party exclusivity with PlayStation. I suppose in FF fashion it doesn’t share a lot with other games in the series, beyond some familiar creature and monster designs and the importance of crystals, as it features its own unique world and races and returns to the fantasy roots of something like Final Fantasy IX.
The world of Crystal Chronicles is flooded by miasma, you see, which is a poisonous gas that will drain your health and kill you if you step outside the protective ward of a crystal, usually found protecting towns. There’s also one on the chalice your party carries, a caravan sent out from your home town to collect myrrh from crystal trees around the world to replenish your town’s crystal. That’s the general premise of the entire game, as your caravan makes multiple journeys over several years to replenish your crystal, all while having little encounters with other travelers and towns and learning bits and pieces about the world, eventually discovering the source of the miasma and embarking on a quest to free the world from its influence.
It’s a very simple setup that is meant to allow for a bit of active role playing with a friendly group in front of a TV. In the GameCube original, you’d all create your own unique characters, then set off on adventures through various dungeons – never getting too far from each other given the small radius your crystal projects. One player gets lumped with the tedious duty of crystal carrier, while the rest protect them. It’s a somewhat clunky setup, but you can understand how it’s meant to get players working together and coming up with strategies – using their GBA screens to handle the somewhat clunky menus to handle commands. The way magic works is weird, but meant to promote co-operation by casting timed spells in the same area to fuse magic. Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition removes local multiplayer, opting instead for online-only, which is probably looking a bit of a mistake right now to Square-Enix.
The current unfortunate reality of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition is that we’re now getting close to a week from launch, and the online just doesn’t work in Australia/New Zealand. If you’re like Andrew, one of our editors, he can get far enough to create a lobby, but without being able to successfully do so. I can’t even activate the options for multiplayer or friends at all now. For a game which relies almost entirely on a multiplayer experience for any kind of enjoyment it’s a pretty shabby state of affairs. For those who have been able to play online in other countries, the reports back are that it’s been mishandled, apparently disbanding parties after every dungeon and only allowing the host of a session to benefit from any progress.
Which means, if you’re picking up Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition, you’ll almost certainly be playing it solo. This brings your party down to just one, and a moogle who’ll follow you around carrying your crystal for you, which is appreciated. It also reduces the experience down to a very simple action RPG, as you slowly chip away at enemy health on your own, fuse magic in menus rather than on the field, and accumulate artifacts that can be collected and used to strengthen your character. It’s fine, and its simplicity might make it attractive for younger audiences looking for a simpler Final Fantasy experience, but the nature of the game relies on repetition across the years – as each dungeon can be tackled several times to reach their true conclusion. It’s just all pretty tedious on your lonesome.
There are little spurts of character, as those you meet along the way have their own cute stories which play out over the course of the game. You can even ‘mimic’ some of these characters, with a new feature that lets you dispense with your player-created character and become an NPC you like – although most of these are only available through items available through microtransactions. If the atmosphere of the game appeals to you and you find the characters memorable, this may be an attractive option for you, and less of a cynical play to squeeze more cash out of a nearly two-decade old game.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition is a pretty dull game when played alone, which is the only way most people can play it right now. While it’s very probable the online issues will be fixed in the near future, the experience still won’t really match what the original was going for (successfully or unsuccessfully), drawing together a band of mates in the same room to work together to take on classic FF foes. Without some major updates, the online functionality (assuming it works) isn’t going to be able to realise or improve upon that original design, which is a little sad for those who do hold some nostalgia for this series and were looking forward to revisiting its world. There are better Final Fantasy remasters and remakes on all the platforms this is out on, and your time would be better spent with any of them.
-A cute world polished relatively nicely for modern consoles, complete with new voice acting -Simple mechanics make it an easy introduction into the world of Final Fantasy -Some lovely music
-What may have been a unique multiplayer concept on GameCube has been hobbled by the removal of local multiplayer -And the online multiplayer doesn't actually work yet -Dull, boring gameplay that relies on repetition of unmemorable dungeons -Pretty big selection of microtransactions on a near two-decade old game