No, YOU Carry the Bucket!
After over a decade of silence, Square has returned to Nintendo with what is easily the most highly debated game for the GameCube as of late. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles takes a stab at something new and people are either loving it or screaming bloody murder about it. The concept is a multi-player RPG experience where each player uses their Game Boy Advance as a controller. The GBA doubles as a menu screen so you never have to pause the action. The GBA screen has everything from your inventory to maps. Another feature is that in multiplayer, each player receives exclusive information about the level you are all on, so you are constantly cooperating verbally as well as on screen. If you have a few friends available who own GBA's, this is the game for you. If you don't have a GBA and don't know anyone who does, go play something else, and stop complaining about needing to pay $500 to play this game. It wasn't meant for you. If you come into this game looking for a Final Fantasy game, you'll be disappointed, but don't let that get you down. This isn't your traditional Final Fantasy game of an epic story; it's an incredible game in its own way.
The beginning of the game has you create a character who can be from any of four different caravans (families) and can also customize their look to a certain extent (male/female, clothing, etc). You also choose what your family's trade skill is. This becomes important throughout the game because you can collect items related to that skill and send home to your family, and in return they send you letters with rewards inside. The basic plot of the game is that the world is covered a poisonous substance called Miasma. The only thing that protects the people of this world from the miasma are the giant crystals in each village. The trick is that the crystals must be 'recharged' once a year with a liquid called Myrrh. The myrrh comes from trees in the wilderness and each tree only secretes a very small amount. Of course there are tons of monsters between you and these trees, so you and your crew set out on an adventure with a bucket. This bucket of myrrh protects you from the miasma as you adventure. By doing so, it creates a circular forcefield of sorts that takes up most of the screen and forces your caravan to stick together. This may seem like a burden of limitations at first but it really helps the overall cooperative aspect of the game.
Nothing short of spectacular. Anyone who doesn't believe the GameCube can excel graphically, just take a look at this game. The spell effects are incredible and everything moves so fluidly. The characters, although a bit strange, all have their own unique style and the environments are bright and colorful. This isn't a dark dungeon crawl like Baldur's Gate. Seeing your own reflection in not only the water, but in other objects like crystals is pretty damn cool. Gamecube developers should take note, and it's a testament to Square Enix for pulling this off on their first attempt at a Gamecube game.
Unlike any other Final Fantasy game you've played, Crystal Chronicles takes a hack-n-slash approach to gameplay. You use 'A' for your main actions, and L & R to switch your fighting style between Attack, Defend, and your different Spells. You can see which mode every player is in by looking at their character's corner of the screen. While it is a hack-n-slash type fighting engine, it's definitely not a button masher. Even with basic melee attacks you have to time your button presses to successfully land combos. This takes some getting used to, but not long. By holding down A for a given amount of time you can charge up for a "Focus Attack." For melee, this usually means some type of jumping attack, but this is also how you cast spells. By hitting R to switch to a spell like Fire, you hold down A til a target ring shows up, then you can move the ring with your D-Pad to the victim and let go...boom, he's on fire. Simple, yes, and perfect for pick up and play with friends, but also complex in the way you need to time your attacks with your friends.
You won't get the huge epic soundtrack that you may be used to in Final Fantasy games, but again...this isn't your traditional FF game! The music fits the type of game CC is, and the sound effects are done well enough. The limitations of the small Gamecube disc come into play though, becuase there's no voice overs. Luckily though, there's not much dialogue and most of the game is focused on the action.
The game is rather simplistic in it's design, but it keeps you coming back for more. Once you've played through the whole thing once though, there's not going to be much keeping the disc in your Cube. It's main replay value comes from when you have people over, you can pop this in for a refreshing change of pace from your standard multiplayer games.
Single player...not much fun. Two to four player...a fuckin' riot! And since this game is blatantly intended for more than one player, I don't put much weight on the single player experience. Who's gonna be the goat and carry the bucket for your caravan? What's your gameplan on how you'll attack the appraoching boss? It's all about teamwork, and your voice will probably be more tired than your thumbs at the end of a session with Crystal Chronicles. You can create up to 38 different spell combinations by casting spells at the right time with your friends. If you thought Mario Kart was fun multiplayer, you may have a new favorite once you get your hands on this game.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the game's release ***