|A Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles review||Author: Rahul Choudhury||Published: October 31, 2004|
For all the upheaval that was made over Crystal Chronicles' gameplay methodology (whether it was successful in crafting a useful application of connectivity remains irrelevant in this review), the title sports a surprisingly voluptuous world design and scenario. It's almost as if the game's strongest points were lost in the maelstrom of marketing terminology and expectations surrounding Square Enix' first title on a Nintendo system in nearly a decade.
In fact, this is exactly what Crystal Chronicles feels like. Back in 1993, the company was in the midst of creating a new kind of RPG for Nintendo's upcoming CD-ROM system - it was to be fresh, different, and standard-setting. But unfortunately for Squaresoft, Nintendo screwed itself out of the CD-ROM race and inadvertently gave birth to its largest competitor, Playstation. So Secret of Mana was pulled back a little and released for the Super NES after all. But you have to admit that its production values were astonishing; the soundtrack was more lively than even titles birthed after Mana's release, the storyline and world were lighthearted, yet emotional and rich, and the gameplay system took the simplest of concepts - a ring menu - and used it to its fullest advantage.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles could be the son of Secret of Mana. In a way, looking back to the first title in the Mana series is what this game is all about. This is a Mana game in everything but name (and the fact that the plot revolves around crystals, one of Final Fantasy's traditional signature elements, rather than Mana's tree and sword), but with evolved gameplay and the obvious developments in graphics and sound that comes with the Gamecube. Where Legend of Mana was a branch off towards simulation and maintenance, Crystal Chronicles is the next step in its gameplay.
But the title doesn't draw its inspirations from the Mana series alone. Much of the world design reeks of Final Fantasy IX and the accompanying "medieval" style Final Fantasy games. Its mannerisms lean strongly towards Final Fantasy Tactics, though there is no political intrigue or Matsuno-esque antihero here.
Time could be spent writing a poetic synopsis as a tribute to Crystal Chronicles' simple, yet effectively executed plot. Considering that many reviews before this one (reviews written as the game was released, rather than a year late) already piloted that plane into the floor, however, it seems that words would be better used in determining whether Crystal Chronicles is a title that has much else than what the media deemed it to contain. And as Square Enix-centric media, Square Haven seems an optimal place to do so.
Much of the basics about the world of Clavats (human generic), Lilties (warrior generic), Yukes (black mage generic) and Selkies (thief/monk generic) is explained in the first ten minutes of the game. What you're looking at is, as mentioned above, a cute little universe fashioned after the Mana series, influenced by JRR Tolkien's the Hobbit and Final Fantasy IX. As all things in Final Fantasy somehow revolve around crystals, so too do they revolve around an ubiquitous unnamed meteor that collided with the land aeons ago, shattering the mother crystal that brought harmony and peace to the world and causing widespread distress as well as bringing monsters (and moogles) to flood the world with a plot mechanic. Miasma appeared too, leading to your carrying a chalice around collecting drops of purifying facial lotion named Myrrh with your caravan and its company as your key motive for playing the game.
As a nod to Final Fantasy Tactics and other such strategy oriented titles, Crystal Chronicles' plot execution seems focused primarily around events you have little to no control over. The world map has you following paths from A to B, much like Tactics did, but in contrast with Tactics' random encounters that gave you no information and its story battles that did, Crystal Chronicles presents random encounters that build on the story and sometimes offer you a choice that no doubt influences the progression and development of your world somewhat. Indeed, our choices and ability to remember what path you followed in these minute activities will be called upon later in the game. Information can obviously be gathered from random townsfolk wandering around their villages, but other than that you're generally left to the implicit nature of the game's storytelling, which seems crafted in rubber - the developers' attempts to build a story that can stretch from singleplayer to multiplayer mode and shift perspective depending on what race you have and which players you've brought along (and how far through the game they are) is an effort worth mentioning.
Nevertheless, the story still serves well enough to keep you on the lookout for developments. Rumours of a Black Knight's presence in the countryside give you something to pursue, and the fact that random villagers have names turns out to be more important than you might have thought as you start receiving letters from some of those you help, or as one refers to another in a distant town. As you send items and money back and forth between your family and friends (via Mooglemail, straight out of Final Fantasy IX), you grow more and more attached to the family who seemed so strange and irrelevant when you first set out, with no backstory surrounding them and giving them context as is the norm in Final Fantasy titles. In fact, characters don't seem developed in that sense in this game, as everything depends on your character creation choices. It seems reminiscent of the techniques employed in massively multiplayer online titles, where your sole connection to your generic character lies in your own ability to make up a context. But each time you start a new year in your village, and especially once the plot advances and you find yourself the only exception to an unknown disease affecting everyone's memories, the familiarity grows and a sense of identity forms.
The eventual consistent growth of the world around you helps to keep you attached. It's not for everyone, mainly because through the evolution of the Final Fantasy series, gamers have become adjusted to a more direct approach to storytelling. But Kawazu's direction here inspires mainly because it's the only way you could really implement a mainstay story in a game where you never know how many players are playing. It has to be active enough to be involving, yet remain passive enough to take the backseat to the gameplay. And although the gameplay mechanic is deep and rewarding, it can still be summarised as something Secret of Mana was revolutionary enough to come up with a decade ago. Whether or not you're carrying a chalice to subvert the miasma's attempts at dissolving your party or fusing Magicite spells to create Holyra, the essence of what you're doing boils down to the same thing: teamwork in beating the bad guys and deciding who opens which chest to claim which treasure. The addition of subgoals per player could be seen as an attempt at bringing the forthcoming Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures' versus mode into Crystal Chronicles, but it's not even that important in the larger scheme of things. When you play Crystal Chronicles seriously, you're going to be exploring a dying world and finding a solution to its problems. Seeing each dungeon as a miniature quest in and of itself may be rewarding when you sit down for a quick round, but the ultimate reward is found when you find the world, its inhabitants, and its story coming together to form the final convincing setting, with traditional Final Fantasy style surrealistic boss designs and a supernatural swerve into a more progressive, nouveau fantasy reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts.
You probably ask yourself that if a game is designed to take advantage of something as wildly inconvenient as Nintendo's GBA/GC connectivity proposal, would it not be a waste of time to develop its world to the extent that it is believably immersive? That its world can be taken aside from the game itself and considered a fairytale alone? Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles may be experimental to all those who approach it as a game, but as you approach it as a Chronicle, you find yourself dutifully appraising a wholly different kind of experience. If the next Mana game is anything like this, you can consider yourself extremely lucky.
||"If the next Mana game is anything like this, you can consider yourself extremely lucky."|
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