When I was a kid, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles was a GameCube title that always stood out to me. It was one of the few that really made use of the Gameboy Advance link cable and although I wasn’t overly familiar with the franchise at the time, I knew that the lore created for Crystal Chronicles was unlike anything the series had done before. With what little I played back then, I was never quite able to see for myself just how unique Crystal Chronicles was, especially with its restrictive gameplay methods. It’s for this reason that I’m grateful that I was able to play Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition to explore the game fully this time around, even if it was an underwhelming experience overall.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles originally released for the Nintendo GameCube back in 2004. Creating an adventurer, players form a caravan that is tasked with collecting myrrh, a magical dew found around the world that’s used to power crystals which protect the world’s settlements from a deadly miasma. In addition to enhanced graphics, the remastered edition features thirteen new dungeons to explore, added voice acting and new music. Players can also unlock and play as characters from the other Crystal Chronicles entries.
The story of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is designed to be more of a personal adventure. Players choose their character’s name, race, appearance and the name of the town they are from. Even with the additional appearance options added to the remastered edition, character creation still feels limited, with only four male and female pre-set appearances available to each the game’s four races. After setting out, the story unfolds as players travel, with their character recording diary entries that detail the world’s lore as they come across new characters, locations and events. The main plot is by no means bad, but because it’s mostly told in bite-sized pieces that don’t always link together well, it sometimes feels like an afterthought.
The updated visuals of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition help to bring the game to the modern generation, even if the flat textures reveal its true age. The music of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles suits its world perfectly, going for an old-time folk music vibe which you might expect from a travelling caravan. The addition of voice acting for the remastered edition does help bring Crystal Chronicles’ story cutscenes to life as best they can, but some of the voices, specifically the moogle that accompanies the player, can becoming a bit grating with constantly repeated voice lines.
On a surface level, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition plays like a typical action RPG, but its special mechanics and control scheme work to make it something a lot more unique. After creating a character and setting out for the first time, players will be able to visit areas spread out across the world map. The first and arguably most important mechanic involves the chalice. With the world covered in a deadly miasma, the only way for players to traverse safely throughout the game’s explorable zones is by carrying around a chalice with myrrh, granting them a small circle of safety. In single player, a moogle companion introduced at the start of the game can help to carry the chalice around, allowing players to focus on exploring and combat. While this functions really well early on, as stages become longer, players might find themselves at the mercy of their moogle as it gets tired, significantly slowing down. This forces players to either stop for the moogle to catch a break or to carry the chalice themselves, leaving them defenceless.
Combat in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is simple to a fault. Characters have a customizable loadout of actions that can be changed at the start of a stage. The first two are attack and defend options, while the others can be dedicated to items and magic spells that can only be found and used within the stage, disappearing afterwards. Using the attack command, players can perform a simple three-hit combo or a stronger focus attack which needs time to be charged and aimed. I was disappointed to learn that there was only one combo available across all four playable races and that there were no other usable skills beyond magic attacks. I was also confused as to why defending was a separate command as opposed to being assigned to another button on the controller. Magic attacks work similarly to focus attacks, needing time to be charged and aimed, but unlike most Final Fantasy titles, they can be used endlessly without any cost. When certain spells are paired together, they can be fused to create an entirely new spell. Though there isn’t much need for it, this mechanic does encourage a bit of experimentation to find out what spells can be created.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles’ RPG elements are far lighter than what the franchise is known for. Characters don’t gain experience and the kinds of loot that can be found are limited. In place of leveling up, players can find artifact, each offering a permanent boost such as increased strength or health. I found the concept interesting, but I would’ve preferred a slightly deeper system for character growth, especially with every other customization element already feeling limited. Players can also craft and purchase equipment, but because gear is locked by race, it never has any great impact on gameplay.
A heavily promoted feature of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is its multiplayer. Up to four people can set out together as a travelling caravan, collecting loot and taking down bosses together. A huge drawback of the original Crystal Chronicles was that multiplayer could only be done using a Gameboy Advance with a link cable in place of a traditional controller. This new version of the game tries to make multiplayer more accessible with the addition of online play, but it ends up almost doing more harm than good. Firstly, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition’s online mode comes at the cost of cutting out local play entirely. On top of that, playing with friends requires players to input a tediously long friend code each time they try to play with each other, and all players need to be at the same place on the world’s map. Another problem is that only the host can progress further in the story while playing, meaning other players are really only there to collect loot. Once the stage is complete, it can either be played again or the multiplayer session ends, forcing players to repeat the process for another stage. Though not as bad, the chalice issues found in the single player mode carry over to Crystal Chronicles’ multiplayer mode as well, though in a slightly different way. In multiplayer, the chalice carrying moogle is absent, meaning a player is forced to carry the chalice. It isn’t the worst thing but being put on chalice duty isn’t all that fun and it can be frustrating if someone else doesn’t do their job, slowing exploration down even more than the moogle ever could.
After playing Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition, I am a little confused as what this game is meant to be. Although its single player is somewhat decent, it isn’t deep enough that I’d choose it over the game’s multiplayer which the original was clearly designed for. At the same time however, the remastered edition does little to nothing to make me want to engage with its online multiplayer mode and just makes me wish they had stuck to local multiplayer instead. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition has left me feeling torn as a result. The foundation of a good dungeon crawler exists deep within it and had it been a more streamlined multiplayer experience that aimed to properly emulate what the original was trying to do, it could’ve been a fun game to play through with friends in spite of its other flaws. As it is, however, I can only really recommend this game to people with a good amount of nostalgia or patience.