Straying from the numbered, turn-based entries of Final Fantasy in a few aspects; Crystal Chronicles is all about that hack ‘n’ slash, dungeon-crawling, mash-your-3-hit-combo to win formula. Don’t expect the riveting narrative and iconic character writing of the mainline franchise either, it’s more focused on the action and multiplayer couch co-op.
The journey begins by selecting a character and family trade from one of the 4 tribes, each having their own stat proficiencies and elements exclusive to them. Your party then progresses from dungeon-to-dungeon, kitting themselves out with the best equipment they can craft in towns around the map.
Crystal Chronicles’ Combat Style
During combat, you start off with the basic attack and defend options from your assigned actions, known as the Command List; comprised of the standard 3-hit combo and a charged, Focus Attack, which packs quite a punch. All Focus Attacks contain unique properties, depending on the character’s tribe and weapon in use as well.
Defending with Clavats and Lilties allows you to block certain attacks from the front, whilst Selkies can back-flip on the spot with invincibility frames. Yukes on the other hand, will stand in place and be completely invulnerable to damage! Definitely a stand-out winner there! That being said, you’re still better off dodging attacks with normal movement in the long run, as switching over to the ‘defend’ command in an intense match-up can be finicky as heck! I can’t tell you how many times I thought that I was defending when in reality I was still stuck on the ‘attack’ command – so many awkward times!
You can also allocate a variety of classic Final Fantasy spells like Cure, Life, Thunder and so forth to the command list. The best part is, your characters don’t have any MP limits or anything, so blast away!
But you will need to find a magicite ball of the desired spell in every, single dungeon to actually use them. This can be frustrating sometimes, especially if you can’t find the Cure magicite, as then you’ll be solely relying on items to keep your HP up. This issue is somewhat mitigated later down the track when you find Artifacts which allow you to permanently equip specific magic though.
Certain spells can also be combined for different effects too. For example, a pair of Fire spells together will achieve a stronger, wider radius version called Fira. Whilst adding a third instance, now titled Firaga, enhances it’s reach and strength even more. Alternatively, you can fuse various magic types (Blizzard and Thunder in this case), to create effect-based spells like Gravity. Gravity drags flying enemies to the ground temporarily and renders them seriously vulnerable to an onslaught.
In single-player, you can stop mid-battle and set magic combinations from the menu. But for multiplayer, it works a little bit different. Your team-mates have to stack their magic target rings and sync up the release timings together. The awesome part is, and I only found this out recently; with only 2 players, the last person to let go of their cast determines how strong the resulting magic will be. So for instance, if I release my Fire spell with a slight delay after the second person has let go of their’s, we could potentially unleash Firaga. Normally only being possible with 3 instances of Fire.
This mechanic is really fun to experiment and practise with as it’s great for taking out small fry; being an excellent incentive to use magic, since you can rip out some major damage, dependant on how precise your timing is – a very enticing feature! Speaking of timing, there’s an inherent flow and pattern recognition to combat. The 3-hit combo follows a particular rhythm to execute, and once you’ve figured out how most enemies move and attack, you’ll start to discern the most optimal time for spell-casting, whilst keeping yourself out of harm’s way.
With Focus Attacks as well, they can help a team-mate escape a potentially dangerous assault, cancelling out an enemy’s move through stun-lock. Or by using it to jump around and slice an incoming opponent, dealing hefty damage in the process.
Playing Crystal Chronicles in multiplayer mode is the centrepiece of the experience, and the game is so much fun to journey through with friends! There’s something so alluring about it that always draws me back. It might have something to do with the game’s feel and how the cooperative mechanics are, or maybe how you can just muck around; stealing item drops from team-mates or purposefully putting each other in harm’s way, outside of the crystal’s protection.
The chalice’s protection
What’s the crystal’s protection? I hear you ask. That would be the circular ring surrounding the party – allow me to explain it. Crystal Chronicles’ story involves a group of 1-4 young caravanners that journey out every year in search of Myrhh droplets, a rare liquid needed to revitalise their town’s crystal. In turn, they’re protected from a lethal, poisonous gas called miasma, running rampant throughout the land.
To shield themselves outside of towns and major landmarks, a crystal chalice containing trace amounts of Myrhh is carried by the group. Providing acceptable enough cover for them to freely move around.
Transitioning over to gameplay; everyone must stay inside the crystal’s circular perimeter, otherwise, your character will rapidly start losing health. In singleplayer, a Moogle will carry the chalice for you, but get ready for some constant complaining from said Moogle! “I’m tired, Kupo!” or “It’s too hot, Kupo!” will grind your gears pretty quickly!
Let’s be honest, the whole crystal chalice concept is obviously designed to keep everyone on screen. Therefore, it does a surprise me a little that they’ve kept it exactly the same for the Remastered Edition, as the following sequels of Crystal Chronicles actually have removed this aspect entirely, but I digress.
In multiplayer mode, the chalice-carrying Moogle is not around, so one party member must take up the mantle. You do move a touch slower with the chalice in hand, be warned, but it’s nothing too irritating. Deciding where to place it mid-battle is important too, since you’ll want as much space as possible to handle each encounter, and it does take a hot second to grab ‘n’ go. So knowing when to stop and fight a large group of monsters, or run, can be instrumental to your party’s survival.
To find drops of Myrrh for the chalice, caravanners must seek out Myrhh trees in dungeons, being guarded by the various monsters of the game. Although, the bosses and enemies themselves aren’t too difficult, apart from a few exceptions. Some enemies will need certain effect magics to weaken, like using Holy on Ghost-type opponents or Gravity for the flyers. Otherwise, they’ll take ages to defeat. But truth be told, it only gets tough when there’s a strong horde of enemies on screen, or if the party is under-levelled.
Presentation & Issues of Crystal Chronicles
When the party collects a drop of Myrrh after a boss battle, you’ll receive mail from family and associates, asking about your party’s progress and other related topics. Some people might even send items as well. And you can either respond positively or negatively to their letters or just flat-out ignore them altogether. They don’t provide much significance in terms of gaining rare items or influencing anything important, they’re more for establishing the ‘journey-like’ atmosphere and grounding the characters with raw, human connections.
Following the letter service, you’re presented with a tally of the party’s bonus points. At the start of each dungeon, each player is assigned an individual challenge like ‘defeat enemies with spell fusion’ or ‘inflict damage’, basically setting up the game’s competitive element. The oddly satisfying part is, the player who achieves the highest score gets first dibs on rare loot or an Artifact. The feeling’s amplified when there’s an ultra-valuable item on display.
These Artifacts can increase individual stats, extend your HP heart-bar and command slots or act as magicite rings, which allow you to permanently equip the offered magicite on your character – a much-appreciated gesture that admittedly, does make the game feel less threatening.
Now crafting items is a BIG part of Crystal Chronicles, since you can’t outright purchase new gear. Scrolls and materials can be found and traded throughout the game to upgrade your equipment, and it is relatively straightforward for sourcing the correct items. The problem comes later in the game when some pieces become excruciatingly difficult to find!
There’s literally no hints, no clues, no nothing on where you could possibly source them. Then, you’ll end up searching online for where they are and they still won’t show up after repeated efforts.
One point I’ve neglected to mention so far is how to move around the world map, but quite honestly, that’s because it’s a major nuisance. When you travel from region-to-region, the party has to pass through what’s called a miasma stream; essentially the caravan has to walk down a long hallway for a solid 30 seconds on each visit, whilst making sure you’ve installed the corresponding element from a nearby dungeon to proceed. The elements change annually after collecting 3 drops of Myrhh, which means you have to repeat certain dungeons you’ve already completed, in lieu of exploring new content – this is padding at it’s finest.
Also, as you’re progressing along the world map, your caravan will be stopped to watch obligatory event scenes that can’t be skipped – with varying levels of quality, mind you. Now I normally wouldn’t be all that bothered by the random, pop-up story stuff, but since they occur so often, sometimes 5 seconds apart, its charm starts to wear off really fast!
Optional content-wise, there definitely isn’t that much happening, and only a few of the side-quests are truly worth your time. Finding out how to start them and where to go next can be a tad confusing as well. Usually, because the task’s goal is not very obvious, or the instructions to solve them are too vague. A certain quest towards the end of the game will render you insane from how unclear it is.
One element that future entries in the series handled heaps better, was how Square-Enix implemented a more traditional levelling system. In Crystal Chronicles, there’s very little incentive besides loot to take down enemies, and you can run straight to the boss and receive the same Artifacts as someone who’d slain each monster. It downplays the need to engage in combat and feels less rewarding as a result. On more than one occasion, I’d just rush to grab the Cure magicite and bolt towards the finish line. Probably not what the developers had in mind for the players.
‘World music’ approach?
On a much more positive note, one part of this game that’s remembered quite fondly is the departure of Nobuo Uematsu’s grand, sweeping scores. In exchange of an eccentric, world music approach from Kumi Tanioka of Final Fantasy XI fame. What’s really interesting about Crystal Chronicles, is that she incorporated a whole selection of old-fashioned, medieval and renaissance instruments for a distinctly rustic feel, including the kazoo, lute and crumhorn – what even is that?
Tanioka wanted to try and merge a range of different cultures’ music; mixing Celtic instruments with the Gamelan ensemble tunes of Indonesia for example, as she felt that specific instruments shouldn’t be limited to only one geographical region. This unorthodox method of composing wasn’t just some technical music gimmick either, it led to the creation of some super unique tracks and melodies that have stuck with me for almost 20 years now. The theme for the water-inspired level, Veo Lu Sluice, called Promised Grace, encapsulates everything that’s awesome about the music.
New inclusions in Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition
So what’s being added into the Remastered Edition? Well, first of all, the game’s been upscaled to HD with updated textures that pop quite nicely.
Some minor visual updates consist of a revamped menu, pushing all the character UI information to the left, having the radar and bonus point challenges on the screen (instead of looking at your GBA), and a magic timer that helps you combine spells with your team-mates.
There’s a full English dub throughout the game and the characters will make voiced battle sounds, announcing which spells they’re going to be casting as well. The opening main theme song has been re-recorded but I’m honestly not too keen on the new vocals, as the original was sung a lot better to me.
From the start, you can select 1 of 40 avatar variations in total and you can also choose how their voice sounds. The new ‘Mimic’ feature allows you to copy the appearance of other caravanners you encounter on your journey too.
One aspect we’re really excited for is the high-difficulty dungeons. Unlocked after completing the main game, dungeon areas are reskinned, enemy encounters are more challenging and you may even be fighting two bosses at once on occasion – powerful new weapons are available to help though.
For multiplayer, local co-op isn’t accessible like in the original, it’s now solely online. Although the best part is that full cross-play support is available between PS4, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android, plus you can transfer save data between the platforms.
It seems like Square-Enix actively wants people to participate in the multiplayer this time, making it heaps more accessible compared to the original. Players only need a Playstation Plus subscription or Nintendo Switch Online account for the respective consoles. Even a Lite version is being offered where a whole party of 4 can demo the first 3 dungeons together! And if someone in your party purchases the full game, your whole squad can take on up to 13 of the dungeons! How good is that?
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is an awesome time with friends, and it’s where the heart of the game truly resides. There are a few hiccups that dampen the experience somewhat, and the story/characters are not the greatest by a long shot. But if you’re looking for a fun time-sink with friends and a hack ‘n’ slash, RPG experience, then you can’t really go wrong here.
Review by Anthony Culinas
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