Name: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
Release Date (US): February 9th, 2004
Platform: GameCube
Score: 70
Beat: July 27th, 2020
Written: May 9th - 10th, 2021

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is the first entry in the Crystal Chronicles spinoff series and the first Square game to grace Nintendo consoles since Treasure Hunter G in 1996, or Super Mario RPG in the same year if we're talking exclusively North America. It follows the Tipa Caravan's chronicles as they gather myrrh for their village, Tipa. The myrrh is needed to replenish the village's crystal which keeps the miasma that covers the land from seeping into the village. Players make their own characters, picking from four tribes, Clavats, Lilties, Yukes, or Selkies, their gender, and their father's occupation from eight possibilities. It's a very unique game in that it's a pretty big departure from previous Final Fantasy games (at the time), featuring action combat instead of the ATB system that had become synonomous with Final Fantasy. The combat is... unique, to say the least, but I'll get to that in a bit. It also boasts a four-player simultaneous Co-Op with a huge bar for entry as each player must have their own GBA and link cable. That means to do a four person Co-Op, you need four GBAs and four link cables. And those weren't cheap in 2004. They aren't cheap now, either. The game is clearly designed for multiplayer, yet most people will probably only do single player due to the expensive requirements for multiplayer. Also of note, the score for the game is excellent. Kumi Tanioka did an amazing job with the soundtrack and Donna Burke did a fantastic job with the English version of Kaze no ne, Morning Sky. No other Crystal Chronicles games would be made until Ring of Fates in 2007 (JP), 2008 (US) and then Square Enix would go crazy with CC until The Crystal Bearers in 2009, which would be the last CC related game Square Enix made until the Remaster last year.

Visually and aurally, the game is great. As is not completely atypical of the time, there is no voice acting. But I think the lack of voice acting gives the game a certain feel that otherwise would not be there if there was any. I guess it makes the caravan feel more lonely, as the only time you encounter others is in towns or through chance encounters on the road. The graphics are halfway between realistic and totally cartoonish, but they look great. The environments are detailed, the character and enemy models look great too, the waterside areas are really amazing. The developers nailed water graphics in a time where that was no small feat. It helps that it's not totally realistic in the art style (which no Final Fantasy game would ever do... right? Right? RIGHT?) but regardless. The music is excellent, one of the best parts of the game. Right away, the player is treated to Morning Sky or Kaze no ne, depending on whether it's the English or Japanese version respectively. Personally, I think Morning Sky is better, but that could partially just be because I can understand English but not Japanese. The sad thing is, the Remaster, on top of being completely disappointing in other areas, also ruins Morning Sky. It was cool that Donna Burke returned to sing the song again, but it's just the way she does it for the Remaster's version, it sounds so... oversung. Like, there's way too much emphasis on certain beats, it's overall a lot more monotone, it's just not as good. I don't know how much of that was Burke or the directors, but either way, the final product isn't so good. Anyway, this is supposed to be a review for the original, not the Remaster. The world map theme is nice, but it's kinda repetitive. You're not really supposed to be idling on the world map anyway so it's not a big deal. The song in Tipa is nice, but some of the other town songs are much better. Departure, the song in (what will probably be the player's first dungeon,) River Belle Path is awesome. It's one of my favorite songs in the game, which is quite a statement considering the whole OST is great; Kumi Tanioka did a fabulous job. Give it a listen, if nothing else.

Where the game falters is the gameplay and conveyance of what to do to the player. First, I'll talk about the gameplay as that's a bit more straightforward. As mentioned before, Crystal Chronicles utilizes action combat. The problem is, there's exactly one button used for combat, three if you count L and R. A which executes the selected command from the list and L and R to switch between commands. This means that there's no dedicated physical attack button or defend button. You have to switch to defend everytime you want to defend, which can take way too much time when you get a few artifacts that expand the command list. By the time you finally select it, you've already taken damage and that's not accounting for the couple seconds it takes to get into guard position. You're better off just running away. I understand why it's like this: it's so that the game is playable without sacrificing anything using the GBA as a controller for multiplayer. It's not the worst control scheme ever, but it definitely takes getting used to. You can do a three-hit combo with your melee weapon, but each attack is so slow (at least for Clavats, I played as a Clavat) that if you do more than a single hit and maybe two, you'll get attacked by your target. It makes combat pretty slow and methodical. I never really used magic as Clavats excel at physical attacks, plus it just felt like that the enemy could easily run up and attack me in the time it'd take for me to select the spell, start to cast it, then move the cursor under a moving target. Though my reluctance to upgrade my magic stat did come back to bite me for the final boss fight, which leads me to the game's lack of conveyance about your overall goals in the game. The set up and most of the game would leave you to think the game is endless, but there is in fact an ending. You gather clues for something along the way thanks to a rather odd individual, but that along with parts of a story Roland, the Tipa elder, tells you each year before you depart are your only hints that there's something you need to do, which could help in passing through the mysterious ??? miasma stream. Beyond there is the last area of the game where the final dungeon and a PS1-style infodump lie. I'm not completely sure how to feel about this. On one hand, piecing everything together and unlocking the final area of the game would be super neat. On the other hand, if you can't because you happen to be unlucky enough to not get the events that give you the clues or you give up before you really start getting them because the gameplay loop seems as if it doesn't end, then it can make the game frustrating in a sense. One last gameplay aspect I want to talk about (other than the multiplayer) is the final boss. Every other boss in the game I could beat without too much difficulty. But the final boss fight in Mount Vellenge is insane. You either take several in game years to grind out really good artifacts that whether you even have a chance of getting them is total luck due to the wacko score system, the objective of which you can only see if you have a GBA attached to the GameCube! or, you be me and not want to do that and end up spending around three hours doing the actual dungeon part of Mount Vellenge, the fight against the Meteor Parasite, the Nest of Memories, Raem's first form, then his second form, all in one sitting, no saves. And if you lose (which I did, many times) then all that time wasted. At least the music for the Raem fights are is good.

Multiplayer is definitely the ideal way to play the game. It's not much of a caravan with one person, though you do get Mog to carry the crystal chalice for you in single player. In multiplayer, one of the players has to carry it. Which means that if you do two player, one of the players has to be on chalice duty. You can drop it, but having to constantly set it down for battle then pick it back up afterwards would probably get a bit annoying. Other than that, MP is better. You have more people to adventure with, more people to fight the monsters in the game, and therefore a higher damage output. It's this sort of thing that really makes me think that the final bosses were designed with multiplayer in mind as if you had four instead of one, it would go much faster, and Raem's HP would not seem so high then. Plus you have a somewhat limited (at least it felt kind of limited to me, but maybe it's because I'm used to JRPG infinite item void-spaces inside the protagonists pocket) inventory that could feel less constricting if four people were carrying things instead of one. Also worth mentioning is the features exclusive to having a linked GBA/multiplayer is a mini map, enemies indicated on said minimap, and as mentioned above, seeing what the scoring criteria is, which is important for getting the best artifacts in each level. For multiplayer it's fine because you just communicate these things but in single player it's annoying not being able to see a map. BUT it kinda plays up the exploration aspect of the game. It's still annoying from a game point of view though. If I ever play a satisfactory amount of the Remaster, I CANNOT WAIT to tear into the Remaster's gutting of the multiplayer.

Crystal Chronicles is a hard game to recommend. The action combat is slow and you have to be rather deliberate with your attacks or you'll get whacked, the multiplayer is out of reach of most people (and is not currently possible with emulation as the GBA via VBA-M to GameCube via Dolphin gets messed up, rendering the characters jittering wildly and unable to charge attacks, which means no magic,) it's very a very open ended game. I didn't even realize for a long time that Crystal Chronicles even had an ending. It wasn't until I started my playthrough in roughly 2016 as the Clavat Vincent of TipaÑÑÑÑÑ, who would go on to perish in River Belle Path and taught me a very important lesson about saving the game, that I found out the game has an ending and I'd known about it since childhood. After Vincent's death, I made a Clavat named Yuffie of Tahra, (can you tell I had recently played Final Fantasy VII?) who happened to have a little sister named Paulie. Paulie ended up being Yuffie's motivation to continue, to keep going year after year (not really, but Yuffie and Paulie sort of became "meme status" for my brother and I.) Yuffie's journey would end up stalling in Year 2 for about 4 years as I quickly lost interest in the game. Fast forward to 2020, with the impending release of the Remaster, I picked my playthrough back up (after finding out that for my brother and I to do Co-Op, we'd need to buy another GBA and link cable,) and charged through the rest of the game and for the most part, had a good time. There were frustrations, like getting lost in Rebena Te Ra and constantly missing where I was supposed to go for about 25 minutes, but it was pretty exciting to see new things and ascertain what exactly it was I had faint, slightly garbled memories of. How funny that a big theme of the game revolves around creating and keeping memories, and I couldn't even do that! To be fair to myself, before I started my playthrough in 2016, the last time I had really seen it was back when I was a little kid. No way was I going to clearly remember things after so long. I recently started Ring of Fates, which has been interesting. But that's for another time.

-Hat Kid

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