FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES - REMASTERED EDITION
By Mark "Demius" Bronneberg on September 1, 2020
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles remastered edition (FFCC) is a remaster of one of those niche spin-offs from a bigger games franchise. Everyone has probably played or heard something about one or more of the mainline Final Fantasy games. Square Enix is a big publisher and likes to show off their superiority by 'counting in Latin', so normally each mainline game has a follow-up number. In my book the best ones are VI and VII (I loved the recent FFVII Remake). But now let us take a look at FFCC. This is a game that originally released for the Nintendo GameCube back in 2003. I even found my own physical copy and I felt really nostalgic about it.
Back in the day, you needed four "game boy advance link cables" and four game boy advance handhelds to play this game co-op with four friends. I bought the game thinking I had enough friends to play with, but sadly I wasn't that popular back then (nowadays I have hordes of friends that stalk me each day to play online together). Therefore, I had to play the game solo, which wasn't a lot of fun and I never got to finish the game. I'm really excited to give the game another try on my PS4 (the game is also available on Nintendo Switch and mobile). The internet has evolved quite a bit, so it must be easier to play together now, right? No way they can mess this up, right?! Let's just say this review is going to be a roller coaster ride of disappointment, determination and a struggle to be the strongest caravan leader in the world.
The world and story of FFCC is not as big as mainline titles. There was a huge meteorite which ravaged the land and left a toxic miasma that covers the world like a blanket. Huge crystals keep the miasma in check, monsters can travel freely through it, but the people (there are four races) get hurt by the miasma. Every year a caravan embarks from each town to try and harvest drops of myrrh from trees to power up their town crystal for another year. You will set out from your hometown (which you can name yourself) and build a band of heroes (but only control one at a time) to guide your caravan.
The game starts up with a neat cutscene and a nice song, after this you create your character (each of the four races comes with their own types of equipment) and you start your journey. Once you leave your empty town (you need to build 8 characters each with a different family role to fill the town) you will end up in a 'Mario world' like overworld hub. You can travel over roads to points of interest, these being other towns, a harbor or one of 13 dungeons. This overworld is, as far as I'm concerned, my least favorite part of the game. The music is repetitive and got on my nerves, my caravan is slow and I got interrupted by cutscenes and little events that add almost nothing to the experience or story and only feel like they're there in order to slow you down and lengthen the experience. So yes, sadly, traversing the map really felt like a drag to me. Luckily, the actual gameplay and dungeon exploring is really fun. This is where the game really takes off with fun exploration, cool puzzles, challenging combat and cool boss battles.
I started my adventure with my trusty male Clavat (wielding a sword and shield), had a few random events and found a Moogle in a cave. For those unfamiliar with Final Fantasy creatures, Moogles are little hairy flying wombats that carry the chalice for you in dungeons if you don't have any real friends like me. And, apparently, it's fun to paint the Moogle. I had a certain online friend online who spend an entire evening paining her Moogle. Oh well, back to the game! So, I beat a dungeon, found some miasma, traveled through it until I reached the next area, found a town, and battled two more dungeon bosses. After the third dungeon my game suddenly went black, and a moment later, I was back in my hometown and there was this cutscene of everyone dancing. What the f is happening? Opening credits roll like in Star Wars, but it is just text which explains what I just said, that I started my journey, found some random caravan people, battled some dungeons etc. Why is this happening? Well, after the dancing and taunting was over, I found myself in my hometown again. Oh my god, don't tell me this means I have to go through the overworld map all over again to reach the point where I was when I bested that third dungeon? But yes, that's exactly what it meant. After beating three dungeons, your chalice is full and the game 'resets' back to your hometown.
When that happens, the game says that 'a year has passed', and so the next year for your
struggle caravan begins... After playing the game for 5 hours, and 3 in-game years it really felt like the slow pace of this repetitive overworld traversing has sucked the joy and life right out of me... I was ready to give up and stop playing this game entirely until my brother, Tom "Tombstone" Bronneberg (we received a second review code, thanks Square!) came online and asked if I wanted to test the co-op part of the game. So, I got back behind my PS4 and started up the game again. Hosting or joining a game felt easy, though the matchmaking feels a little awkward. Playing together with my bro added a lot of depth (fusing spells) and fun to the dungeon exploring. Of course, my brother had to pick a female Selkie so his first message to me was 'bouncing physics, whooohooo!". Oh well, boys will be boys... After this exciting co-op session, I decided to not let the overworld get to me. The next day I put music volume on 0 and put on my 'epic and melodic' playlist in Spotify. Playing and traveling through the game with your favorite music playing really made the experience a lot more enjoyable for me.
Now with that out of the way, let me explain some of the game's mechanics. The game is an action RPG. With L1 and R1 you can choose between your commands and pressing X activates a command. These commands being attack, defend or one of the open slots which you can attach items or spells to (you can find artifacts to get more command slots). In single player mode, you can add 2 Blizzard spells in 2 command slots to fuse them into the bigger Blizzara spell. Casting a spell or activating your weapons special attack requires you to hold X until a circle appears on the ground, you can move this and release X to activate the spell or ability. When playing co-op with up to four players you can combine circles to make bigger spells together (keep the circles aligned until you see a little moving arrow, release X once the arrow reaches the highlighted area for the fusing to take effect). You can also do really cool stuff like combining the Fire spell with a weapon special to create a Flamestrike attack. It is not possible to fuse spells in your inventory while playing co-op. Sadly, you can either attack or block when pressing X. To be honest, it kind of amazes me that they did not put block on R2 or L2. I mean, these modern consoles have way more buttons on their controllers than their predecessors ever did.
There is no level up system in this game, you do not have HP or MP. You have hearts like in the Legend of Zelda series and you can cast an unlimited number of spells (as long as you can find the spell orbs during dungeon exploring or have the corresponding artifact). During dungeon explorations you will find artifacts which reward you extra command slots, hearts, spells or additional defense, attack and magic stats. Your equipment can be enhanced by finding schematics during dungeon exploring, finding the right materials (or buying them at a store) and building the weapon or armor at a blacksmith. During the exploring you keep all the benefits from these artifacts. But after you beat the dungeon boss you are only allowed to keep one permanently and have to choose amongst the ones you found in that particular dungeon. This encourages you to play through a dungeon multiple times. You can only select the same artifact once, so you can't stack heart-artifacts from one dungeon.
When playing co-op everyone gets a starting challenge, like take physical damage, heal allies or attack monsters with spells. Completing these challenges earns you points, and the person with the highest points gets to choose an artifact first. The chosen artifact vanishes and the next player can choose amongst the remaining artifacts. This adds a bit of challenge and competition when playing together with random people. Important to note is that the miasma is always present in dungeon exploring. Your chalice is a tiny crystal which keeps you safe, but moving outside of its range will damage you until you die. If your character dies, you can revive with a phoenix down (if equipped in a command slot) or you can press continue to try the dungeon again. You have to move around the Chalice yourself in co-op or let your Moogle carry it for you in single player. The early dungeons are sweet and short, the later dungeons are huge and can become quite challenging. There is only a mini-map, so you really need to draw the bigger picture in your head.
Personally, I think that Boss battles are the best part of this game! They are always different and provide a good challenge. Another cool feature is that each dungeon is unique. And even though the game was originally developed for the Nintendo GameCube (Nintendo games at that time were considered to be 'kiddy' games), don't let the cute charm of this game distract you. Some of these dungeons had a really mature theme. Like Cida Village, the intro for this dungeon stated that the proud people waited for their caravan to arrive until the very last moment. They kept hope the caravan would make it in time, but eventually the caravan did not make it. The town crystal died and everyone in the town perished... Yeah, that really sounds like a story you'd tell in a kid's game...
So, let's do a small recap, I really didn't like the overworld, random events and 'year resets' but truly loved exploring dungeons and fighting bosses. So how good are the online components, is it better than connecting 4 Game Boy Advances with link cables for some couch co-op?! To be honest; while it is way better than it used to be, it is not as good as it could be. The developers seem to have left out some essential stuff. Couch co-op does not exist anymore, there is a scaling system which means your friends can only join a dungeon you host if they also reached that specific dungeon in their own game and, more importantly, the game is region locked. That means you can't play with people across the globe. Oh, come on, why can't I play with my American friends? It is 2020; there are no gaming borders anymore...
The graphics of the game are really cute. The game has charm, looks great in motion and runs great on a PS4 pro. Different towns and dungeons all have their unique setting and the game looks really good in HD. The bigger spells are flashy and the boss effects are cool. I think they did a good job remastering the graphics. The sounds on the other hand... while the sound effects are decent and fun, some of these songs are really annoying (if I hear that damn overworld tune one more time I'm going to throw my controller out of a window, aarghhh). They added voice acting, which is nice, but out of personal taste and nostalgic considerations I'd rather have the little grunts when they start talking than fully voiceovers. Sadly, the story didn't really stick with me, because I never found anything to be really memorable. Like the mysterious black knight or some jester that rips people off (he stole 1000 gil from me and when he ripped of some other folk right before my eyes for 5000 gil he didn't even pay me back).
Even though I found the year by year gameplay repetitive, each year that passed changed stuff on the map: a river dried up, a new dungeon appeared, things like that. These were nice little touches that made me come back to the game. After a while I saw a plunge in review scores on other review websites, and I thought: "come on, it isn't that bad!" I really enjoyed playing the game together with my brother and the few random people that were online (that will hopefully be better now the game has had its official release). The dungeon exploring was fun, dungeons are really original and especially the later dungeons provide some serious challenge. It is possible to play through the entire game solo, just keep in mind some treasure chests will stay inaccessible because some puzzles require teamwork and, well, your Moogle's only purpose is to complain about carrying the chalice too much and occasionally cast a spell which you can fuse with, but most of the times it won't be too helpful during battles. The ability to paint your Moogle does have its purpose, if you paint it blue, it should cast more Blizzard spells during battle. Good to know for returning fans is that there's additional late-game content. Now, this is something I'm not going to spoil for you, so try and discover it for yourselves. What is also nice to know is that the developers also released a lite version of the game on mobile and consoles. The lite version lets you play through the opening and first dungeons for free and if you play together with someone that owns the full game, 4 people can enjoy all the dungeons together. The additional (new) end-game content will not be available though.
My hope is that Square Enix catches up on the criticism and patches out some of the more annoying stuff like the multiplayer region lock. If they do, I will surely come back and play some more together with my USA friends. I believe they charge a fair price for this game at €30, which is on par with the content of the game. Don't go in expecting a full mainline Final Fantasy game or a quality remaster like FFVII remake. If you are an action RPG veteran, love to play co-op with your friends or loved the original game (or simply like to paint furry creatures...), there's really nothing wrong with buying this game a second time or explore the world of Crystal Chronicles for your first time.
FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES - REMASTERED EDITION
August 26, 2020