Experimentation can be a wonderful thing! Look at the Wii, for instance – that thing did plenty of stuff that no other game console had even thought of at the time, and it blazed the way for all manner of new concepts in gaming. Nintendo, one of the more go-their-own-way companies in the industry, loves to do this sort of thing for better or for worse. One great example is the symbiosis between the GameCube and the Game Boy Advance back in the day, since the two could connect and be used to play games.
Perhaps there was no better example of this than 2003’s four-player action-rpg Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, which is finally available on your non-GameCube systems to be played with your non-GBA controllers as Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition. How does it turn out to play this one in the modern era? Well…
The world’s in pretty bad shape! Really bad shape, actually, since most areas have been packed full of a poison gas called the Miasma. Spending too much time outside breathing the fart gas means you’re going to rapidly pass away. In order to survive, the sentient races of the world have banded together around purifying Crystals, giant stones that surround settlements with anti-Miasma energy. The problem is that this steadily corrupts the Crystals themselves, so they need to be cleansed – and that job falls to you and your pals, who comprise a Crystal Caravan that leaves the village and explores the world searching for the myrrh necessary to clean things up.
In order to ensure that your village doesn’t fall to the Miasma, you’re going to need to go on adventures to collect drops of myrrh, which you’ll then bring back to your village crystal to purify it and keep it working for another year. There’s a few issues with this, though. First, each myrrh tree only offers a single drop and you’re going to need several to fill your chalice. Also, said drops only show up every two years, meaning you’ll have to go further and further afield to find what you need. By the time you can return to earlier trees, the monster infestations there will have gotten worse, so you’ll have to steadily improve your own abilities and gear to stand a chance.
When you’re searching for myrrh, Crystal Chronicles plays out like a hyper-simplified take on an action-RPG. Your character can swing their weapon, charge up for special attacks, cast magic when they’ve collected magicite that drops from defeated enemies and…that’s pretty much it, really! While there’s four character classes to choose from, they largely boil down to which aspect of this you like the most; Clavats are balanced, Yukes are mages, Lilties are melee fighters and Selkies are nimble characters with ranged attacks. Ideally your party will have representatives of each, but it doesn’t make a huge difference.
Combat is straightforward hack-and-slash fare. You can spice things up with those special attacks and magic’s always an option since there’s no MP system. Once you’ve defeated each dungeon’s boss and obtained a myrrh drop from its tree, you’re able to upgrade your character; this involves choosing one of the artifacts you’ve found by exploring the dungeon to keep permanently. The original game placed a big focus on secret combat goals assigned to each player at the start of a mission to determine who got the first shot at these, which encouraged a bit of friendly competition, but the loss of the Game Boy Advance controller hurts that a little bit here even if the system is technically still present. Outside of this, you can collect recipes and materials to craft new gear and try to keep up with the monsters’ difficulty curve, but there’s no other character growth outside of gear and artifacts. You don’t even keep magicite between dungeons, so you’ll have to recollect all your spells each time you enter a new area.
The other goofy aspect of things is that, well, somebody has to carry that Miasma-repelling Chalice. In single-player you’ve got a moogle pal to do it for you, but in multiplayer someone’s got to do the job which means they can’t contribute to battle without putting the thing down. Getting out of the Chalice’s protective range is a Bad Idea as you’ll rapidly lose health and expire, so this isn’t something you can ignore; what’s more, you’ll sometimes need to elementally charge the Chalice in order to get past obstacles, which tends to be more of an annoyance than anything. It’s a cute idea that ends up being a pain when you’ve got other people around.
This sort of simple gameplay actually works pretty well in a multiplayer setting. If everyone has only a select few actions that they can perform, but there’s four of you, that means there can be a fair amount of depth to the experience. This is especially true if you’ve got your whole party in the room with you using, say, some kind of handheld game console. Even the gameplay itself changes when you have others with you, since you can combine your magic spells to produce more powerful attacks. What’s more, FFCC’s metagame aspects, like the ability to choose your character’s family background in order to generate particular shops in your village, work especially well in a setting where you’ve got a full group of people together. The original game was known for being a fantastic time when you got everyone in the same room, provided them with GBAs and beverages and went at it.
What happens, then, when you do your level best to remove or simplify the multiplayer aspects of a game like this? Sure, you can play online, but that definitely misses the point of the original title to some degree. What’s more, if you’re playing with friends, everyone has their own story progress that isn’t affected by others. In the original, your characters traveled as a caravan from the same village, so everyone’s progress was affected by collecting myrrh, recipes and so on. That’s no longer the case and it makes for a pretty big disappointment.
You can also just run dungeons with random players if that’s what gets you going, but that ends up missing the point entirely – and it tends to be a pain in the butt because it means you’ll enter the dungeon without anyone to carry the Chalice, so you’re stuck doing it yourself until someone happens to pop up. Without the goofy trappings that defined it, Crystal Chronicles is just a mediocre action-RPG. To some extent you’re best off playing by yourself, which is when the game’s at its weakest.
From a presentation perspective, at least, this remaster of Crystal Chronicles turned out pretty well. The stylized look of the original game was never an issue to begin with, so bringing it into the modern era was a great choice. From a control and gameplay perspective there’s nothing to complain about as well; this all transfers over nicely to modern systems.
The problem is what doesn’t really transport over to modern systems, and that’s the spirit of fellowship that the original game was all about. Yes, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was probably all about selling more Game Boy Advance systems. To some degree, it was also about getting a bunch of friends together who already had GBAs, ordering a pizza and going to town on some monsters. It wasn’t ever the greatest RPG ever made, but it did something new. In the modern era of Parsec, remote play and streaming, well…doing something new is a little more difficult, and without any gameplay pizazz Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition falls a bit flat.