Final Fantasy, as a brand, has become interchangeable to whatever Square Enix needs it to be. It can be difficult to pinpoint when it began to go down this route. The franchise has had no identity longer than when it was defined. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is an excellent example of Square Enix taking their branding and sticking it on something where it didn’t belong. There may be a parallel universe where the concept of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles could have worked. With almost 20 years of hindsight, Square Enix still managed to bungle a remastering of one of their most mediocre games. Read my full review to find out why.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Nintendo Gamecube, Android, iOS, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: August 8, 2003 (Nintendo Gamecube), August 27, 2020
Crystal Chronicles‘ premise revolves around the world being covered in a deadly mist and the caravaners who travel from crystal to crystal to collect myrrh. The human-like Clavats, nimble Selkies, mystical Yukes, and hardy Lilties are the only races who can’t survive in the miasma.
The four races set out each year to fill a chalice with myrrh in order to sustain themselves and to keep the miasma at bay. This ties directly to the gameplay since regardless of the race you play as, the player character must go into the world with a little bit of myrrh to shield them from the harsh atmosphere.
Playing alone will have a moogle controlled by an A.I. to carry this myrrh chalice and keep the protection sphere tracking the player. Using the multiplayer mode is where things get complicated since regardless if you are playing Crystal Chronicles on a Gamecube or the Remastered Edition, Square Enix found a way to make things more convoluted than necessary.
In order to play Crystal Chronicles cooperatively on Gamecube, you would have to have link cables and Gameboy Advance consoles for every player. This was a cost prohibitive and cumbersome design choice, but anyone who did manage to acquire the necessary hardware would find a decent multiplayer experience.
On a Nintendo Switch, Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition completely drops local co-op for an online only experience. The exclusion of local multiplayer is depressing and inexcusable. Square Enix was able to salvage the disastrous Final Fantasy XIV, but can’t figure out how to implement both online and local co-op?
Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition was delayed for months. There was no huge graphical overhaul and 90% of the game is exactly the same as it was in 2003. Compared to most remasters, Crystal Chronicles is very restrained and is more often inferior to the original.
Crystal Chronicles missed an opportunity to improve on the original’s gameplay that involved equipping four abilities. One of the abilities that players can scroll through is always attack and the second is the race specific ability. Selkies get a dodge-roll and Clavats and Lilties can block with shields, and so on.
The problem with this system is that it is not possible to “unequip” the block ability. Since you can only use one of these action at a time, expect to “scroll” through your abilities through a very slow menu. Blocking and dodge-rolling should have been mapped to one of the many unused buttons.
You’ll find yourself never bothering to switch to blocking mode since you become vulnerable trying to scroll to the block ability. By the time you need to block, you will have either walked out of the enemy’s attack range or have gotten hit. This remaster was the opportunity to address the limitations of the controls and yet Square Enix has completely squandered it.
Some of the graphics have been tweaked or given slight upgrades. Overall, Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition has retained the visual aesthetic that made the original very charming. The models and textures are on par with what most mobile games strive for.
Outside of their differences in battling, Clavats and Selkies are both humanoid designs and are almost indistinguishable from each other. It is lazy to consider these two races separate when there is almost no noticeable characteristics that would differentiate them.
Costume design has that old world Final Fantasy flavor to it that has become the identity of the Crystal Chronicles spin-offs. It is a mixture of medieval fantasy that takes styles from the renaissance and a few celtic influences.
The newly added voice work was an obvious addition for the developers to add. Unfortunately, the casting choices are perplexing at best and utterly distracting at worst. Stiltzkin the moogle sounds like a bored guy in his 30s, and the male Lilties’ voices do not fit them at all.
The only voice performer who actually tries is Donna Burke, who does the intro level narration with a little bit of an accent. Aside from her setting the level’s mood with her narration, she also sings the lyrics to the two songs.
This is the lady who made Sins of the Father such a powerful song for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Burke is easily the greatest talent Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition has, and she delivers the goods as expected.
The online experience is frustrating. In a party of two, somebody has to be burdened with carrying the chalice which is never fun. Carrying this mug slows movement speed and disables attacking. Nobody wants to carry the chalice and the multiplayer experience only works when there is more than two.
The more players you try to add to a party can add several minutes of waiting around to find somebody to connect with. You might even complete an entire level in the time it takes to find somebody to join.
Worst of all, only the host makes any progress when completing stages. Anyone who joined, does not collect myrrh for the stage at all. This makes so much of the experience pointless, unless you are interested in grinding with friends.
Crystal Chronicles’ game loop is going to stages based on a yearly calendar and fighting monsters in small gauntlet style stages. There is a boss at the end and if the crystal in that level is in season, you get a bit of myrrh. Three drops of myrrh is required for the home village to prosper for the year.
The cycle restarts, but this time the stages where the myrrh was collected from the previous year will be dry. This is what forces players to choose carefully which stages they will play and remembering what element the border control will permit when crossing to other regions.
This mechanic is easily the one aspect of Crystal Chronicles that will demand the player do any kind of thinking. While traveling the world map, there will also be random cutscenes but so many of these are so meaningless that it is shocking that somebody got paid to put them in.
Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is rotten with long and frequent load times. Even when encountering a random cutscene in the world map, there will be a long load time just to see your avatar witness some people run by.
The original Crystal Chronicles on Gamecube did not have load times this long. Why does this more advanced port have such long load times anyway? Remasters are supposed to improve upon the original, not make the experience worse.
The core gameplay experience was a monotonous and slow hack and slash that demanded multiple replays through the same handful of stages. The remaster does not improve anything and is festooned with overpriced DLC that should have been in the already overpriced core game.
The extra content is not worth the trouble. The “new” dungeons and bosses are lay palette swaps and require an online connection to play. Compounded by the fact that they are also on a rotation schedule, the harder endgame content won’t be around forever when Square Enix inevitably closes the servers.
Enjoy fighting the same golem the last 10 times? Make way for the more obnoxious ice golem who uses the same exact character model. Not that anyone will bother to access it anyways since the difficulty is so high that it demands a full team, but that would require dealing with the convoluted online mode.
Crystal Chronicles is fundamentally broken in its current state. The overall package feels rough and unfinished for a remaster and patching in local co-op won’t fix the dull and boring gameplay or the anemic story.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a personal copy. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.