There’s a very high chance that my childhood is dead. And not just from age, as I firmly believe that anyone can retain their childlike sense of wonder and attitude for an infinite stretch of time. No, I have a sneaking suspicion that my childhood died a violent death at the hands of a cruel world. Part of this manifests when writing about video games, specifically games that I feel have in some way wronged me. Few other games have succeeded in doing that as much as Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles for the GameCube. What could it have possibly done to add to the bitter and resentful nature that inhabits my very being? Read on and find out as Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is today’s Bad Game That Should Have Been Great.
A little backstory is required here (as is usual), both for myself and for Square Enix as a company. First, we’ll deal with Squeenix. It didn’t used to be Squeenix. Before Squaresoft merged with its biggest competitor, Enix, it was the creator of some of the most amazing games ever to grace the Super Nintendo including Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG, and Final Fantasy III (really VI, we’ve been over this). The entirety of my contact with Squaresoft was through Mario RPG, so when a friend forced me to play Final Fantasy III on the SNES, telling me it would change my life, I was skeptical. That skepticism faded rather quickly, giving way to such a deep connection that I could in deed be hurt by plot twists meant to hurt the gamer’s emotional status.
Little did I know, all safe and snuggly with the knowledge that Squaresoft was responsible for some of the best games ever released on a Nintendo console, that Squaresoft and Nintendo had parted due to Final Fantasy VII, purely because the game made more sense being on a disc-based medium due to storage constraints. I stayed loyal to Nintendo, snagging a GameCube when the next console cycle hit, but in doing so I was aware that there was virtually no chance of seeing any good RPGs on the system, least of which from Squaresoft.
We’ve finally reached a point where the story reaches to Crystal Chronicles as one fateful day I read through my monthly issue of Nintendo Power and learned that Squaresoft, now Square Enix, would be releasing an RPG for the ‘Cube. But not just any RPG! A Final Fantasy RPG! Such elation would be rare for me, so with a key eye to every new detail, I was ready to purchase the game Day One. This is where the trouble begins.
Let me be clear before this article progresses any further, even though I’ll still inevitably get a hateful response somewhere down the road: Crystal Chronicles is not the worst game ever, nor do I even feel that it’s a particularly bad game. To be honest, after I gave it a second chance, it certainly grew on me. But it could and really should have been a lot better, based upon the various well-reasoned points I’m about to me. So let’s start the hate train with the most obvious fault: Multiplayer.
Multiplayer in an RPG is a wonderful concept, but it is hard to find an RPG that meshes with other players. Usually, this cannot be achieved with the standard turn-based RPGs as those involve too much micro-management to remain fun for all players. Real-time RPGs though, such as Secret of Mana or Tales of Symphonia, work fairly well to balance the need for constant engagement by all players at the same time. Crystal Chronicles was sold primarily as a multiplayer experience, hinging the majority of the design on the need for up to four players actively playing at once. And in theory, this should have been great. Except it wasn’t.
Everything fell apart due to a simple design flaw: Every player was required to connect a Game Boy Advance to the GameCube in order to play the game. While you could play in a single-player game with just a GameCube controller, multiplayer refused to give that option. The point of the GBA controller was to offer each player with more than just what was on the TV screen, with some players having a map displayed on their GBA, some having the conditions to unlock better rewards at the level’s completion, and stuff of that nature. Extraneous information meant to improve the teamwork, somehow, by enforcing the need for all players to share what they had at their disposal. Again, in theory this makes sense. In practice it just doesn’t work.
My main complaint rests with how rare it was for me to encounter friends that met three critical requirements to play Crystal Chronicles with me. Number one, I knew very few people with their own GBA. Number two, I know even fewer people who had a GBA/GameCube game link cable. Number three, I knew absolutely no one who had even the slightest interest in playing Crystal Chronicles for any sort of length of time, being it a one-day thing or until the game’s completion.
Simply having the option to use the GameCube controllers during multiplayer sessions, rather than the GBA game link mess, could have alleviated much of my stress. I could conceivably convince friends to give a random GameCube game of mine a try as long as it didn’t require an investment from them beyond time, but to ask them to have a GBA and the link cable, an item I think I’d used with a total of four games (Metroid Prime, The Wind Waker, Animal Crossing, and Crystal Chrinocles), was just not happening.
I did manage to persuade my cousin to try it out with me, just once, leading me to understand another aspect of the multiplayer: It isn’t meant for anything less than three people. Besides the frustration of my GBA being non-backlit and trying to play in a darkened room, and even besides the technical difficulties of the link cables getting disconnected frequently, what really ruined our good time was an even simpler design mistake: The Crystal Chalice.
I’ve got to explain the story of the game before things will make any sense from here on out, so let’s take a break and just listen to what’s framing the game itself. Crystal Chronicles takes place in a world covered in a poison called miasma, staved off only by special crystals. Each town has its own crystal, but said crystals are powered by myrrh, something that’s produced only by myrrh trees. To completely recharge a crystal for one year, three drops of myrrh are needed with each myrrh tree giving a single drop every three years. You collect the myrrh via your crystal chalice and once you fill it with three drops, you travel home and save your family and friends for another year. Should you fail in your mission to collect myrrh drops every year, your hometown will die. It’s a simple premise but within it comes huge, HUGE problems for gameplay, all because of the crystal chalice.
Since the world is covered by miasma, you will slowly die if you aren’t being protected by a crystal. Your hometown is free to roam about, as there is a giant crystal protecting all of it, but as you travel to different parts of the world your only protection is your crystal chalice. And that’s where the trouble begins as you have to carry that stupid chalice everywhere.
In a single player experience, a small flying Moogle will carry it for you, dragging it along. Sadly, this Moogle isn’t usually fast enough to keep up with you at a full sprint, meaning you’ll quickly outrun him. For some reason, to alleviate this annoyance, Squeenix decided to make the Moogle get fatigued if he’s made to carry the chalice for too long, meaning he’ll complain and ask you to carry the chalice so he can regain his stamina. If you don’t help him, he’ll lag way behind, leaving you to rush into the poison gas and slowly chip away your health.
However, in a multiplayer game, you don’t have a friendly Moogle helping you along. Rather, one of the people playing will need to carry the chalice for the party. The direct purpose of this seems to force players to stay in close proximity to each other, stopping a possible hang-up when playing with more than one person on a single screen. Still, it becomes incredibly frustrating to have to lug that stupid chalice around everywhere and ensures that there can be no swift dodging maneuvers. For example, if you have two characters and are fighting a boss, you’d assume the best strategy would be to drop the chalice between the two of you and fire off some magic attacks and bum-rush with everything you’ve got. But if the boss happens to be mobile, you’ll need to get moving fast, something that isn’t easily possible as it takes time to pick up the chalice and start running, hopefully coordinating between your partners the proper direction to run.
When my cousin and I tried playing we soon hit a massive roadblock that killed our enjoyment of the game. We’d been playing for a few hours and ran into no real difficulties beside the tedium of barring the chalice. Then we hit the mine level and made it to the level boss, a boss that moves around and leaves very little time open for attacking. It had downed my cousin, leaving me to run around and try to revive him in between avoiding attacks and dragging the chalice with me. I’d set the chalice down, try to revive my cousin, fail, and eventually have to give up as the boss was too swift in trying to kill me. But I couldn’t attack it as dropping the chalice, attacking, and picking up the chalice again took too much time, resulting in a severe hit from the boss. Eventually I just couldn’t do anything to avoid the attacks and died. We figured we’d be punished with a repeat of the boss fight or something. Nope, turns out death here is just like the usual Final Fantasy games: Back to your last save point, in this case all the way at the beginning of the game. We shut the game off and never tried playing as a team again.
Again, I actually really like Crystal Chronicles. The world is full of really interesting histories, the graphics are stunning, the music is amazingly beautiful, and playing levels over and over to grind up your character is strangely enjoyable. But Crystal Chronicles wasn’t built to be a single-player game, or at least it didn’t want to be. Its selling point was the multiplayer experience, an experience severely lacking due to logistics. Yes, it’s possible to assemble the proper group of people, a group that all have Game Boy
Advances, link cables, and a willingness to play, but it is not very likely that everyone, or even a majority of the gamers who bought the game for that matter, actually could assemble the needed parts to get the most of the game. I sure couldn’t. D & D is an activity a group of people need to give a lot of time and devotion to, but it’s not something just anyone can really get into because of that same required devotion. Crystal Chronicles is similar, but it didn’t have to be.
Two simple fixes and things would have been perfect. First, lose the GBA-only controls for multiplayer. Sure, keep the option, but don’t force it on everyone. Secondly, include a tireless Moogle in multiplayer, and send him to the single-player game as well if he gets the chance. Crystal Chronicles is a bad game because of the promises it made and failed to keep, something that’s almost worse than a bad game that never tried to fool you in the first place. I can see exactly how great the game could have been in the right circumstances, but instead it’s merely an oft-forgotten gem on the GameCube, a system that couldn’t afford for any games to be forgotten.
As usual, that’s just my opinion talking. You can disagree all you like and you won’t be wrong. If you loved Crystal Chronicles, every single aspect of it, regardless of the faults I saw, nothing says you didn’t enjoy every bit of the game. Like I said, I was disappointed with it but I still loved the hell out of it when I gave it a serious chance to prove itself. Enough out of me, did you love Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles? Or were you just as frustrated as I was? Leave a comment and let me know. Sadly, if I don’t get at least three comments within the year my village will die of a horrible poison. You wouldn’t want that, would you?
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