They say it’s never good to live in the past for too long. Nostalgia can be a powerful ally but also a frightful foe, helping you remember happier, perhaps easier times, but also preventing you from living in the here and now. I’m certainly as guilty as any for nostalgic trips down memory lane, especially when it comes to gaming. The Gamecube was my favourite console, and certainly the era I look back on with the most fondness; it was, after all, my childhood gaming platform and its library contains some of my most treasured gaming experiences, including that of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.
Way back in 2003, when the world was in a somewhat more stable situation, Crystal Chronicles represented my first entry into the Final Fantasy series, and despite its convoluted and expensive multiplayer system, I had a blast. Sadly, time hasn’t been as kind to the spin off entry as it has to other titles in the Gamecube’s library, resulting in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered feeling anything like a proper remastered version of the original.
Like the original, you take control of a young adventurer on a perilous journey across monster-filled landscapes seeking drops of myrrh to help replenish the power of the crystal that protects your home village from deadly miasma that now blankets the world following a devastating meteorite strike. Unlike traditional entries in the Final Fantasy series, the story in Crystal Chronicles is pretty basic, and ultimately plays out like a massive fetch quest. Before setting out, you can create up to eight characters to populate your home village from one of four unique races, each with their unique strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Clavants have high defence stats and are weak with magical spells, whereas the Yukes are magical masters but lack physical punch. Once you’ve created your caravan, you can choose one character at any one time to play as – you can switch out your playable character for another as often as needed during your journey – and their unique attributes will determine how you tackle the dungeons you need to conquer on your journey in order to obtain the vital drops of myrrh.
Despite the series’ RPG history, Crystal Chronicles doesn’t implement many traditional RPG elements, rather it blends dungeon crawling with action-adventure to create something unique. Rather than gaining traditional experience points, as you progress through dungeons, you’re able to pick up artefacts that temporarily boost skills such as magic, strength and defence, while others increase vital stats such as your heart capacity; at the end of each dungeon, you’re able to select one to keep permanently. You can also find recipes for new weapons, armour and magical spells that can be crafted at villages across the world assuming you have obtained the relevant materials. Once you’ve managed to gather three drops of myrrh, you’re returned to your home village where you’re given a hero’s welcome, before the process repeats itself again, with this process playing out in years. Completing three dungeons equates to a year in-game time, although it’s a little odd that the characters don’t seem to age, even when years start to reach double figures. The main story boasts around 14 dungeons to tackle, with an equal number of additional and more challenging new ones added once the mainline story is complete, but the dungeons are relatively easy to overcome with very little challenge. You can replay dungeons on a harder difficulty setting – and you’ll need to in order to progress – but I was left wanting more, and that goes doubly for the bosses. I loved their aesthetic, but bar a few late game entries that need some magical puzzle solving, most bosses just require you to hack and slash at them until their life bar depletes, which can often be a annoyingly-slow experience if you’ve not upgraded skills and weapons.
Despite multiplayer issues (more on that later), repetitive combat is perhaps one of the biggest issues holding the game back from being an enjoyable remaster. Back in 2003, Crystal Chronicles’ move from the series’ traditional turn-based battles to a more open hack-and-slash combat style was an enjoyable change of pace, but in today’s market, Square’s decision not to improve the gameplay makes for a dated, rather boring experience that makes long sessions a chore. Combat basically boils down to waiting for an enemy to attack, dodging said attack, launching an attack, and repeating until the enemy dies, and sadly this process is the same for bosses. You can mix up combat by utlising physical and magical attacks, but it’s baffling that Square Enix decided not to remaster combat to make it a more fluid, modern experience. That being said, the addition of an upgraded mini-map that allows you to see where enemies hide and where treasures are located makes traversing the dungeons easier, although the lack of a full dungeon map feels like a massive oversight.
Sadly, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered feels less like a remaster and more of a port with HD textures. Character models have definitely had an upgrade and still look pretty good today, whilst the varied dungeon landscapes are still a joy to behold, ranging from deep mushroom forests to lava-filled volcanoes. However, despite some excellent water and crystal visuals, the upgrades to the graphics aren’t enough to slap a remastered slogan on the title. In addition to better visuals, English voice acting has been added to some of the mainline dialogue, but it feels a little under-cooked, as if most actors are just reading from a script as opposed to immersing themselves in the characters.
Adding remastered to a title should indicate quality-of-life improvements have been made to the original to iron out gremlins from the past. A perfect example being loading screens, which are thankfully shorter or non-existent in modern games. Here however, they’re back in force and it’s absolutely ridiculous! Before and after every cutscene there’s a 10-15 second load screen, and when you consider cutscenes can pop up whilst you’re traversing the game map, and before entering and leaving dungeons and villages, the amount of time wasted staring at loading screens during the 10-15 hour journey through the story is simply unacceptable; surly Square could have removed or seriously reduced the load times for a remastered title releasing in 2020?
While Square’s decision to change very little of the original’s combat and gameplay mechanics leave the remastered very underwhelming, they thankfully left Kumi Tanioka’s gorgeous soundtrack relatively untouched. Bar the repetitive tunes that play each time you view the game map, the rest of the soundtrack still remains one of the best in gaming, with a few new tracks adding to overall rustic feel.
It’s hard to talk about Crystal Chronicles without talking about the multiplayer element, especially as it is a massive part of the title. Sadly, Square have managed to take the convoluted and expensive GBA and GBA link cable mess that plagued the Gamecube edition and make it worse. Teams of up to four players can take on dungeons together, with one person carrying the crystal chalice and the other three working together to take down enemies. In co-op, players can merge spells together, making them more powerful and even gain access to regions in dungeons that are co-op specific. When it all works, multiplayer is the most rewarding way to play Crystal Chronicles Remastered.
Sadly, in this version, Square has removed local multiplayer for “development reasons”, they’ve implemented region lock, so EU players can’t play with friends in Asia or North America, and to add insult to injury, unless you’re the host, your progress won’t be saved. What that means is that if four players want to progress the story at the same time, a dungeon has to be completed four times with each player taking on the role as the host. This is not only tiresome, it’s very infuriating due to connection dropouts, constant lag and general player burnout. What’s more, if you happen to have friends in your region, you’ll need their in-game friend code in order to team up, but friend codes only stay valid for 30 minutes, after which you’ll need a new one. The entire multiplayer aspect of the remaster is somehow worse than the original, and in its current state a real mess.
I remember falling in love with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles back in 2003, and even after all these years I enjoyed plaything through the story again with updated visuals and textures on my Switch. However, despite visual improvements, the combat and gameplay elements here are woefully outdated, and the multiplayer is an utter mess and is somehow worse than the original. If you’re going to slap a remastered title on your game, it should actually remaster all the game, and not just the visuals. Ultimately, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered isn’t going to appeal to new fans due to its outdated gameplay mechanics, while those who played the original may find their nostalgic memories aren’t quite as satisfying as they remember.
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