Nostalgia can be a potent drug, often muddling our actual memories of an experience in favour of how it made us feel, and such a phenomenon positively fuels a large portion of the game industry. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is an excellent example of this. Players want to recapture that feeling of late-night sleepovers spent at a friend’s house; those halcyon days where games simply left more of an impression, and new releases such as this offer up the opportunity to take a trip down memory lane to those simpler times. Unfortunately, this journey also comes at the cost of potentially shattering that idealized memory you have. Frankly speaking, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition isn’t that great, and though this release certainly has its appeal, its flaws are also painfully apparent.
The story of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is a much simpler one than your standard Final Fantasy fare. Here, you create a character from one of four races and fill in a basic backstory for them before beginning the narrative. Your character hails from the humble village of Tipa, which exists in a land covered by an omnipresent poisonous gas called Miasma that came from a meteor that crashed about a millennium earlier. Each village in this world has a crystal at its centre which keeps the gas at bay, but the resilience of the crystals fades over time and needs to be replenished by collecting a substance called Myrrh from magical trees. Your character is the caravanner who’s been tasked with collecting the Myrrh for your village, which inevitably leads to you having to delve through several dungeons and overcome the challenges within to reach the trees.
For a Final Fantasy game, this plot setup is pretty thin, but it’s a forgivable shortcoming given the obviously heavy focus on multiplayer. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is meant to be played with at least a friend or two, and a deep, cutscene-heavy story like the mainline games feature would quickly bog down any co-op sessions.
Even given the lack of a meaningful narrative at the centre, there are still some fun side plot threads that unfold through secondary characters as you move through the world. For example, one early subplot involves a mysterious Black Knight who’s been mythologized in Lilty culture as a sort of anti-hero character. You hear about him a few times before encountering him yourself in a dramatic moment, and though the subplot doesn’t contribute anything meaningful to the core narrative, it’s things like this which act as nice flavour text for fleshing-out the world around you.
Gameplay drops the standard JRPG trappings of the core series in favour of an ARPG approach, in which you guide your character around a dungeon and whack away at anything that moves. The main hook here, however, is the fact that the dungeons are infested with miasma, and the only way to avoid this is by staying in a safe zone generated by a magical chalice your party has to carry around with you. Somebody must carry the chalice in order for you to progress, but it can be put down if you want an extra set of hands to help out in a fight.
The whole concept of the chalice can introduce some amusing mind games into the gameplay, as the holder retains sole authority over where the party goes. Does the chalice bearer want to go explore that obviously barren corner of the dungeon? Looks like you’re going along for the ride if you don’t want to die. Does the chalice bearer just want to sprint to the end of the dungeon without any focus on picking up goodies? Then so do you.
This fine balance between chaos and harmony forms the crux of the most fun that Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition has to offer, as the best moments emerge when the group is at odds with each other. Amusingly, matters can jump from peace to chaos at the drop of a hat. Case in point: magic spells are largely stripped away from you between dungeons, and you have to obtain them again by picking up orbs that randomly drop from enemies. Your party can be in total agreement about the pace and direction you’re taking through a dungeon, but as soon as a Cure orb drops from that bat you just killed, watch as the gang turns into a wake of vultures that desperately have to get the shiny thing first.
It’s clear that Square wants moments like this to emerge, too, as dropped items have their own physics and can easily be kicked away if you don’t press the grab button fast enough. A civilized and well-ordered group will offer the most effective means of beating a dungeon, then, but it often comes at the cost of the fun factor being drastically reduced.
See, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is a little too simplistic for its own good, and this can often considerably dampen the experience. For example, despite being an RPG, there’s no levelling to be seen here. Instead, you collect artefacts in dungeons that minimally bolster one of your three stats, and you’re allowed to keep one of them upon beating the boss.
Then there’s the combat system itself, which moves at a glacial pace and has very little depth. You have a shortlist of basic commands (such as attack, defend, magic, etc.) you can use, and you simply spam one of them until you or your enemy dies. Casting magic additionally takes extra time, as you have to charge the attack and move a reticle over your target before firing. There’s very little here in the way of strategizing, and fights often become more an exercise in patience than one of skill or interest.
It’s easy to see why this is the case, as the initial release was more aimed at children and those looking for a simple-to-pick-up co-op game. Thus, keeping a level playing field and offering easily accessible gameplay was necessary to ensure that everyone would be able to approach it. The tradeoff, however, is a release that doesn’t have a lot of staying power, even when playing in groups.
Sure, it’s fun to goof around with the chalice and bicker over item drops, but it only takes a few hours for the sense of repetition to take hold and kill one’s enjoyment. Lack of significant character progression means that you’re not too invested in playing for long amounts of time and a lack of gameplay diversity from dungeon to dungeon leads to them all taking on a sort of homogenous feeling. Such problems are only intensified, then, if you only play solo.
We feel it’s also important to address the elephant in the room, which is the utterly inane way in which co-op is handled for this co-op focused game. The original release is infamous for requiring participants to each have a Game Boy Advance and link cable, and this remaster is similarly odd in how it approaches multiplayer. Split-screen or same-screen multiplayer isn’t available, because reasons, and you can’t even do local wireless with another Switch nearby. If you want to play with a friend, they either need to have the (free) phone version which can play through most of the content, or you need to connect with them over Wi-Fi using a friend code system that, no joke, changes one of your codes every thirty minutes. Also, there’s no voice chat; you’re instead relegated to using an external app or a series of pre-made messages to communicate with a friend who isn’t nearby.
Now, online matchmaking and cross-platform play do all but guarantee you’ll always have someone to play with if you have a decent internet connection, but the fact that this comes at the cost of a convenient means of local multiplayer basically negates the benefits. It’s fine enough to play this with randoms online, but the real magic of the experience is only realized through having friends nearby to play it with you. Online multiplayer is a nice addition, yes, but not one that justifies the limitations it seemingly imposed on the development staff.
The weirdest thing about the needlessly convoluted multiplayer is that there’s nothing in the game design itself that necessitates each player having their own screen, other than perhaps the minor issue of making others wait while an inventory is open. Even this issue has been neatly sidestepped by other modern co-op games, however, which makes Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition feel downright antiquated for a newly released game. Sure, it’s simple enough to set up a co-op game once you figure it out, but the extra steps involved only serve to further discourage going through the trouble. Unless you and your friend(s) really want to play Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition, it’s much easier to pick from the cavalcade of other excellent co-op games for Switch which are much easier to just play.
Perhaps that’s the heart of the biggest problem with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition, which is simply that the game itself isn’t fun enough moment to moment to justify bothering with it. The mechanics and gameplay are so watered down that it’s a veritable bore to play at length when alone, and the hokiness of multiplayer coupled with the simplistic mechanics make it difficult to want to play over other, better games when you have a friend over.
Thus, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition occupies that weird middle ground of being damningly mediocre. It can be great fun to goof off with a friend or two, and it can – in short bursts – even be mildly entertaining when playing alone, but neither of these scenarios have enough staying power to engender a desire to keep coming back to play it again. It’s the sort of game you only play a handful of times before thinking “eh” and playing something else instead.
Those of you that are enamoured with the gameplay or are simply baited hard by the nostalgia will be pleased to learn that there is a fair amount of new content on offer. The headlining feature is that Square added thirteen late-game dungeons, which remix existing designs and throw in some extra powerful monsters and new gear types to incentivize taking the plunge. On top of this, new voice-overs have been recorded and the assets have received an overall HD facelift. By and large, this is mostly the same game that it’s been since seventeen years ago, but the new tweaks and additions do help to bring it more in line with modern releases.
There’s no mistaking Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition for a title developed today, as the geometry on models and the relatively flat environments betray that this release was developed for much humbler hardware than is standard in modern times. Even so, the new textures do a great job of adding in some nice details to the environments, and detailed shadows and lighting help to make each locale feel a little bit more real than before. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition will never stand as a graphical showcase of the Switch, then, but it executes its art style well enough to be satisfactory. Moreover, we never encountered any slowdown or performance issues either, although it would be worrisome if this somehow couldn’t handle the 30FPS target.
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