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Blast From The Past: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles

When the name Final Fantasy is mentioned, many hark back to their memories of the Playstation series of games. Memories of Cloud, Squall and Zidane come flying back, whilst others will regale people with tales of Tidus and Vaan, however only some will remember the days when the series was at home on another console. For years Nintendo had the world famous series nestled in its arms, and when Squaresoft made the jump to Sony’s more promising console Nintendo was left out in the cold. It also seems that many forget the smaller offshoots that come with the Final Fantasy name. The Final Fantasy Tactics series is always looked over by many, despite it’s absolutely fantastic story and gameplay, and it seems that the Crystal Chronicles series of games is also forgotten.

Having spawned six games in the series, it all started with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles on the Nintendo Gamecube back in 2004. It was a large departure from the original tried and tested formula of the main series, but thanks to its appearances across the Gamecube, DS, Wii, it’s safe to say the Crystal Chronicles series is safely nestled back in the bosom of Nintendo. So what made Crystal Chronicles worthy of your attention? For the long time Final Fantasy fan, the name alone would be enough to draw you in, but what you would find is something completely different. It still had that FF flavour, but it delivered it in a completely different way.

Taking place in an unnamed world, at an unspecified time, Crystal Chronicles revolves around the adventures of a ‘Crystal Caravan’ and their journey to secure crystals for their home town each year. These crystals protect the land from the evil cloud of Miasma that poisons the land, without the protection they offer the people, the Miasma would envelop and destroy life completely. These caravans consist of four adventurers and travel deep into the world on a journey for the crystals, which usually dwell deep in dungeons populated by mean monsters. So far, so Final Fantasy, however where the game really begins to change is in exploration and combat.

The games restrictive nature of exploration, managed by flicking between places on the world map before entering for progression. The presence of Miasma on the land means that you are kept within the confines of a crystal chalice, which produces a small circle of safety for you to explore and fight within. It’s a very different way of doing things, but it’s implementation brought about a fresh new way to play. When in a team bigger than one, the crystal chalice needs to be held by one of the team members, this means that someone is out from fighting unless they put the chalice down, which means that the team wont be advancing forward. It really requires team work and trust to go up against the population of monsters, yet keep on pushing forward as whilst holding the chalice you are completely vulnerable. Playing alone however sees a Moogle keep you company and carry the chalice, meaning you can focus on combat completely.

Combat also took a different route this time around, going for the real-time action route. Each of the games four races could all perform the same actions, meaning that you weren’t ever in a situation where you were completely stuck, however each race is better at a certain aspect of combat than another. Physical combat is restricted to a three hit combo move or a more powerful charged up ‘Focus Attack’, whilst magic comes in the form of casting spells via ‘magicites’. Spells come in their absolute basic forms, and need to be combined to create the dizzying heights of the big spells. Square-Enix’s move to real-time combat may have seemed like a strange move, but when you throw in three other players it all makes sense. Turn based combat with three others would have drawn out each battle for an extremely long time, and thus would make scuffles with smaller enemies infinitely irritating for all involved. The real-time choice also works incredibly well for magic; when your team all cast the same spell in the same area it’s impact is increased, Fire becomes Fira or Firaga depending on how many are involved, mixing and matching spells in this way creates different variants that need to be used to beat many of the games bosses.

Most interestingly of all was how Square-Enix utilised the incredibly underused GBA to GC link abilities that the Gamecube had, annoyingly though it wasn’t perfect. Multiplayer could only be done via this method, meaning that to have a team of four adventurers, you’d need four GameBoy Advance consoles and four GBA link cables, easily costing you a small fortune. However once you get it all working, and have three other chums next to you, the game comes to life completely. The screen is uncluttered as all the information is displayed on your GBA screen, you can manage your spells, health, and items without disturbing your companions at all. The multiplayer also meant that choosing one of the four races had an actual impact on how your team perform; selecting the combat heavy Lilties means your magic isn’t as strong, yet having a Yuke will bolster your magic prowess and up your defences intensely. Clavats, being adapt in most situations, are the best for newcomers; whilst Selkies are speedy and so are great at rush attacks and quick skirmishes, a race that is balanced, yet made for a skilled player to enjoy.

Essentially Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles may not have been what everybody was expecting from a Final Fantasy title back on its home turf of Nintendo, but it did deliver a brilliant and tight experience that was a welcome breath of fresh air. Even now it’s a title thats worth a re-vist, or indeed a visit for the first time. Visually it’s spectacular, and even if the storyline is incredibly weak in respects to a Final Fantasy title, it’s gameplay is unwaveringly solid even now. It may need four people to get the most out of it, but it’s also the most accessible title in the franchise to date, and it all feels unmistakably Final Fantasy.

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