Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition has been highly anticipated by that segment who has fond memories of grinding through the original, cooperating and competing for the good of the world. There was something special about each player having an extra, private screen on their Game Boy Advance, each with a piece of the puzzle necessary for surviving the dungeons and getting all the loot. It was a cross between an MMORPG and an action adventure game, with some very out-there mechanics that rewarded knowing other people who owned a GBA. Sadly, this Square Enix remaster is not the lovely stroll down memory lane we were hoping it was, and it somehow winds up being more cumbersome than ever.
Chronicling a legacy in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition
Overall, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is a pretty faithful remake of the original GameCube title. The world is hostile, with miasma infecting the air people breathe. Settlements form around giant crystals that keep the poison at bay, but they must be refreshed regularly with myrrh, a liquid produced by special trees. Caravans set out to collect myrrh, and the various towns get to know each other’s caravanners through the years.
It’s a game where players get together and raid dungeons to acquire more and more loot and get incremental upgrades to their stats. Additionally, to explore dungeons, the group needs to bring along the Crystal Chalice to keep the miasma at bay, limiting the space the party can take up in a stage and keeping the whole group from straying too far apart. Everything plays how I remembered it from back in the day, with timed combo spells, frantic boss battles, and a little competition to see who gets first pick of the stage’s artifacts.
The main gimmick of the original, however, was that each person was using a Game Boy Advance as a controller, and their individual screens displayed a bit of information that the other players did not have access to. Remastered Edition parties, meanwhile, can be formed among players over the internet, using a Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, or Android or iOS mobile device.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition’s lore, told mostly through stage introductions and road events, is surprisingly deep for those who want to delve into it. For example, one dungeon is a ghost town whose caravan never returned from its mission, and the residents perished as a result. There are tombstones and other reminders of adventurers who died in the miasma scattered throughout dungeons, and the atmosphere outside of towns is solemn and forlorn, despite its colorful art style. It’s a story about people living their lives in a harsh and cruel world and thriving despite it all.
The music is likewise fantastic. The Celtic beats and instruments in Kumi Tanioka‘s score remind me of Yasunori Mitsuda’s work on the Chrono series and Xenogears in all the best ways.
Bogged down in its own miasma
Playing Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition with fellow writer Steven Rollins, we were met with a rude awakening. Steven said it best: “The game could not be more inconvenient to play.”
Firstly, the online-only aspect sucks and introduces more problems than it solves. Secondly, getting into a lobby with friends is incredibly unintuitive, and there’s no way to learn how to do it within the game. Perhaps Square Enix will publish a guide explaining the process, but it took two professional video game journalists a solid 30 minutes to figure out how to play together over Discord’s voice chat.
Once you’re in the dungeon, you do have 30 pre-written messages to communicate with your team. This is nice, but there are times when you really need to get the timing of certain group spells down perfectly or not have everyone walking off on a different path. The fact that Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition players aren’t sharing a TV screen makes this difficult, and the lack of integrated voice chat (albeit probably difficult to implement) makes it all the more frustrating.
When you finish the dungeon, only the host gets myrrh for their Crystal Chalice. In fact, the host is the only one who gets to add the completed dungeon to their list, essentially advancing their game but no one else’s. Other players will get to keep their items and upgrades, but in order for a whole team to play through the game on their own console, everyone will have to play through each dungeon up to four times or go it solo, which is a sad and watered down experience.
There’s a Quick Play option that lets you join random people over the internet, but I couldn’t connect with more than one other person at any given time. Considering the lack of real communication, I probably wouldn’t want to play with more than that and won’t use that mode ever again.
There’s a “Lite” version of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition, essentially a demo containing the first three levels, but it also allows players who don’t own the full game to connect with someone who does for the rest of the dungeons. Lite version users will get to keep items and power-ups but will never be able to host or play past the beginning of the game by themselves.
This sounds great in theory. However, it’s marred by the fact that Lite players can actually only play the first 13 dungeons. This means they can’t play the final dungeon or see the ending, let alone the new post-game dungeons, unless they pay full price for it. There are a bevy of other issues I could go on about — not being able to merge towns or utilize other players’ shops, the balance being thrown off by everyone being allowed to get an item, the arcane “friend” list — but it all returns to the central problem of inconvenience.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is just riddled with bizarre design choices: Events that occur on the road (like someone warning you about a Black Knight) are random, and while they serve to flesh out the game’s world, their frequency can be obnoxious and grind the game to a halt. Also, upon completing a dungeon with a group, the host is given the option to play that dungeon again or to disband the party — if you want to play the next dungeon, you’ll have to start the process of hosting a raid all over again.
Sometimes the dialogue will pull a Kaepora Gaebora, highlighting “No” instead of “Yes,” but not all the time. In fact, there are a lot of obvious quality-of-life tweaks that weren’t implemented, which makes me wonder if the development team spent all its time on getting the online functionality and cross-play into a working state and nothing else.
You can’t go home again
In 2004, people built up their characters and their town as a group, gathered together under one roof, and garnered a sense of accomplishment with each boss defeated and each drop of myrrh gained. Despite its cross-play, online functionality, and overall focus on connecting with other players, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition often feels incredibly lonely. Whereas the original rewarded players for bringing friends, this version is frustrating and downright inconvenient if you want to enjoy it with others.
It’s sad because Crystal Chronicles is still a fun game with a deep story and interesting mechanics, one which I truly wanted to enjoy again. Perhaps when we can meet in person, my old party can hang out and play through a couple of raids. Maybe meeting in person really is the only way this game can be fun. As it is right now, with social distancing and self-quarantining being the norm in the United States, I can’t recommend this title.
Two review codes were provided by the publisher.