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Freelance: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Coverage - 11.09.03

It finally happened; Nintendo and Square-Enix come together once again to make a brand new Final Fantasy game. Square wanted to make a game for the Gameboy Advanced; Nintendo wanted a Final Fantasy on the Gamecube. After much deliberation, Final Fantasy fans get the great Final Fantasy Tactics, and Crystal Chronicles, slated to be released first quarter of 2004.
In Crystal Chronicles, the world is poisoned by a strange mist that covers all the land. If a person comes in contact with this mist it will poison them also and they will slowly die. The people of this world use crystals to drive the mist away, granting them a normal life. The Crystal’s power comes from a sort of magic liquid. You play as a member of a Crystal Caravan that searches for this magic water around the world.

This world is richly detailed with vibrant colors and fluid animation not before seen in a final fantasy game. Taking on the characteristics of the earlier Final Fantasy games, Crystal Chronicles uses the cutesy, childish way of character design. The Gamecube hardware proves itself with some of the best transparency, lighting, and water effects on any system. As usual in a Final Fantasy game, expect grand special effects during combat. The small spells look great, but the ones that cover the screen are nothing short of magic. Also with the other Final Fantasy games, expect great music and sound effects.

Square-Enix has made a few Final Fantasy games that did not follow the normal “orphan saves the world?theme, including Tactics and Mystic Quest. Like these games Crystal Chronicles goes in a totally different direction from the rest of the Final Fantasy series. Instead of a huge epic story, lots of cutscenes and CG movies, and old school RPG battles, Chronicles takes the direction of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and Phantasy Star Online: Multiplayer RPG hack-and-slash, putting good gameplay ahead of good story. This fact alone will make 50 percent of hardcore fans pass this game up. Those who still want to buy it, will reconsider after discovering that you cannot even play multiplayer unless every person playing has a GBA and a link cable. Square’s reasoning for this was that if you have four players playing, having everybody’s menu’s and stats on the screen would cause major problems, and this is very true, but Square’s way of repairing this problem is excluding about 40 percent of people who will actually consider playing this game.

At the beginning of the game you will create a character to play with, then head out into the very linear world. Connecting the different dungeons is an overhead map where you move your wagon by selecting a location. Occasionally when you move to do a different place on the map, you may encounter other caravans you may buy things from or get help from, or sometimes even bandits who will try to rob you. There are also towns where you can stop and sometimes mildly interact with other characters; mostly this interaction consists only of upgrading weapons and purchasing items and such. In a very mission based system, you travel from one dungeon to the next exploring the maze, defeating the boss, collecting the treasure, and then repeating the process at the next dungeon.
You will mainly be using the Gameboy Advanced for a controller, while you may use the Gamecube controller when playing single-player. When in a dungeon you can cycle through different attacks and abilities using the L and R button; then you press the A button to execute them. The B button is used to pick up items. You may have 6 different attacks and abilities to cycle through, although you may gain more as you level up. You can change these 6 abilties in the menu on your gameboy between battles. Your characters will not actually learn spells and abilities in this game, instead you will use items that you pick up off the ground to execute the ability. Some spells can also be used in conjunction with spells from other players for different effects.

One of the more unusual parts of this game is that in order to go through the poisonous mist, you must carry a bucket with a crystal in it to protect you. The crystal gives you a certain radius that you can go in before you start taking damage from the mist. You cannot attack while carrying the bucket so you must put it down when going into combat. Luckily towards the beginning of the game you meet a friendly Moogle who will accompany you on your adventures; he flies around behind you carrying the bucket for you. During multiplayer however, one unlucky soul must be the bucket-carrier. Communicating with the rest of your party is a key element of the game; you wouldn’t want to start heading off in the opposite direction of the bucket-carrier. Another way Square promotes team play is by giving you maps on the Gameboy. Only Player 1 gets a full map, the others get just icons telling where the other players are; this way, player 1 becomes sort of a team captain and must lead the way through the dungeon.

Over all, this game looks very promising for mainstream gamers, but hardcore Final Fantasy fans could come out disappointed due to lack of a great story. Expected to have 30+ hours of gameplay, this game looks to be the best cooperation multiplayer game to hit the market recently. The major drawback seen so far is the investment needed to play this game. Each person having to have a Gameboy Advanced and a link cable will not be a very good way to sell this game to the younger audience that it seems to be geared toward. The release date being pushed to February 2004 could be a sign that Square has changed its mind about forcing us to use the Gameboy as a controller; we can only hope. Keep an eye on Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles for the beginning of next year.

Writer: Loki

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