Saturday, December 19, 2009

25 Days of Christmas - #7: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles

One of the most popular RPG series over the years has been Final Fantasy. From its humble beginnings as a last-ditch effort to revive a dying company, to its upcoming highly-anticipated and visually stunning thirteenth main game, the series has proved itself a force to be reckoned with. To accommodate to the changing times, the series had to go through many changes, and the more recent titles have shifted from turn-based to real-time battle. Final Fantasy has spawned numerous sub-series as well, including Final Fantasy: Tactics and Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles takes place in a world rebuilt after the fall of the Lilty empire. Due to the miasma that has engulfed the land, each city must send out a caravan on an annual basis to retrieve myrrh from trees in order to maintain the power of the city’s crystal. The four tribes, though they work together to fight off the imposing monster threat, have a very uneasy relationship and none of them get along well with one another. This makes an interesting dynamic as players interact with the characters in-game, hearing different stories of days long gone by. Much later in the game, the focus shifts to solving the mystery of everyone’s dwindling memories, turning the game towards a much more melancholy mood.

The world of Crystal Chronicles is vast and colorful. Each level breathes a different life into the gameplay, throwing its own respective horde of enemies at the player(s). Grunt soldiers will prove to be easy to defeat, but larger enemies will force players to be more conservative in their tactics. Players will also find themselves cycling back and forth through magic and weapon attacks when faced with a group of enemies. The art style remains consistent, but throws a different flair with each level. The towering fortress of Rebena te Ra is imposing and haunting with its signs of former glory. Mt. Kilanda and Lynari Desert throw some of the harshest environmental factors at players, and are both physically and mechanically removed from the levels of the mainland. River Belle Path and Veo lu Sluice exemplify the visual beauty of the world, while offering more puzzle-based gameplay. Tida offers a look into the darker and more depressing parts of the world, giving a glimpse of what could potentially occur if the caravan fails to return myrrh to their home village. Even the cities to which players travel to fill up on supplies are diverse and carry their own code of honor.

In regards to the magic available to players, there are more generic attacks such as fire, blizzard, and thunder. Cure and clear with aid party members during their trek through each level, and ease up on their dependency on food items. Combining different magic will create stronger spells that can include blunt attacks from fira and blizzara, and more specifically concentrated magic such as gravity.

Each tribe has different strengths and weaknesses. The Clavats are the most well-rounded and are best suited for newcomers to the series. Lilties are focused around physical defense and blacksmithing, constantly upgrading weapons and armor. Selkies are fast and agile, their physical attacks their strongest attribute. Yukes are probably the most challenging to master, as their strength lies almost solely in their abilities in casting magic.

Players are able to play through the game solo or as a party of up to four via the GBA-Gamecube link cable. Treading the levels solo will take players much longer, but will be accompanied by a moogle who carries the crystal chalice. In multiplayer, the party is no longer accompanied by a moogle. Each player’s menu shifts to the GBA screen, keeping the television screen free of clutter. Because of the lack of a moogle, however, multiplayer is best suited for a party of three or four, as two players becomes a bit of a hassle.

The control scheme is incredibly simplistic, but works wonders for the title. Everything is fluid, from combat to the menu system, to the upgrades following the completion of each level. The originality of every single level is exemplified through the beautiful art style, as well as what I consider to be the greatest video game soundtrack of all time. Though it may be quite far drawn from the traditional RPG style of other Final Fantasy titles, Crystal Chronicles sets itself aside as a genius game in the RPG genre.

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