Crystal Chronicles is an undeniably beautiful game. The characters, the locations and the dungeons are all beautifully designed and expertly rendered. For me, this game is all about the water, the way it sparkles and shimmers and ripples. Unfortunately, the beautiful graphics only emphasizes the fact there is something fundamentally lacking. This is a tale about why expectations can be a bad thing. Rant mode on.
I played Crystal Chronicles with my brother when it was first released. And I was really excited to play it again – particularly to unearth the mystery as to why younger me never finished the game. I remember getting to the last area and then just…not completing it.
Firstly, what does recommend this game is the storytelling is very unusual for an RPG: in this game you’re no one special, and there isn’t really a major antagonist (until the end!). Your characters are just collecting myrrh for your village so that it will be protected from the miasma covering the world. This was an innovative experiment, one which reminded me of MMOs in its placement of the player as an insignificant layman questing, passing other caravans and observing the world’s dramas great and small.
It was also a drawback. I often felt like we were playing an elaborate side quest whilst the main story (involving interesting figures like Hurdy, Gurdy and the Black Knight) was happening elsewhere. There are mysteries – but those mysteries have very little build up or pay off. This is compounded by the fact you cannot enter any buildings in towns! Why put a big stonking castle (and have a side quest relating to a princess) but not let me enter?! This seems like the worse kind of prejudice to the everyday crystal bearers. There are also no meaningful side quests. Or even meaningful conversation: the lackluster NPCs are all, in a word, dull. And the levels often feel eerily empty.
I was looking forward to a cooperative action RPG that I could enjoy with Adrian. And it took us ages to collate the necessary equipment (finding 2 Gameboy Advances and link cables was a real chore). But, in the end, the repetitive gameplay, the plodding storyline and general feeling of incompleteness just isn’t what you’d expect from a Square-Nintendo collaboration. It’s not that this is a bad game. It’s just that when a game looks this good, you expect the same amount of love and care to go towards populating the world, the gameplay mechanics and the systems.
What went wrong, Square? How could you make me lose face in front of Adrian, who is ambivalent about RPGs at best?!
Well, (fortunately, for my relationship with Square) I have a theory about why Square let me down. Square were contractually obliged to create this game, at the behest of Nintendo. Nintendo essentially forced them to make it, so that Square would be allowed to release games on the Gameboy Advance. It’s just a theory, but this game feels like it was made to emphasize the capabilities of the Gamecube (looks pretty at least), force people to buy Gameboy Advances and then, hopefully, have people buy Square’s GBA games. All good for Nintendo. And for Square as well, I suppose.
But let’s just say Crystal Chronicles feels begrudgingly made. And I suppose I begrudgingly forgive them and praise their amazing water mechanics. Not bad use of the GBA either.
(On a blog note: we have made an about page which I recommend checking out because we have HATS.)