Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (GC) – why does a game with such beautiful water feel like a desert?

final-fantasy-crystal-chronicles-image371319

This doesn’t do the water justice.

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.

donna_burke

The game has a celtic feel, aided by the powerful pipes of Donna Burke, who has the coolest job in the world of being the go-to English female vocalist for videogames in Japan. She also provides the guidance voice on the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train system. Badass.

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 happened to all the great conversationalists of the RPG worlds? Have none of you mofo moogles heard Earthbound?! Or Chrono Trigger?!

What happened to all the great conversationalists of the RPG worlds? Have none of you mofo moogles heard of Earthbound?! Or Chrono Trigger?!

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.)

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8 comments

  1. Sir Gaulian

    GBA-GCN link remains the coolest and most exciting thing in video game ever, even if its uses were for the most part not great. Conceptually though i still get shivers of excitement running up my spine when i think about it.

    And Chrystal Chronicles is a game I’m convinced i bought solely because of the idea of that GBA link stuff. Who ever said concepts don’t sell final products!

    • veryverygaming

      I too think the GBA-GCN link had a world of potential…even though it wasn’t used entirely wisely, the dream lives on!
      It did feel like a gimmick with Crystal Chronicles. I think it would have been fine without the GBAs involved. However, I do wonder if I would have it enjoyed it more had there been 4 players…maybe these are just the complaints of the friendless.

  2. Matt

    It is one of the very few games I have bought but never finished. I felt the same way as you did… things just got too repetitive and the plot was not really moving anywhere, so I stopped playing it.

    I love the game’s atmosphere and setting, but the execution was really poor on Square’s part, not to mention the absurd multiplayer restrictions.

  3. Red Metal

    I never played Crystal Chronicles, but, judging by your article, it sounds like it suffers from a lot of problems Square has been having as of late, almost foreshadowing then their current predicament. I don’t think many people will argue against my claim that a majority of Square’s best work was in the nineties. I think I know why too – it seems as though their quality dropped proportionally to the fewer graphical limitations newer hardware presented them with. They’re an example of a creative team that needs well-defined boundaries; otherwise, they’ll put too much effort into the graphics and presentation of their game to the detriment of its actual gameplay (or even story if Final Fantasy XIII is any indication). Notice that when they were tasked with creating a game on a handheld device, they came up with Bravely Default, which is certainly one of the best JRPGs released within the last few years (granted, it was a collaboration with a company called Silicon Studio, but I think my point still stands).

  4. moresleepneeded

    I have never played this game. It sounds good that the characters, dungeons and locations look beautiful and the graphics are well made. I am also happy to hear a game was able to make water look good, as many games seem to have difficulty making water look natural (such as making waves 2-dimensional and not being able to show light reflecting off the surface). It sounds like an interesting experiment, to make the playable character affected by events, but not able to change them, instead having to collect myrrh, but I can see how it can seem like the player is missing the main action of the game by not being able to interact with the events of the story. How do the main characters affect the story? It is mentioned that a main story takes place elsewhere, does the playable character hear these events through secondary sources? Does the game ever overlap with the main story? I have always felt dialogue in RPG is affected by the fact other characters mention buttons the player has to use (such as talking to a villager, who tells the player they need to press A to pick objects up).

  5. Pingback: Multiplayer mayhem with Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (Gamecube) | Very Very Gaming

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