Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Review — Lonely Caravan
Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles set the series off on a new kind of adventure when it launched on the GameCube in 2003. Among other things, it prioritized dungeon-crawling over a big, overarching story and recognizable villains, and it introduced an item-based progression system in place of normal experience points.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered is ready to set out on another caravan journey 17 years after the first one ended, but this trusty wagon is showing its age and needs more than a new coat of paint to shine again.
Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Review — Lonely Caravan
Crystal Chronicles Remastered is… a remaster, in case the name wasn’t a dead giveaway. That means the story structure and major beats remain the same as the original.
You create your character from one of four races and set out on a journey to collect drops of precious myrrh from special trees. This mystical substance stands between civilization from the deathly miasma that blankets the world and is set on its utter ruin.
Each myrrh tree sits at the end of a dungeon, because, of course it does. The catch is they only produce one myrrh drop every couple of years, and you need three in your chalice to keep your village safe for another revolution around the sun.
Each year, you’ll have to travel to a different set of dungeons in different parts of the world made accessible by changes in the miasma stream’s elements. A world that changes every year, with new places uncovered and others cut off, makes Crystal Chronicles feel alive and dynamic.
At least, it would if the miasma stream’s key feature didn’t exist.
The miasma stream is a very game-y device that keeps you from getting ahead of yourself. It takes on different elements each year, and your chalice has to match that element so you can pass through it.
Elemental "charging points" change in each dungeon each year too, and as you’d expect, the rotation coincides with what you need to access a new part of the map every year. You’ll be revisiting dungeons that don’t have myrrh just to change your chalice’s element, and yes, it’s a very outdated feature that should have been scrapped.
Each part of the map usually has one village-type area, one or two dungeons, and another area of interest to discover, though some won’t be important until later years. You’ll trundle (slowly) along in your caravan after selecting where you want to go and sometimes trigger an event scene with non-party members.
Some of these introduce important plot points that become clearer the further you progress, while others are just short exchanges between caravans.
This is also where most of the storytelling is. For a sumptuous world seemingly dripping with lore, Crystal Chronicles relies almost exclusively on these cutscenes to tell you anything about the world. Almost. Your character does write diary entries after each dungeon and major event with brief insights into what’s going on.
These play a vital role in how the endgame plot unfolds. But their barebones nature and stilted delivery make it hard to feel invested in the idea of a grand, epic journey unfolding for your sheltered little villager.
One thing that helps offset this, but still feels underused, is the family system. Your character comes from a family of somethings — merchants, alchemists, blacksmiths, or one of five other options chosen at the beginning.
You’ll get letters from them on occasion, and responding with certain items gets you occupation-specific bonuses later on. This only happens when you clear a dungeon, though, and there’s not much interaction with family otherwise.
You don’t have to fret about which race to pick from since you can immediately go back and create up to seven additional characters to play as if you want. It’s sort of a mixed blessing if you’re playing solo, though.
There’s not much camaraderie among the Tipa caravan members because party members don’t share items and the like. You’re essentially playing a separate journey for each character and playing catch-up with all the other ones.
Granted, there’s not too much catch-up to deal with thanks to FF:CC’s structure. Characters don’t gain experience or level up in combat. Instead, you find Artifacts in dungeons that augment abilities, things like boosting strength and magic or giving you an extra command slot for battle.
Speaking of, command slots are another awkward and outdated artifact from the past that drags CC Remastered down a bit. Unlike most ARPGs, your actions aren’t tied to specific buttons, and you can’t use items from a menu. Instead, you assign actions and items to a command slot, of which you get four to start out.
Attack and Defend fill up two, and you can’t change them. Defend is rather annoying, and it’s a misnomer depending on your clan. It works more like an evade option for Yukes and Selkies, and having it tied to a separate action where you can’t attack without swapping through command slots makes it useless. Just attack and run away.
If that sounds boring, welcome to solo mode in Crystal Chronicles Remastered. It’s what you’ll be doing most of your time without friends, and there’s a lurking feeling the combat is intentionally obtuse just to give a sense of challenge or complexity where there isn’t any.
Magic makes things more interesting. Enemies drop magic crystals of varying types, like Fire, Raise, and Clear. You’ll fix these into a command slot, but you can also combine different crystals to make new magic. Two Fires make Fira, for example, while Fire and Thunder turn into Gravity. The more slots you unlock, the more magic options open up.
But solo mode hamstrings this too. Casting magic takes time, and stronger magic takes longer. You’ll have to time your casting around enemy attacks. You'll also have to hope they don’t kill you before you can cast a spell or move away by the time the spell is finished. The magic system is made for multiplayer, where you can work with your friends to lure enemies to the right spot and keep the spellcaster safe.
In fact, Crystal Chronicles Remastered should just be a multiplayer game. Single-player mode is a lonely, unsatisfying experience that makes the game’s shortcomings stand out. Dungeons are mostly short and too simple, empty pathways bordered by beautiful, intriguing environments that have no bearing on the gameplay.
Most puzzle solutions require you to stand on switches or put items on a pedestal, nothing more. Boss fights open with slick cinematics, but beefy HP bars and predictable attack patterns mean they test your patience more than your skill.
The new post-game bosses change that pattern, but you’ll want to tackle those with friends. Crystal Chronicles Remastered’s tougher challenges aren’t designed for single-player enjoyment.
The graphics overhaul isn’t earth-shattering and certainly isn't applied evenly. The character models look sharp, while everything else is flat and blurry. However, the soundtrack is excellent and easily one of the game’s high points.
Despite being a remaster of an almost two-decade-old game, Crystal Chronicles Remastered has some performance issues on the world map and transitioning into locations. Opening segments stutter for a few moments, almost like it starts before the loading finishes, and the menu suffers from lag when it first opens.
Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Review — The Bottom Line
- Fun with friends
- Interesting, though unfulfilled, lore and settings
- Unique take on combat and progression for the series
- Tedious boss fights
- That unique combat doesn't work well in solo mode
- Gimmicky gating that wastes your time
- Bland and simple dungeon design
- Minor performance issues that shouldn't exist in a 17-year-old game on modern platforms
Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered carries the original’s sins along for the journey. It’s very much a multiplayer-first game, and playing with friends offsets some of the combat’s tedium and the lackluster dungeon design.
More than anything, though, Crystal Chronicles Remastered seems like a missed opportunity for the series.
These are all the same significant shortcomings from the original, and choosing this as a remaster remains a bit of a puzzle. A new entry in the series building on the unfulfilled promises of the original would be much more welcome than revisiting this one. Some journeys just need to end.
[Note: Square Enix provided the copy of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered used for this review.]