PS4, iOS, Android, Nintendo Switch
August 27, 2020
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition, in its current state, is broken. It doesn’t play how it’s supposed to, or even how it was originally developed. The entire game can be played alone with no fuss, but that’s not what it was designed for. Crystal Chronicles is at its most fun when you’re exploring dungeons with up to 3 other people. The main draw of this remaster is online multiplayer. Unfortunately, online functionality was unavailable to me during the review period, and now that the game is out, multiplayer seemingly doesn’t work at all. Even if Square Enix resolves this issue, the awkward way multiplayer is shoehorned in ensures this remaster is a worse experience than the original game back in 2002.
It’s a disappointment, because a better version of this would have been a perfect game to play during the COVID-19 pandemic. Set in a storybook fantasy world consumed by a mysterious plague (called miasma), you are the leader of a caravan travelling the world to collect a substance that can repel it (called myrrh) to bring it back to your hometown. You’re not on a quest to eradicate the miasma forever; you’re just making sure your little pocket of the world is as safe as it possibly can be. The game’s family-friendly tone and themes of communities sticking together in times of strife remain as charming as it always was. The GameCube-era art design still stands out, even if the graphics and controls show their age.
Being my first time playing Crystal Chronicles, I was surprised at how superficially similar yet completely different it is from classic Final Fantasy games. You traverse a world map, but it functions like a menu in which you pick which town or dungeon to go to next. You might trigger a random encounter along the way, but instead of battles, these are cute – and mercifully short – cutscenes where you cross paths with another caravan party. You can walk around the many towns and maybe find a secret, but they mainly serve as a place to shop for and craft items and weapons. Most of your time in Crystal Chronicles will be spent in dungeons.
Dungeons are short mazes full of enemies, simple puzzles, and a boss at the end. I played through the first 7-8 dungeons and enjoyed my time with them, even though it was glaringly obvious that the game was designed with multiplayer in mind. Since the miasma is poisonous to everyone except monsters, you must carry around a Crystal Chalice which radiates a field of safety. It’s a clever way to encourage teamwork (someone in the party has to carry it around, and you need to put it down to fight) and make sure party members stick together at all times. In single-player, I was joined by a moogle (little fluffy cat-bats) named Mog to hold the Chalice for me and follow me around. Mog often gets tired of holding the Chalice, requiring you to take over for a few seconds, which felt like the game’s way of recommending that the game should be played with more than one player.
The battle system, too, made me feel like it wasn’t designed for solo play, particularly when it comes to magic. When casting a spell, you hold the button down to make a glyph appear on the floor. You move this glyph to where an enemy is, and release the button to cast it. This is about as laborious as it sounds, and enemies running away the second the spell is cast or cancelling my spell with a melee hit really made me wish I had a tank instead. Multiple players can fuse their glyphs together to create more powerful spells, which is a neat idea that could lead to some wacky combinations, but since I was alone I had to pause the game to pre-fuse my spells through a menu. It just isn’t as fun by yourself.
The original version of Crystal Chronicles was built with multiplayer in mind, and some of that framework remains in the remaster. Each save slot can hold up to eight different characters, and creating a character involves deciding their family’s job. In lieu of a traditional class system, you choose what their family’s trade is. I picked my character’s family to be Tailors, so after each dungeon, I was able to level up my relationships with my family members to receive items related to their job. It’s a sweet system that once again rewards your character for caring about the people around you.
Once a job is assigned, it cannot be assigned to another character. This worked in the original version because every player shared the same save file. If four players were completing dungeons together, that meant that their families levelled up at the same time, and these new items could be shared amongst the party. The Remastered Edition guts this system to make room for online multiplayer, but bits and pieces of the original version are still laying around the place, gathering dust.
You still have up to 8 players on your save file, but since other people can’t share those characters, you’re probably going to stick with one family for the whole game. The only way to gain access to other families is to repeat every dungeon with other characters, over and over again. When you play online, story and character progress only happens to whoever is hosting. The other players gain items, but will need to repeat dungeons by themselves – or while they’re hosting – for it to matter. You are no longer a group of travelling friends, but a bunch of strangers who meet up to fight monsters together, and never see each other again.
The game released with a free Lite version, which lets you play through the first 3 dungeons by yourself, and up to 13 dungeons with another player hosting. Whether on PS4, Nintendo Switch, Android or iOS, you can connect with players across devices. So you’re able to play through a decent chunk of the game for free, which is a great idea that more online multiplayer games should adopt. However, since you’ll only get 3 dungeons’ worth of character progression, playing a dozen more may not be as fun as it sounds.
So yeah, online multiplayer is a big letdown, but what’s worse is it doesn’t even work. The review code we got for the game did not allow access to the online menus or matchmaking, so I had to download the Lite version to try out multiplayer. I could connect to other players fine, but I would disconnect after a few seconds every time. Until this is fixed, the game can only feasibly be played solo, which – it bears repeating – is a subpar experience.
Apart from online play, Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition adds several new features. The game now has voice acting, which isn’t great. There are new dungeons that unlock after you finish the story. But it’s all in service of a remake that doesn’t do it justice. There’s even a new Mimic system which lets you transform into NPCs in the game, but you can only transform into someone who matches your character’s race and gender. There’s new DLC Mimics you can purchase to look like characters from the later Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles games, but if you’re like me and you didn’t play those Nintendo-only sequels, these characters will mean nothing to you. As a last note, there’s no Platinum Trophy on PS4. Not a bad thing, just unusual.
- Charming and upbeat tone
- Magic fusion is a fun mechanic
- Lite version is a great way to try before you buy
- Online multiplayer doesn't match up to the classic co-op
- Solo play is possible, but uninteresting
- New family system requires too much grinding
It must’ve been a huge task to take a game originally designed for couch co-op and convert it to online play. But Crystal Chronicles Remastered shows just how incompatible the conversion is. Huge chunks of the original game are rendered either useless or far more difficult than it has to be. Square may have been better off making a brand new Crystal Chronicles game to take advantage of online co-op, because this is a poor way to introduce new players to this forgotten Final Fantasy spinoff. The bones of a great game are in here, but there’s not much meat on them.