Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time – Staff Review

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles was an interesting experiment back in the days of the GameCube, a system known for its multiplayer prowess. Though the game could be played solo, it was clearly intended to be played with friends, but it came with one tiny hitch. In an effort to promote the GBA and the ill-fated GBA link cable, multiplay required separate GBAs with cables for each player. When the series made the move to the DS, Ring of Fates improved the situation tremendously by providing a game that could be enjoyed solo or with friends, but the multiplayer required a local connection. The third attempt, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time, is a valiant attempt to get it right, but in the end, it still falls short.

As in the original game, the story centers around a character of your own creation. At the beginning, you are allowed to chose from the four in-game races, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Lilties excel in strength while Yukes are the best spell casters. Selkies are generally weaker, but they get a wider attack and a coveted double jump ability. Finally, Clavats are the well rounded jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none race.

After a brief CG intro whose true meaning is not explained until much later in the game, your chosen character wakes up in the village on his or her birthday. It is a joyous day for the townsfolk, and you are about to embark on your coming of age ceremony in the forest. There, you are given your first taste of combat and generally prepared for life as an adult, which is fortunate, because you are about to be thrust into the world shortly.

Like the other two games in the series, Echoes of Time is a 3/4s view action RPG comprised primarily of dungeons filled with puzzles. Most rooms have some condition that must be met to move to the next room, and as such, dungeons have a linear flow that makes them relatively simple to figure out. By moving to each room in turn, the player will eventually run into the boss and finish the dungeon.

Though the combat is largely the same from the previous game, there are some major changes. For starters, Echoes of time is a more solitary game, which is arguably its biggest flaw. Though you can recruit a party, there aren’t enough resources to properly equip more than one character. Furthermore, all recruits start at level one unless you manage to hire a mercenary, but they require certain conditions before they will join you. In the end, many players will be striking it out on their lonesome, and like the original game, solo play is cumbersome, frustrating, and nowhere nearly as fun.

When fighting, players can jump, attack with their equipped weapon, summon a magic casting circle, or pick up enemies and items. In combat, most of the game will alternate between regular melee attacks and magic. Attacking with your equipped weapon is straight forward. Mash A until the chosen enemy dies, but magic is slightly more nuanced. The secondary screen (bottom for the DS, right side for Wii) shows the six types of magic: fire, ice, lightning, cure, clear, and revive, which can be selected at any time by touching them or rotating via button combinations. While casting magic, your character remains still, and a targeting ring can be moved or combined with other targeting rings for more advanced spells. As a significant improvement over Ring of Fates, magic is now limited by magic points instead of a finite number of magic orbs, and that makes things much easier.

Unfortunately, magic is also where everything completely falls apart. Monsters can use magic as well, and the odds are stacked very much in their favor. After being hit with a spell, monsters will gain a temporary immunity to all magic, but the reverse is not true. Since it is not uncommon to fight three or more enemies at a time, much of the combat will revolve around running away from opposing spells. Should you actually be hit, there is a high probability you will die, as a casting ring will be waiting for you just as the effects of the previous spell wear off. It can be extremely frustrating to be freed from the effects of an ice spell only to be frozen again the instant you can move. This is made all the worse by the fact that death means you will have to restart the entire dungeon again from the beginning, and it is something you will deal with. A lot.

Death isn’t the only thing that is frustrating about single play. As mentioned before, nearly every room has a puzzle that must be solved before you can move on. Each of them can be solved solo, but in many cases, one must have nearly perfect timing to get everything done before the puzzle resets itself. Clearly, the game was designed with multiplayer in mind with solitary play practically ignored by the dev team.

One final gripe about combat is that there is no pause feature. Pressing start brings up a menu in real time, so if you need to stop play for any reason, you’ll either need to close the DS or hit the home button on your Wii Remote.

The one place where the game excels is graphically. There is a small bump in graphics from Ring of Fates, and the entire game benefits nicely. Though most of the monsters return from previous games, the environments are bright and colorful with a wider variety than in the past game. There are also several FMVs that periodically play to give the game’s events some flare. These effects are made even more impressive on the Wii, especially if you are using component cables and a nice television. The colorful worlds are extra crisp on the console version, and it makes it surprisingly painless to play a DS port on the Wii.

Musically, the game performs on par with Ring of Fates with well-composed music that doesn’t get too repetitive. Though few tracks are particularly memorable, the music is pretty decent throughout, and it is made even better by piping it out of real speakers instead of a set of headphones or the small internal speakers on the DS. In fact, the music takes on a new level of clarity and depth when played on the console.

With these things in mind, one would almost think that the Wii version is superior, but sadly, this is not the case. The console version is a direct port of its handheld brother, but the interface kills it. Echoes of Time is clearly designed to be played using two screens, with one of them being touch sensitive. The result is that the television is divided into a main screen in the upper left and a smaller subscreen on the right. At best, the main screen will take up about a quarter of your total television’s surface, and nearly half of the visual real estate is devoted to a background. Furthermore, the touch screen makes changing magic spells quick and easy, but it’s a little more awkward on the Wii. Granted, you can probably get used to it by the end, but it’s not as intuitive as it is on the DS. This is especially important because at the end, you will need to cast spells comprised of more than one element, and fast switching will be all but required.

Plotwise, Echoes of Time has its ups and downs. The plot isn’t bad, but throughout most of the game, characters promise to let you in on the game’s secret “when the time is right,” or when you get to a specific point, “all will be revealed.” This is not the first game to use this cliche, but most games have more secrets to divulge. The player learns very little throughout the game, and the fact that everyone else seems to be in the know is kind of frustrating. In its defense, when you finally do learn everything, it’s an interesting story, and there are some great moments in the last third of the game. When the plot is on, it’s good, but for the bulk of the game, the plot moves slowly.

Since the game struggles in solo play, most people will want to play with friends. Fortunately, this time, the developers got it right. Joining up with friends is as simple as exchanging friend codes and waiting a couple minutes for them to synchronize. Then, one party will be the host, and all other players will look to join that game. The system is intuitive, and it works well. Another important point is that there is not much lag. Joining players will see a fraction of a second of lag for every action, but it’s not so bad that it’s game breaking. In fact, unless you happen to be watching all screens at the same time, it’s hard to notice. Hopefully, this method of multiplayer will be included in all future installments of the Crystal Chronicles series; it’s a much-needed step in the right direction.

Completing the game will take about fifteen to twenty five hours. It’s pretty straightforward, so really, it just depends on how much you want to farm for item creation. There is also a bonus dungeon after the game is finished, and subsequent playthroughs can have the difficulty increased.

One final thing that bears mentioning is that some of the dungeons have questionable design elements. In one dungeon, there are a series of boxes that must be moved, and if you move them too far, the entire room must be restarted. An even worse example of a poorly thought out dungeon can be found in the final dungeon. There is a room that has a key-operated moving platform, and any mistakes in handling the key or the platform can result in gap that can only be crossed with a double jump. As mentioned before, only Selkies can double jump normally, so unless you have an item in your possession to give that ability to any character or chose to play as a Selkie, death is the only way to move forward. It’s not completely game breaking, but it’s frustrating if you happen to run into this problem that could have easily have been avoided with better play testing.

There are a couple mitigating factors that make up for a couple of the game’s shortcomings. Echoes of Time has several mini-games that are extremely fun to play. In fact, it’s easy to spend a few hours on them. One can also unlock all of the bosses from Ring of Fates rather easily.

In the end, Echoes of Time is one major step forward and several steps of varying size backward. Ring of Fates emulated the multiplayer aspect of Crystal Chronicles superbly to make an outstanding single-player experience. Echoes of Time instead hearkens back to the series roots by making a game that is an interesting experiment that could have shined with a bit more work. They got the multiplayer right, but the solo play is as bad as it was in the original game. Also, the idea of a DS/Wii dual launch sounds great on paper, but the interface of the Wii version completely ruins the effect so badly that it feels like it was tacked on at the last minute. There are a lot of good ideas in this game, but the poor execution mars what could have been a breath of fresh air.

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