Game Reviews

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition Review

Not all memories are worth revisiting.

by Brandon Adams

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles had perhaps one of the most cumbersome multiplayer setups I’ve ever seen. Square-Enix’s action-RPG spin-off wasn’t content with regular controllers – no, the game required a Game Boy Advance for every person that planned to join you on your journey. You could play alone with a good ole’ Gamecube controller, sure, but if you wanted to round out your adventuring caravan with friends you each needed a Game Boy Advance and a link cable. Only then could you tackle dungeons and classic Final Fantasy beasties together. I recall that didn’t stop me from enjoying the game at the ripe old age of . . . 13, yet memory is a fickle thing.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is largely the same game from 2003, albeit with an HD makeover and online multiplayer. In theory it’s now easier than ever to clear the various dungeons that litter the miasma choked world with your friends, but a handful of questionable decisions make the Remastered Edition difficult to recommend to anyone not wearing the thickest of rose-colored glasses.

Crystal Clear Glow-Up

It’s been 17 years since Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles released on the Gamecube in Japan, and 16 for us fork here in the West. Nearly two decades later the game hasn’t changed much with the Remastered Edition. Much like the previous HD remasters of Final Fantasy VII, VIII, IX, X, and XII, Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is predominately a visual and audio facelift. The old textures have been polished up to high-definition standards, and the music and sound have been given a modern pass.

Character and enemy models were clearly prioritized over environmental textures, which remain flat and muddy. For what’s it worth everything does look far sharper than they did back in 2003. Granted, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicle’s art design does the majority of the heavy-lifting in this regard thanks to its charming mix of Final Fantasy IX’s throwback design and the children’s storybook aesthetic. It certainly doesn’t dazzle in today’s “everything must be in ultra-HD 4K, or bust” climate, but that doesn’t mean the remastered assets aren’t easy on the eyes. The design and art of the world and its eclectic cast of characters have always been a highlight, and that’s no different in HD.

The game looks good enough on the PlayStation 4 (“good,” as far as remasters of 17 year-old games go), but the hard 30 FPS lock on all devices often made me wonder if the Remastered Edition was built as a “mobile first” title. The PS4 and even the Nintendo Switch are more than capable of running Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition above 30 FPS (even with the updated lighting, shadows, and reflections factored in), but I feel Square opted for the locked 30 FPS to maintain gameplay parity between the consoles and mobile devices. It is what is is at the end of the day, but it’s still a touch underwhelming.

Audio has been given an overhaul as well, to include full English voice-acting for all the major cutscenes in the game. The acting is fine, all said – it’s cut from the same cloth as all the other Square-Enix JRPG voice casts in the last decade; somewhat hammy, always earnest, and damn near indistinguishable from any other English dub. It works well within Crystal Chronicle’s more whimsical world, though returning players may find themselves pining after a toggle to turn voices off entirely for a more “classic” experience.

The soundtrack remains stellar, with its mix of old medieval and renaissance instruments that give the OST a tone I’ve still not heard duplicated elsewhere. Composer Kumi Tanioka even returned to score some new tracks for the added “Bonus Dungeons” (harder reskins of existing dungeons) that capstone the new endgame added to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition, and they blend in seamlessly with her older arrangements . “Morning Sky” and “Starry Moonlit Night” were re-recorded with Donna Burke returning as vocals, and the team even had her redo her dungeon narrations. Of all the “enhancements” the audio is the least likely to upset returning fans.

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Some memories are best left in the past.

There have been some other minor adjustments, such as the inclusion of a permanent minimap that sits in the top-right corner of the HUD whilst delving the dungeons, and a new “Mimic” feature that allows players to use an NPC skin for their character whilst in a dungeon (though the tribes have to match, which is a bummer). None are as extensive as the new online multiplayer though, which arrives with disappointing results.

Upon first glance the online multiplayer seems rather robust: there’s a full lobby system where players can either host a match or browse for an ongoing one that fits their fancy, and a simple Quick-Match for those who want to jump into a group with minimal fuss. Not too shabby on the surface, but there are strange limitation beneath that bring the whole experience down.

For starters, you can only set up lobbies for the area of the map you are currently in. If you want to put together a party for the tricky Conall Curach dungeon you’ll need to physically be within the Rebena Plains. I understand this limitation from a story point-of view – you first need access to a dungeon before tackling it – but, it feels odd knowing I can use Quick-Match to pop into any dungeon I want from wherever, so long as I’ve cleared that dungeon at least once.

It’s 2020 – there are easier ways to match with friends via crossplay that Square has decided not to use.

If you plan to play with friends, which most players returning to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles undoubtedly do, then prepare for a special level of pain. First and foremost, friends can only group up with either a one-time code that last 30 minutes, or a lengthier “friend code”. Once you “follow” each other and are added to the game’s internal friends list this requirement disappears (and can finally group up from anywhere), but it’s an odd system regardless.

Once you finally group up you have yet another hurdle in your way: only the host earns story progress. The narrative essential myrrh, letters from your family, and diary entries are all exclusive to the player running the show. Unless you plan to rotate host duties among your friends and to run the same dungeons over and over again (which you’ll have to, because you need to recreate the lobby whenever you change dungeons), that means someone is going to collect their three drops of myrrh before everyone else in the party, and move on to the next year – effectively locking them out of the group unless they double back to assist.

This decision feels all the more limiting due to how the original Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles handled shared progression. Everyone belonged to the same caravan back in the day, and everything was shared. Roadside event? Everyone saw it and added it to their diary. New town? You all explored it as a team, and made a memory of it. For the uninitiated, “memories” are literally tallied in Crystal Chronicles, and they serve an important purpose later in the game. In locking progression to the host and only allowing teams to exist within dungeons, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition now actively forces players to slog through portions of the game solo if they wish to push the narrative forward.

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If you’ve ever played Crystal Chronicles on your lonesome then you know it’s the worst way to play the game. The combat is rudimentary by today’s standards, but it works well enough when there’s a full team of four players all coordinating spell fusions and Focus Attacks. In single-player it devolves into the same simple affair every fight: attack, move, attack, move, attack, pop a Cure, repeat.  Combat is repetitive to a fault even in multiplayer, but in solo play it’s mind-numbingly dull.

This tedium is further aggravated by how the Command bar works. Attacks feel floaty and delayed due to how the bar works, which saps combat of any excitement. Also, due to how the Command bar is setup the Defend ability remains a relatively useless skill, which is all the more frustrating knowing Square is no longer limited to the control-scheme of the Game Boy Advance.

They could have at least divorced Defend from the Command bar and assigned it to a button (like, I dunno, the redundant Square button that opens the menu, much like the touchpad), to make combat somewhat snappier, but they opted to keep the combat exactly as it was. Great for returning fans who are resistant to change; not so good for those of us who prefer a few extra refinements in our remasters of 17 year-old games.

Combat in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles has easily aged the worst, and this is most evident while solo.

While alone combat is made all the worse by your NPC companion, Mog, who is only good for carrying the miasma blocking chalice around. While he can technically assist with spell fusion if you tell him to put the chalice down, he’s ability to do so is on such a long timer that it’s a moot point. Besides, you’re likely to get interrupted when waiting on him to do something, so there’s little point in using him for combat. Yes, you can still shave and paint him to make him less likely to complain about carrying the chalice in hot environments and to dictate what spells he casts, but he is a poor substitute for other players. Considering most of the dungeons are balanced around having a full team, especially later in the game, the combat veers dangerously between boring and frustrating while solo.

Sure, I can matchmake at the entrance of every dungeon, but don’t expect Mog to at least appear and carry your chalice around while you wait on other people to join. Instead you’ll be hefting the chalice along alone while the servers drum up some bodies to round out your party. The follies with online multiplayer would be easier to forgive if there were still local co-op, but there isn’t. You can still make up to eight caravanners locally, but you’ll be the only one able to play them. That means progressing each character, and earning stat-boosting artefacts, is a royal pain in the ass.

If I could take one of my custom caravanners in with me as AI companions this issue would have evaporated, but such a feature was not in the development deck apparently. Thus why I don’t understand why Square had to choose between local and online multiplayer when it seems like adding the option to hand another controller to a roommate and having them select one of my eight characters is so simple a feature to implement. The original game was literally coded with an 8 character caravan in mind, so it’s baffling to see these features in place, yet the option to play locally omitted.

Thankfully Square has decided to launch a generous “free trial” of the game, which allows players access to the first three dungeons, unless the host has access to the full game. Since the multiplayer is more limited than it should be the Lite Edition (or basic app on mobile) is a great way to see if Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is for you. The combat has not aged well, and the online multiplayer will make or break many players’ choice of purchasing the full game. The Lite Edition is more than enough for players to see if the basic combat and obtuse multiplayer is worth the $30 investment.

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The Verdict.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition’s online multiplayer is fine if you just want random strangers to jump in and assist you with your story progression or to tackle one of the daily four “Bonus” hard dungeons after beating the game, but if you want to play with friends the game will actively fight you every step of the way. The fact that there are reports of server issues from those playing the game early (thanks local midnight launches) makes the removal of local co-op all the harder to stomach. In some ways the Remastered Edition made me miss the byzantine Game Boy requirement from the original, because at least back then I could play somewhat seamlessly with my friends.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition could have been a success had it simply nailed the multiplayer. The online multiplayer is a welcome addition on paper, but cumbersome limitations make it difficult to enjoy with friends. The removal of local co-op left me scratching my head knowing full well the majority of the systems that made it work 17 years ago are still in the game. The combat is so simple that solo play takes a Herculean effort to enjoy, so it was tantamount Square aced the integration of online multiplayer. Sadly, they did not.

Overall the Remastered Edition is a prettier, yet lesser experience all these years later. Crystal Chronicles remains balanced around having a full team of friends to overcome its numerous dungeons, so unless you’re itching for that sweet hit of nostalgia and don’t mind playing with strangers, it’s perhaps best to sit this journey out.

- This article was updated on:August 26th, 2020

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Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition

  • Available On: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android
  • Published By: Square Enix
  • Developed By: Square Enix
  • Genre: Action Role-Playing
  • US Release Date: August 27th, 2020
  • Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
  • Quote: "Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition could have been a success had it simply nailed the multiplayer, but cumbersome limitations make it difficult to enjoy with friends. Overall the Remastered Edition is a prettier, yet lesser experience all these years later, so unless you're itching for that sweet hit of nostalgia and don't mind playing with strangers, it's perhaps best to sit this journey out. "
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