Playing through Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition has been a great test of my long-term memory. I remember the pomp and circumstance surrounding its announcement, with magazines at the time playing up the historic nature of “Final Fantasy‘s return to Nintendo consoles.” I remember picking it up day one, buying into the hype, and making sure to get one of those cords that would connect my Game Boy Advance SP to my GameCube console. But that’s where my memory starts to get a bit fuzzy. Outside of the basics of it — couch co-op, four tribes, action RPG — I don’t really remember much about the game itself.
A few months ago, I bought a used GameCube off eBay. When I put in my old memory cards that had been in storage for a decade and a half, I found two save files for Crystal Chronicles. One had about two hours of play on it. The other had 40 hours. It was then I remembered one of my college roommates borrowed my console one month and beat the game before midterms. I started to wonder why he was able to make it through Crystal Chronicles, but I could barely muster half a Snyder’s Cut worth of playtime.
An hour into the Remastered Edition, everything started to sink back in, particularly why I quit so early into the adventure. While I still have a ways to go before I see the credits roll, I can confirm now that I was a stupid, stupid man for giving up so easy back then.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition (Android, iOS, PS4 [reviewed], Switch)
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: August 27, 2020
Set in a world blanketed in miasma, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is a game about the journey, not just the destination. Creating a character from the four available tribes — Clavat, Lilty, Yuke, or Selkie — you’re chosen to lead the caravan for your village in search of myrrh. The crystals in each village that protect the people from the encroaching miasma need a yearly cleaning, or they’ll become useless. So it’s up to you to keep your neighbors alive by harvesting the liquid from the magical trees located at the end of each dungeon.
Rather than being one long journey, your adventure in Crystal Chronicles is divided up into years. You’ll journey across the map looking for miasma-soaked dungeons with magic trees ready to be harvested. Along the way, you’ll encounter other travelers in short vignettes that add a sense of community to what can often feel like a lonely quest. You only need to complete three dungeons to collect enough myrrh for the year, at which point you’ll return home for a wrap-up of your journey before moving onto the next expedition.
The magic trees need about two years to replenish their myrrh, so you will be visiting these dungeons multiple times. Each time you return to one, you’ll be greeted by stronger monsters than you fought before. Crystal Chronicles does a nice job of scaling difficulty for the player level, even if this particular RPG doesn’t have a classic leveling system. When you complete a dungeon, you’ll be able to choose a single totem from those you’ve collected to permanently improve stats such as strength, health, and defense.
Totems are just one of the many items found on the corpses of defeated enemies or in the various chests strewn about the dungeons. You’ll also find food that replenishes HP if your tribe enjoys the taste of it, blueprints for new weapons and armor, tufts of Phoenix Down you should equip if playing solo, and Magicite that can only be used in the dungeon it’s found in.
At the start of the game, you can create multiple characters from each of the tribes, but you can only take one out at a time. That means if you’re playing solo, you’re on your own. There are no AI partners here to back you up. Out in the field, solo players will be accompanied by a Moogle that’ll carry the myrrh vessel, creating a field of protection from the damaging miasma of the dungeons. When playing co-op, it’s the responsibility of the players to carry the vessel along.
For this Review in Progress, I have played a little less than halfway through the campaign riding solo. Picking a Clavat at the start — a decision I’ve come to regret — it became clear within two dungeons this game wasn’t made with the single-player in mind. It’s doable to go at it alone, but it’s not ideal. I’ve had no issues procuring myrrh on my own, but there are many moments throughout my quest, usually involving puzzles or close clusters of monsters, that I wanted to get online to find some fellow warriors.
And I think that’s why I gave up on Crystal Chronicles back on the GameCube. Nineteen-year-old CJ couldn’t appreciate the solo dungeon crawling experience the way 35-year-old CJ can. It can be a difficult and frustrating game if you’re not careful, and I’m sure my inexperience with the dungeon crawling genre back then didn’t help matters. But what must have been too challenging for me in my youth is now an experience that pushes me to deftly think on my feet.
It’s also pushed me to fight the urge to complain about the controls. Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is in an awkward position where an improved control scheme might make the game too easy, but its current scheme is clearly designed for a controller we’re not using to play it. On a PS4 controller, the majority of your actions are performed with the X button. That includes all your different attacks when you’re in combat. To switch between your weapon, shield, and whatever Magicite or items you have equipped, you cycle through them with the L1 and R1 buttons. A design like this made sense on the GameCube with its massive A button, but here, it can feel a little rudimentary compared to its contemporaries.
While there are a few aspects here that are dated (Miasma streams, anyone?), there is a lot to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition that is timeless. The boss designs are amazing, many of the dungeons are inspired in concept, and the gameplay loop keeps the experience from dragging. It’s been fun going about it solo, but for the final review on the game, I’m going to see what online co-op adds to the full package.
[This review-in-progress is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]