EDGE REVIEW: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates
The original Crystal Chronicles might have been a lively attempt to encourage fans of multiplayer RPGs to meet around a single television screen, but it was also a failed one. Does the sequel fare better?
The high entry fee of a Game Boy Advance and link cable per player (the handheld acting as a controller linked to the GameCube) combined with some awkward mechanics effortlessly outshone by rival Four Swords ensured that the first Crystal Chronicles wasn’t worth the effort for any but the most ardent (and blinkered) Final Fantasy devotees.
Sequel Ring of Fates arrives without quite the same pioneering spirit, now confined to a single piece of hardware and boasting distinct singleplayer and multiplayer modes requiring separate characters. Despite the more traditional approach it’s a welcome addition to a Nintendo DS library inexplicably starved of such games, even if the multi-cart requirement and lack of online link-up ensure the barrier to multiplayer entry is higher than it should be.
The Final Fantasy moniker is misleading. This is an isometric 3D action game whose key-finding dungeon puzzles bring the game’s mechanics closer to Legend of Zelda territory than that of the mainline series from which it borrows a name. This liberation doesn’t extend to the game’s premise, which once again focuses on crystals – the weak and shallow thematic crutch that even the most devoted Square Enix fan must have tired of. Focusing on two young twins, Yuri and Chelinka, players are tasked with protecting their world by uncovering the secrets of a Great Crystal, a cookie-cutter story retold here for a young audience.
Play is divided between town and dungeon. Locations, once discovered, are selected from a list rather than an overworld map, and this decision makes the game-world feel small for the genre. Towns are uninteresting and sparsely populated places which act almost exclusively as locations to upgrade amour, weapons and statistics, buy spells and materials and forge items. Dungeons, by contrast, are complex, multi-tiered rabbit warrens filled with enemies, treasure chests and, at their heart, a boss encounter.
Combat in those dungeons has been compromised by the effectiveness of button mashing to hack through the cutesy enemies, which mostly nullifies a nuanced battle system. However, with the touchscreen acting as a live menu, it’s quick and easy to switch between spell types, potions, and even characters, in the midst of battle. Rudimentary puzzles require you to cast various spells on different colored gates or to hunt out keys to progress, but the dungeon design and progression curve is relatively safe and lightweight.
Ultimately, Ring Of Fates is only superficially similar to Zelda: there’s no real augmentation of abilities or tools, and boss fights require little thought or strategy save for straightforward hit point management, and the result fails to stretch even the younger demographic it’s aimed at. In quests played with up to three friends the experience improves, but the game does nothing clever, original or compelling enough to recommend local questing over MMOs.
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