There are a few things to say here before even getting into a review of the actual game, just to clarify where my thoughts and statements are coming from, what is going into them, and how to process them.
The first important thing to note is, while this game contains both a single-player and multi-player (for 2-4 players) mode, I have only played the single-player game. What this means is probably clear enough and this is just stating the obvious, but, what this means is, all of my comments are based on experience in the single-player game. While multi-player issues may be touched on in their general ideas, they largely won't be addressed, simply because it wasn't how I played the game. So, if you're interested in hearing about this game as a multiplayer experience, the simplest way to say it is you probably aren't going to get a good idea of it from this review. If you're interested in hearing about this game as a single-player experience, however, that is what this review will be addressing.
As far as the Gameboy Advance issue with this game that you may or may not have already been aware of, if you're going to play multi-player, you need one GBA system and one link cable per player. So, for a 4-player game, you would need four GBAs and 4 link cables. For multiplayer mode, using a the GCN controller isn't an option. For single-player mode, however, you can use a GCN controller just fine. You can, however, still make use of a GBA for various things by plugging it into the 2nd-player slot. Doing this will give you access to a map and level objectives. The map is a nifty thing to have, but, really, if you don't already have a GBA and a cable, you could just, if you really wanted to, go out and buy a players guide for less than the cost of either of those. The map's a nifty thing to have if you already have the cable and system, but, if not it's not worth worrying about. The only annoying thing is, each level has a mission objective such as ''Avoid damage,'' ''Inflict physical damage'' or ''Defeat enemies using focus attacks.'' Doing what it asks of you will give you points, which, at the end of a level, will affect what stat upgrades you can choose from. Now, for whatever reason, the only way to see this information is on a GBA, you can't find out anywhere on the GCN. This just seems silly, but, that's the way it is. So, if you do have a GBA and don't care about the map, you'll just turn the system on for a few seconds at the beginning of each level to find out what to do, and then turn it off. If you don't have one, however, you simply won't know. Now, some of the objectives, such as ''Avoid damage'' are things you would be trying to do regardless, so often it doesn't really matter that much. For things such as ''Defeat enemies using focus attacks,'' you probably wouldn't give too much specific thought to it unless you knew you were supposed to, so, there it is a problem. Even if you earn 0 points, however, you'll still be able to choose from 4 stat upgrades (more points will just allow you to choose from those 4 plus a few others), so, it's not as if you're going to end up with nothing. It doesn't make too much sense that they chose to do it this way, but, it's not really that big of an issue.
At the end of this review, I'll be including a number of individual scores, which are more than I would normally do in a review, but, felt it was worthwhile just in case someone was interested in knowing about a specific aspect of the game (such as sound or something). Not all of these ratings will be heavily affecting the final overall rating however, some of them are just there for reference. If, for instance, however, I give it a poor sound score but don't have that affecting the overall rating much, but to you it would, just factor that in accordingly.
Also, at a few points in this review, for a variety of reasons, I'll be using comparisons to the following other games: Super Mario World (SNES), Final Fantasy 3/6 (SNES), Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance (GCN/PS2/Xbox). Now, while it will help for understanding if you have played all three of those games, obviously not everyone has, so, while I will be using them for comparisons, I will also try to explain what I mean in relationship to it well enough where even if you haven't played any of them, you'll still understand what was meant.
So, in any event, now that all of that has been clarified, it's time to discuss the actual game itself.
Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles is unlike any Final Fantasy game you may have played before. Of course, if you've never played a FF game before, that doesn't really mean anything. If you have though, you're going to be in for something different. Whereas, in other games, you may have been used to wandering around on a map screen, and randomly encountering an enemy, there's none of that here. Instead, inside of each level, you do battle directly with any enemy. While you may have been used to being on one side of the screen, your enemies on the other, and going back and forth attacking them, again, it's different here. Battle takes place with you moving around, the enemy moving around, moving in for an attack, hiding behind objects for protection, and other things such as that. All of that, of course, is a drastic change from any other Final Fantasy. If you've played it, the gameplay is very similar to that of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. That isn't necessarily a bad thing however. It just may take some getting used to. While Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles may be completely different from any other FF game, that in no way means it's a bad game. It may not be what you were expecting, but, the overall gameplay really is quite fun.
The premise of the game is, there's a horrible cloud of gas covering the world, called Miasma, and if you're unprotected in this gas, you will die. To keep back the gas, you need special crystals, powered by Myrrh. Each city has its own big crystal in the center of town to protect it, but, the crystal slowly uses up its Myrrh, and each year it needs a new supply. Unfortunately, Myrrh is hard to come by, and is usually guarded by some unpleasant monsters. Crystal Caravans are sent out each year for the purpose of collecting Myrrh from Myrrh Trees to bring back to the city. That would be where you come in. You are the Crystal Caravan for your city, off to get Myrrh, lest your town supply run out and everyone there die a horrible death.
At the beginning of the game, you will be able to choose from four different races of characters. Each one has its own particular strengths and weaknesses. Some have very strong strength, but lower defense and no magic strength. Others have a strong magic and decent defense, but a poor attack. Others may be somewhere in the middle, with less defined strengths and weaknesses but a good variety of everything. Once you choose a race, you'll also be able to choose from a few different appearances for your character to give you a bit of personality. From there, you're ready to start the game.
The game itself is broken up into a series of levels, similar to Super Mario World. You move around on a general map screen, move onto a level and select it, and go inside of the level to do action. You don't necessarily have to go to each level, but, usually it's to your best advantage to at least go in every level once. Upon entering a level, you'll be given a brief introduction about the level, what it is and why it's of interest (aside from the obvious fact that there's Myrrh here), and then the level will begin. Each level has different themes to it, from a tangled jungle, to a tall fortress, or a wide open plain. Inside of each level, you will fight enemies, find items, and at the end of each level is a boss guarding the Myrrh tree. Upon defeating him, you'll be able to collect your drop of myrrh and prepare to leave the level.
Control in the game is fairly straightforward, and works very well. The A button is your main action command, which does the action which is displayed at the top of the screen. You can change the action quickly with the R and L buttons, easily moving from attack to a healing item or defend or whatever else. There isn't any camera-control button, but, the camera does a fairly good job of controlling itself, you'll never really find yourself in a situation where you want to see something that you can't because of where the camera is, and it leaves you free from the worry of handling the camera yourself while you're trying to deal with an enemy. During a level, you will also have to carry along the crystal chalice to protect yourself from the miasma. You can carry it yourself if you want, holding it and then dropping it when you encounter an enemy. In a single-player game, however, you'll also be accompanied by a moogle, who can carry the chalice for you. If he carries it for a long time, he will eventually become tired and ask you to carry it, but, he'll regain his energy fairly quickly.
Here is a good time to mention a few other things that are very different, and sometimes awkward, about this game. Not all items you find inside of a level you can take out with you. Some items, such as your basic weapons and armor, or fruits and food to regain health and such will come out with you (and you can take into levels with you as well). Other things, such as notably pieces of magicite which are required for spellcasting, will not come out of the level with you. What this means is, if you're playing your character as a spellcaster, you'll have to spend the first minute or two of each level trying to kill enemies with your weapon waiting for them to drop some magicite for you. Usually this isn't too hard, it's fairly common for enemies to drop them, but really, there doesn't seem to be any reason for this. It would seem to make more sense for any item to come out of the level with you, but, unfortunately, this isnít the case.
The other thing is, how stat gain is handled in this game. Instead of an experience-based system, where just killing enemies gives you points and when you get enough you gain a level and some stats, this game handles things much differently. At the beginning of each level, you are given a goal for the level, such as ''avoid damage,'' ''hurt enemies using magic,'' ''open treasure chests,'' or any number of other things. At the end of each level, you receive points for how well you accomplished your task, and how many points you get will affect what stat upgrades you get to choose for the level. Even if you get 0 points, you'll still get to choose from 4 basic upgrades, such as +1 strength or +1 defense or such. Reaching higher level marks will give you choices of better upgrades, such as +3 strength, gain an item slot, gain an extra life heart, or other more useful things such as that. At the end of the level, you'll be given your choices, and will select the one you want. This one will be added to your stats, and you'll leave the level. Of course, there are still other ways to make your character more powerful. There are still weapons and armor to buy or find which will increase your attack or defense. To get these, you'll want to find designs for weapons or armor, materials for crafting the particular item, and then take everything to a blacksmith, who will then forge the item for you. Many other things to help your character out can also be purchased at shops in towns along the way,
It will take three drops of myrrh to fill up your chalice for the year. Once you get the three drops, you will return to your city, there will be a celebration, and a year will pass. Now that it's a new year, you're off to collect more myrrh. Each time you collect myrrh from a level, the tree will dry up for three years, and you won't be able to get more myrrh there. After three years have passed, the myrrh tree will replenish, and you will be able to go back in. There are a few reasons that you may want to replay a level. Each time through, there will be different items you can find. Also, at the end of the level you will have choices of better stat upgrades. For instance, an upgrade you might've needed 120 points for the first time you only need 0 points for the second time. One you needed 180 for the first time you might only need 50. One you might not have been able to get at all the first time you only need 100 points for the second time. The same is true if you decide to play through a level a third time, you'll have access to even more items and upgrades. That said, if you really don't feel like playing through a level again, you don't really have to. You can play through the game just fine only playing each level once.
In addition to the normal levels where you'll fight enemies and get myrrh, there are also a number of other things for you to do. You'll also run across a few towns on the world map. Here, you'll be able to enter the town, buy items from shops or visit blacksmiths. You'll also be able to explore, talk to townspeople, find out more about the world around you, what's happening in other towns, and other such information. There are also other places you will have a chance to talk to people and gain information. As you wander around the world map, you'll occasionally run into what is essentially a ''random storyline encounter.'' As you're moving from place to place, every now and then you'll randomly enter a scene where something will happen either to advance the story directly, or to advance some side plot. The actual story itself really isn't advanced that much in the actual fighting levels, most of the story advancement is outside of them, either in the towns, or through the people you meet on the roadside. This is a bit awkward at times, since sometimes when a story advancement comes up you're more interested in heading off to your next level and aren't really interested in hearing about the story at that particular time. Nonetheless, the story does end up being pretty good.
The graphics in the game are stunning. From flowing rivers with the sun glistening off it, riding in a boat down the river, to wide open fields with trees and a dirt path, to tall buildings or rock walls or any other of the many different areas you'll run across. The graphics have a great variety to them, each level with a different theme and setup, and everything looks spectacular. The music, on the other hand, isn't that bad, the problem with the music is, there isn't that much variety in it, and after a while it will start to get repetitive or boring. The same map screen music, whether you're just outside your hometown or near the end of the game, really doesn't lend the proper atmosphere to where you are. It's not that it's a bad music, just, it doesn't really flow well to have it be for the entire game. As well, the same boss music whether it's an easy boss from a beginning level or an awe-inspiring boss from a late level. Again, the music here by itself really is pretty good, just, not really enough distinction between situations.
The actual game itself is shorter than you might have been expecting compared to some other games, but still, it's a pretty decent length. A good general idea for the length of the game is around 15-20 or so, if you don't spend much time going back through levels more than once. Certainly, this is shorter than a 40-hour long epic quest, but on the other hand, compared to around 8-10 hours for a game like Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, for the type of game it's like, it's a pretty decent-sized quest. It's not a game that's going to take you weeks to complete, but, it's still a fairly good-sized game, which will leave you with a feeling of accomplishment once you've completed it.
Once you've beaten the game, there are still plenty of reasons to play through it again. While you might not really have any desire to continue playing on the character you beat the game with (although you could, to try to become stronger or find better weapons or such, but then, that's not all that interesting if you're already able to beat the game), there still are quite a number of other things to do. You could try out one of the other character types, trying out a magic-using person instead of a sword-using one. Even playing through with the same type of character, you could try out different strategies, find different items, or any number of other things. There are many different things to try and to do even well after you've beaten the game.
Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles might not have been what you were expecting from the Final Fantasy name. That doesn't, by any means, however, mean that the game is bad. While some people might not enjoy the particular style, it still has its appeal. Even if you prefer turn-based battles, very long games, and any number of other qualities which have defined previous Final Fantasy games, you still might find Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles to your liking. It may be different, but, it's still a great game.