Whenever I’m asked about my favorite games on the Nintendo GameCube, one game always comes up. It’s not a Mario game or a Zelda game. It’s Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. The first Final Fantasy title on a Nintendo console since Final Fantasy III was a huge departure from the massive turn-based RPGs that defined — and continue to define — the franchise.
Since it was a GameCube game, many fans missed out on the experience, and now Square Enix has rectified that by releasing Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and even iOS and Android devices. Finally, this beloved classic can get the admiration it surely deserves, as new audiences will fall in love with the characters, the gameplay, and above all else, the story.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered takes players on an epic journey. Characters are created from a pool of four unique races, with eight sub-options for each race; four male and four female. The races, Clavat, Lilty, Yuke, and Selkie, each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Clavats are middle-of-the-road types that are balanced in magic and melee attacks, while Yukes are strong in sorcery and weak in hand-to-hand combat. Lilties are exceptional with weapons, and Selkies are fast for focus attacks.
The limited customization also includes selecting the trade that the character’s family plies in. This comes into play later, as you collect items that can be sent home after a boss battle. If your family are farmers, sending a wheat seed gives you bonuses at shops. Sending iron chunks to blacksmiths gives you discounts on weapon and item forging — it’s these little things that make Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered a deep gaming experience.
The story is simple on the surface, but as you progress farther along, it gets much deeper. The unnamed game world was hit by a meteor sometime in the past and is now covered in a poisonous miasma that threatens every town and village on the map. Every year, each village sends out a caravan to seek out Myrrh Trees to collect myrrh — the magical dew that powers crystals that protect each village. It takes three drops to fill a chalice, and a full chalice to power the crystal.
The player is selected as the village caravaner and must make the journey out to collect myrrh, battling monsters, huge bosses, and the miasma itself to ensure that the village survives for another year. Failure to do so is devastating, as an early game dungeon shows you a village where the caravan never returned.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered is broken down into segments, measured out in years. As the player sets out farther and farther from home to find myrrh, the dangers evolve, as does the gameplay. The first few years are pretty simple, as the trees and the “dungeons” that surround them are easily accessible. Three dungeons make up a year, and once the chalice is full, you return home to celebrate with your clansmen and family, and to relive your journey through your journal entries.
As the years pass, and the local Myrrh Trees are tapped, the caravan must go further out into the world, even crossing seas to find new sources. Powerful gates called miasma streams block access to other parts of the world, and the only way through is to attune the chalice to the correct miasma type — fire, water, air, or earth — at each stream. Being able to manipulate these streams is the key to exploring every nook and cranny on the map.
The caravan is afforded a special chalice that beats back the miasma, creating a bubble that the player can work in. Leaving this bubble quickly drains life, so you are tethered to the chalice constantly. In solo runs, a Moogle that can carry the chalice as you explore and fight joins your team, and he complains about it — a lot.
The dungeons offer plenty of monsters to fight and treasure chests to open before culminating into a big boss fight, usually with some very recognizable Final Fantasy monsters. Players collect magicite in each dungeon that can only be used in that dungeon. The key to success is to quickly kill smaller enemies and collect their magicite drops of curatives and offensive spells, like fire and blizzard, to win the day.
The treasure chests scattered around the map contain powerful relics, and certain enemies will also drop items that can be used to increase hearts, give you more action slots (pockets) and increase strength, magic, and defense. The rub is that at the end of the dungeon, you can only keep one of the upgrades permanently.
Each of the 15 or so dungeons have to be repeated over and over, with each foray becoming more and more difficult. Players don’t earn XP and level up, and the only way to get stronger is to play and replay dungeons and collect upgrades, so there is a bit of grinding that needs to be done. Playing a dungeon that has a tapped Myrrh Tree does not accelerate the year, so you can easily do some runs for items early in the game to make later, more complicated dungeons easier.
Combat in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered unfolds in real-time, with spells and other attacks being handled with a charge ring. Players hold down the attack button to cast and then move the spell onto the enemy to unleash it. The cast time varies based on the proficiency of the spell and your magic power, and multiple spells can be combined to create bigger attacks. You fuse two fire spells to create fira, and three can be fused to make firaga. Sure, the cast times are longer, but the effects are devastating.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered offers an online multiplayer option, where up to four players can band together in a dungeon. Spell fusion is then done between players, and each player has to charge and stack their attacks on the monsters at the same time. This is so much better than having to round up a GameCube and four GameBoy Advances, which was neat in 2003 but became a deterrent to many players. Multiplayer is fun, but the game can be played solo, and frankly, I’ve come to prefer doing it all myself.
Square Enix pulled out the stops on this remaster. The game looks great running at 16:9, and the character models and bosses look fantastic in HD. There is more voiceover in this version, and the lovely voice of Donna Burke returns as the narrator. I could sit and listen to Ms. Burke read me the U.S. Tax Code and love every second of it. They also added some very hard dungeon modes for post-game, and players can change their appearances using a new mimic mode.
The other new additions to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered come in the form of accessibility. This is a cross-platform title, meaning that players can play together no matter what system they are using, and that includes those playing on iOS and Android. There’s even a stripped-down “Lite” version that is completely free, allowing you to play through the first few dungeons and experience the game’s story.
It’s been 17 years since I set out on my first caravan to save my village, and I can say that I’m just as excited today to play Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered as I was then. The music, the gameplay, the simplicity of the story — it all still works to create an amazing experience for both hardcore gamers and whole families. It takes a special kind of game to satisfy both camps, but Crystal Chronicles Remastered pulls it off.
The review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A review copy of the game was provided to us by Square Enix.