If we look back a number of years ago, we'll notice a well-known RPG developer named Square Soft announcing a brand new 3D Final Fantasy title for the Nintendo 64. As fate would have it, the title suddenly jumped ship to the Sony PlayStation and became Final Fantasy VII. Needless to say relations between Nintendo and Square got flushed down the toilet. Well, apparently someone decided to get a plunger and was set on restoring connections. Now, just last year it was revealed that Square Soft (now Square Enix) would again develop for Nintendo consoles. Many gamers heaved a sigh of relief and the future looked brighter for the stable of Nintendo RPGs.
There was little surprise that Square had decided to release a Final Fantasy title on the GameCube. Though this time, the game will not be a true part of the numerically arranged series, but rather a genre spin-off such as the acclaimed Final Fantasy Tactics or infamous Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles bears more of a resemblance to Secret of Mana than a classic turn based-RPG. Emphasizing multiplayer with up to four teammates, Crystal Chronicles is an Action RPG at heart. Fans of the Seiken Densetsu (Mana) series are sure to rejoice at this news. In fact, the story of Crystal Chronicles seems to revolve around the powers of mana, but Square and Nintendo are keeping all details secret for now.
The world of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles has been covered in a smog that is utterly lethal to the population and only the Crystal Cage, an artifact that falls into your possession, can repel it. Apparently the smog doesn't affect monsters, but your party dares not wander outside the circle of the Crystal Cage's protection for fear of death. While this means the player's field of movement during battles is limited by the Crystal Cage's range, one of the characters can carry the item around, keeping the party from stagnating in one place. When attacked, the Crystal Cage can be set down and all four party members can take up arms against the enemy.
Characters are selected from a traditional set of classes such as swordsmen, archers, etc.; though the final roster has yet to be disclosed, knowing Square's penchant for variety, players shouldn't be disappointed. The four primary characters are named Yuk, Selki, Krabat and Lilty, although their names may change when localized. From what limited screens and video clips are available, there's an impressive variety of weapons, costumes, and creatures in the world of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles. The expansive environments such as towns, fields, dungeons and forests are all rendered in attractive 3D polygons.
The face of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles is both beautiful and strangely organic in its expression. The art director appears to have wanted a very natural look to all the characters as they bear simple, down-to-earth appearances instead of the stylized island fashions of Final Fantasy X or the medieval romantic garb of Final Fantasy IX. The character designer seems to have taken pages from both the Mana series and Final Fantasy IX to create the look in Crystal Chronicles. The characters are super-deformed type ala Final Fantasy IX, though they've been stylized to mirror characters you might find in an illustrated storybook, much like Legend of Mana. Thus far, all in-game textures appear quite crisp and clean with well-fashioned character models.
In terms of aesthetics, there's little more to say, and almost no information is available on sound effects or music. However, one of the forgotten hallmarks of Final Fantasy will return. The Moogles, MIA in FFX and FFX-2, will reprise their role from FF IX as mailmen, carrying messages back and forth across the world. Magic also seems to work in a fashion similar to FF VIII's 'Draw' system, wherein enemies drop magic stones and characters absorb them to either learn new spells or recharge their magic. There are also Magic Stones which can be found on the field that will enhance a character's spells. Magic can also be combined for some interesting effects, including using water spells to counteract fire, or to create pools of water where the soil is set below level ground.
For those players who also own a Game Boy Advance, Square has made GCN-to-GBA connectivity an integral part of gameplay, not just an afterthought. While the game is fully playable without a Game Boy Advance, players who do own the handheld will apparently benefit greatly from extra quests, items, alternate strategies and commands not available in regular play. The Game Boy Advance also serves as a substitute controller for the regular GameCube pad, although it probably isn't as versatile or as comfortable.
Final Fantasy, Nintendo and RPG fans alike seem to have much to look forward to in the coming months. Square and Nintendo are finally back on good terms and Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles isn't the only game being made on a Nintendo system by Square. There's also the promise of Shinyaku Seiken Densetsu (the Mana series in North America and Europe) and hopefully many more good things to come. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles is set for a Spring release in Japan. No official announcement of a North American release has yet been made.
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©2003 Game Designers Studio & Square Enix. All Rights Reserved.