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Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time
Platform: Wii
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Genre: Action RPG
Format: Wii Optical Disc
Released: US 03/24/09
Japan 01/29/09
Official Website: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 75%
Sound: 88%
Gameplay: 75%
Control: 50%
Story: 80%
Overall: 73%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Scratch cards: impossible to win with a Wiimote, absurdly easy with a stylus. DS 1, Wii 0.
 
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Pro: the return of the world map. Con: the tiniest world map ever.
 
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Showin' off your hot new outfit while dancing to some 8-bit music? This is something I'd like to do in real life.
 
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Why are we standing on a giant floating D-pad?
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Patrick Gann
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time
04/17/09
Patrick Gann

Fact: I've never played the other Crystal Chronicles titles, despite my goal to put my hands on everything with the "Final Fantasy" brand printed on the box. There's a good reason for this; most of my friends, particularly the local ones, aren't RPG nuts. I wasn't interested in doing a single-player campaign for a game that was marketed for its unique multiplayer setup. But now, thanks to the almighty power of WiFi, I was sucked in by the hype and decided to play the Wii version of Echoes of Time. And by "Wii version," I mean "the DS version awkwardly placed on a wide-screen TV."

I shouldn't be too critical of the DS/Wii transition. Square Enix attempted to build a game that could go cross-platform from a console to a handheld, using their newly-developed "Pollux Engine," and they did a respectable job. But there were some basic concepts they could have implemented to improve the Wii version of the game. So let's start there.

A Wii bit different

If you look at the screenshots for the Wii version of Echoes of Time, you'll quickly recognize what Square Enix did. The top and bottom screens of the DS were transposed onto a television. But now, one screen is on the left, and another is on the right. And of course, they don't fit very well, so you have to zoom in on one screen, which subsequently makes the other screen smaller. On the Wiimote, you use the minus sign to zoom on the left screen, and plus to zoom on the right screen. Pressing both buttons simultaneously switches screens.

A part of me thinks, "well that's fairly clever." But it's not, for one simple reason: I was able to come up with some creative alternatives. For starters, they could've put the two screens in the top-left and bottom-right corners of the screen and then had an overlapping corner in the center. In the options menu, you could then decide how far you wanted to overlap, and whether the larger or smaller screen was the one doing the overlapping. An even better alternative would have been to make a "one screen mode," where they take the icons from the menu (right screen) and overlay it, smaller, on the left screen. All of these ideas flooded my mind within the first two hours of play, and I don't consider myself a genius when it comes to game design.

Another obvious difference is the lack of a touch screen. Instead, your Wiimote functions as the stylus, with a little finger-pointer icon appearing where your Wiimote goes. A recommendation: don't use this for menu navigation. The other option is to use the D-pad on the Wiimote, and that's a far better option. I'd also like to point out the "scratch card" mini-game, which allows your party to receive temporary bonuses. Don't plan on getting these bonuses if you own the Wii version, however; it's just too hard. On the DS, you can complete a scratch card with minimal hassle, but the 20 second time limit is far too strict for someone trying to use a motion sensor to scratch the correct shape (there are squares, circles, and triangles on the cards, and you're only to scratch one of those shapes) 10 to 12 times.

One small bonus that I observed: the Wii version seems to handle the WiFi connection better than the DS. I didn't do comprehensive testing to prove this, but personal experience alongside some Internet hearsay suggests that this is the case.

How does time echo, anyway?

I wasn't expecting anything special from the game's 10-hour plot arc. Imagine my surprise when a game that's touted for having fun multiplayer gameplay actually came through with a solid story and interesting characters! Though you yourself don't experience any time travel, the game's plot is based on a catastrophe that happens in the future that manages to affect the past and present because it is just that big and ridiculous an event. In the present-day world, it is believed that the crystals have all been destroyed due to a civilization that once sucked all the energy out of the crystals hundreds of years ago. So, yes, it's the clichéd "depletion of non-renewable resources" environmentalist plot that we're talking about here. Fortunately, however, this all-too-typical RPG plot serves merely as the backdrop for the stage on which this story takes place.

You play as a silent protagonist (though you have journaled thoughts to read, for those who are interested in how the protagonist apparently feels about everything). The plot focuses primarily on two characters: Sherlotta, who is the mother figure in your life; and Larkeicus, who fits the bill as Hitler's deceptively benign Swiss yodeling grandfather. The game starts with virtually no exposition; instead, the exposition is provided to you during the first hour of gameplay, which serves to simultaneously provide tutorials for gameplay and basic plot information before the inciting incident.

Once the plot really starts to take off, it's easy to get sucked in. Sherlotta, the "voiced" protagonist, is one of my new favorites among the hundreds of Square Enix characters I've met in my decades of RPG-fanhood. And the lesser NPCs, even those that don't get any voice acting, have really cute, well-written, occasionally fourth-wall-breaking dialogue. The cast of characters, including no-name NPCs, is surprisingly small. There are basically two locations where NPCs exist, and only one of them has all the fixin's of a full town (shops, guilds, etc). But each NPC has plenty to say, and their statements change throughout the progression of the plot arc. This is even more true for the relevant NPCs, mostly, those from your home village in the forest.

It's a short story, but it's a good story, and the characters are brought to life very well. Also, props to Square Enix for the decent voice acting. Larkeicus' German accent works very well, and the actor manages to pull it off without sounding hokey.

Shiny, happy polygons

Not that you need impressive graphics to sell an RPG, particularly on the DS, but I have recently fallen in love with images that are smooth. You know, not a bunch of jagged polygons slapped together. And though these graphics will never be as bad as some of the polygonal atrocities of the early 32-bit era, Echoes of Time's graphic qualities are still quite subpar for Square Enix. I suppose I should say, they are nearly on-par with Final Fantasy III DS, but that game was made years ago, when the DS was still in its infancy (or at least its puberty...).

The cut scenes are the best visual segments of the game. I cannot be certain whether these are pre-recorded FMVs using the in-game engine, or if these scenes are processed real-time; I suspect some cut scenes used the former, and others used the latter. In either case, it is generally worth noting that the cut scenes exhibit a stark improvement over the in-game graphics, even if the characters fail to move their mouths during speech.

Some more echoes

The game's soundtrack, scored by Crystal Chronicles series composer Kumi Tanioka, is fantastic. I had actually listened to the full two-disc soundtrack before playing the game, so I knew I was going to enjoy it. The audio in the context of the game, with its bright, vibrant colors and light-hearted hack'n'slash gameplay, is even better than as a standalone listening experience. Tanioka's quasi-naturalist instrumentation never fails to please.

Lowered expectations

As I said earlier, I was surprised by the quality of the game's story, and I was also a fan of the soundtrack and voice acting. However, when it comes to what really counts, gameplay and control, I really felt let down.

Despite critics' claims that the controls have "tightened" since the earlier two Crystal Chronicles, I still feel that the control is very, very loose. This is a significant problem for a game that focuses on puzzles: particularly jumping puzzles and block-pushing puzzles. I played through the game as a female Selkis, a race with the unique ability to double-jump, one of the advantages over the other three races. If it weren't for this beneficial attribute, I doubt I would have had very much fun playing through the game.

To make matters worse, much of my multiplayer experience was hampered by significant lag. The lag wasn't that bad for me, but for my partner in crime (editor Josh Lewis, playing the DS version), the lag was excruciating. He couldn't seem to overcome even simple jump puzzles, so the alternative solution we came up with was that I would carry him through the difficult areas. But then, when a Selkis carries something (or someone), there is no more double-jump. So we were back to square one, and the lag made for a rather insufferable experience. Solution? Don't put intricate jumping puzzles into a game that is susceptible to lag (i.e., WiFi multiplayer games...)!

Now, if you can get a multiplayer session going with minimal lag, then you're in for a fairly enjoyable experience. Whether completing portions of the story (which only the "host" account actually clears; everyone else gains experience and items, but does not progress in the plot this way), or completing optional quests, or maybe just level-grinding, the multiplayer experience can be very rewarding, particularly if you build a full four-person party. However, one of the best experiences I had involved a Japanese player who randomly linked up to my account thanks to the "Worldwide" connect setting, and then proceeded to intentionally drop dozens of endgame equipment pieces and jewels, used for customization. When he sent the supplied text message "Take it!," I responded with a "Thanks!" and promptly suited up with my unearned rewards. And I had only put four hours into the game at the time. Talk about a freebie!

Whether or not you run into a virtual philanthropist like I did, there's a lot of fun to be had in the multiplayer. But there are still a lot of problems. The major issue is lag, but there are a lot of smaller issues as well; communication can be a rather tedious task, for example. The point is that this game is at its best, even with its faults, during a multiplayer session. Single player is a much more frustrating experience, particularly if you decide to recruit AI partners, though it should be noted that you can complete the entire game without any other characters. But the AI of your other characters is awful. Of course they'll be of no help in solving puzzles; indeed, they are a hindrance. Furthermore, they're not that helpful for battle either. The only interesting thing about single player is that you can take control of any one of the four characters without much hindrance or time wasted. So if you wanted to develop a full party of heroes and learn about each of the four races this way, here would be your venue to do just such a thing.

You want the other one!

Look, I know there's an RPG drought on the Wii, and you may be thirsting for a good Wii RPG. But if you really want to enjoy this game, I do recommend picking up the DS version instead. If you're so stubborn that you simply must have the Wii version of the game, however, hopefully my review will have helped you prepare for what lay ahead: the wonky controls, the awkward screen layout, and graphics that look better on a tiny DS screen than a 42" flat panel TV.

Regardless of version, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time makes some surprising achievements, but it ultimately fails to live up to the perpetual myth that Square Enix has tried to propagate with this series: that multiplayer Action RPGs are the cool new thing. With no lag, you can have brief moments of surprisingly fun gameplay, but it's not a happy-happy-joy-joy love fest from start to finish. You have to put a lot of work into the game (and the WiFi settings) to get a good experience out of it.



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© 2009 Square Enix. All Rights Reserved.


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