Last year when I reviewed Ring of Fates, the first Crystal Chronicles game for the DS, I stated that it was a slight improvement of the formula put in place from the GameCube original, but with flaws that came from the DS hardware and the lack of online play. So what does Square Enix do? They fix some complaints and come out with another Crystal Chronicles game a year later. So why haven’t I fallen in love with this series yet? I think it’s because Square Enix too long to get the formula right and it has gone stale. That, and the online isn’t as awesome as any of us hoped it would be.
Players start the game by creating their hero who is thrust right into the story. You are turning 16 and must participate in a coming of age ceremony where you have to go through the forest and fight baddies to get a prize. That prize happens to be a crystal. Upon returning home from the forest you find out that one of your friends has “crystal sickness” and the only way to cure it is to venture outside the village. There’s just a small problem with that; no one is allowed to leave the village. Everyone agrees that you are the right person for the job so you get sent to a nearby town to see if anyone has a cure. You meet an old scholar named Larkeicus, who agrees to make you a cure in exchange for a favor. You get a cure and afterwards are asked to activate two statues at the tops of an ice mountain and a fire mountain. What you don’t realize is that perhaps this deal was not such a good idea. You also learn that outside of your village crystals are supposed to be long gone, so the scholar takes quite an interest in you. Suffice to say, the story is heavy on clichés and is your standard fantasy fare, but it is executed pretty well thanks to a very good localization. I enjoyed it more than the story in Ring of Fates.
Gameplay wise, Echoes of Time is almost unchanged from Ring of Fates except for a few tweaks resolving issues that annoyed people in the first DS outing. Remember that erratic framerate from the first game? It’s practically non-existent. Other tweaks include being able to switch magic without the use of the touchpad (you can now use the R button and control pad to switch magic) and no longer having to use consumable magic (MP is now used for all magic). Gameplay is still the standard hack n’ slash fare with puzzle and platforming elements thrown into the mix for variety. Unfortunately, these elements that were mildly annoying in Ring of Fates are taken to new levels of frustration when experienced in the highly anticipated online play.
The lack of online play was one of my personal biggest disappointments in the first game. In Echoes of Time you can play across both DS and Wii versions, which is impressive, but unfortunately the Wii version has to be the host when playing with someone that has the DS version. Since only the host advances the story on their record, it’s a shame that the DS has to be a visitor to the Wii version at all times, especially since there is a general consensus that the DS version is the superior one. Visitors to another person’s story should also beware of very annoying command input lag (usually 1-2 seconds) that makes platforming an absolute nightmare and no fun at all. During my playthrough online with a fellow editor, he had to constantly carry me across the platforming bits just so we could progress through dungeons. After hosting a game several times and not having any command input lag whatsoever, I never wanted to visit someone else’s game again, which is a shame.
If you have no desire to play the game online, you can still play the game offline with up to three other people with none of the problems that go with playing online. It’s definitely much more fun that way. If you don’t know anyone with the game, you can add up to three AI controlled party members whom you create yourself. Just like with Ring of Fates though, the AI is absolutely atrocious. You may not even want to deal with the hassle of keeping track of them all. At least they give you the option this time to choose whether they are in your party, instead of just throwing them at you like in Ring of Fates.
Echoes of Time does offer plenty of bang for your buck. After the 10-15 hours it takes you to complete the story, you can do up to 100 optional quests to obtain more loot and gold to improve your character. Online/multi-card play also enhances replayability even more so than in Ring of Fates. Overall, the game is more enjoyable due to the improvements made, but playing the online as a visitor was not something I enjoyed at all and I’m sure others feel the same way. There’s also that impending deja vu that people will experience if they have already played through the first DS game. Echoes of Time is a fun game as long as you are playing offline or hosting, but a frustrating mess that almost becomes unplayable when visiting someone else’s world.
Presentation is the highlight for Echoes of Time. The visuals and music mesh well together and create a great vibe. The graphics are identical to Ring of Fates, but those visuals were outstanding, so this game still looks very good. There’s also virtually no slowdown during offline play, which is something Ring of Fates struggled with immensely. The voice acting is also rather good for a DS game. It puts games like Star Ocean: The Last Hope to shame, which makes me wonder just where the heck Square Enix’s priorities are in terms of localization. And of course the music is great, just like it has always been for the series.
Echoes of Time is the most robust game in the Crystal Chronicles series and has more longevity than many RPGs on the system. It’s too bad the much touted online play isn’t up to snuff, because the DS version is superior the Wii version, overall. If you enjoyed Ring of Fates and are willing to give the formula another go then I’ll recommend the game to you. If you weren’t too keen on Ring of Fates, you can safely skip this with no remorse. If you’re new to Crystal Chronicles, I can’t think of a better way for you to start than here.