Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles for the GameCube was an oddball game for the Final Fantasy franchise. First off, it rekindled a relationship that had long been broken between Square (now Square Enix) and Nintendo (it was the first Final Fantasy game on a Nintendo console since Final Fantasy VI for the SNES). Secondly, it was an action RPG with no real similarities to the franchise at all. Fans could tell from the start that the only reason the title Final Fantasy was even put into this game was to sell more copies. Well, it worked, because Square Enix is now making two more games based off of this spin-off from the Final Fantasy franchise: the first being Ring of Fates for the Nintendo DS.
One thing most people can agree on who played the first Crystal Chronicles for the GameCube was that carrying around the myrrh chalice was a chore and really hurt the game. You had to have one person who was actually willing to carry around the chalice, or you couldn’t play the game and succeed. Ironically enough though, this wasn’t the biggest obstacle people faced when they wanted to enjoy the full potential of Crystal Chronicles; it was the absurd amount of equipment required to even play multi-player. You had to have a GameCube, Game Boy Advance (one for each person who wanted to play), and the Game Boy Advance adapter cords used to hook up the Game Boy Advances to the GameCube (one for each Game Boy). Unless you had friends who had a Game Boy Advance and the willingness to buy the adapter cords required, you most likely played that game as a single-player experience. This was not what Square Enix had in mind when they came up with the concept of the game. They wanted people to play it multi-player because that was how they developed the game, but because of the insane amount of cash required to enjoy the multi-player, not many did.
To remedy the situation, Square Enix split up the single-player and multi-player on Ring of Fates. Single-player has you playing as characters that are integrated into the story, while the multi-player allows you to create your own character like in the first game.
The single-player mode’s story is a prequel to the first game taking place thousands of years before the events in original Crystal Chronicles. There is no miasma to speak of (hence why there is no chalice) and all of the races live in harmony (clavats, yukes, selkies, and lilties). The player takes control of Yuri and Chelinka who are twin brother and sister. They have no mother, and their father was a knight for their king during times of struggle. From the start of the story, you can tell that the main theme is the love of brother and sister. Yuri and Chelinka learn everything together through their father and can’t do hardly anything without the other. They are joined by a handful of other characters, including Meeth (lilty), Alhanalem (yuke), and Gnash (selkie). This makes the party 4 characters since Yuri and Chelinka are represented by one avatar during gameplay. All of the monsters are being infected by red crystals and the twins are linked to this in numerous ways. Along the route to the eventual ridding of this evil, Yuri and Chelinka will face many challenges not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. The main plot is absolutely nothing to get excited about, as it is generic and generally just there to push forward the player into the next dungeon, but the parts of the story that actually have a point to them are generally likeable. You won’t be talking to your friends and going on and on about how awesome the story is, but it’s just enough to make it above the point of dismal.
The basic gameplay concept of Ring of Fates is largely unchanged since the first game, but there are some differences (mainly because of the hardware). One of the biggest additions to the gameplay is the ability to jump. There’s actually platforming elements added into the mix of the puzzle solving and hack n’ slash gameplay. It mixes things up enough that things don’t get stale like in other dungeon crawlers. The puzzle elements are for the most part just like they were in the first game, but are also generally a little harder to figure out. You’ll actually have to think at times on how to get to the next room, unlike the pointless and in the way puzzles from the first game. While the gameplay remains almost unchanged and kicks the atrocious bucket out the door, Ring of Fates still falters in areas the original did not. The controls are particularly awkward and interrupt the gameplay. In order to switch magic during gameplay you actually have to use the touch screen instead of setting them to specific buttons making it impossible to pay attention to the top screen. The game also has no pause feature which means you’ll get pummeled by the enemy while trying to switch magic or look through your item inventory. Another issue that affects the gameplay is the framerate, which dips frequently. It handles fine towards the beginning of the game when you only have one party member, but once you get the AI controlled members things change for the worse. With 4 party members and just a few enemies & items on screen, the framerate starts to chug and doesn’t let up until things leave the screen. The AI controlled members are also as dumb as a bunch of rocks and just sit their while they take it in the face by the enemy. You can press the L button to summon them to wherever you happen to be, but since they never help your best bet is to leave them be unless they are needed to complete a puzzle.
One nice addition to the gameplay is the ability to switch between the characters at anytime, which is a large part of figuring out the puzzles in the game. Each character has a different special ability; Yukes can use magic to create platforms to jump on if there is a magic pole in range, lilties can mix and make magic in a pot, and selkies & clavats have attacks that do more damage than their normal attacks. Lilties can also turn into a pot and reach small and normally unreachable areas while selkies can double jump, making them the most useful to start with. Unlike the original game, you level up in this game by gaining experience instead of choosing an artifact that raises your stats. Each class learns new abilities at certain levels as well like increased combos. The magic system still consists of using a target ring while holding a button and releasing when you want it to go off, but instead of finding the magicite and being able to use it infinite number of times, the magicite is consumable and requires you to find more in order to use it. You still find loot from enemies including the scrolls that make weapons and armor from certain items that drop from enemies, but there are 300 different ones unlike the handful of different ones for each class like the first game. One of the best parts about the game is that your character actually reflects all the equipment you have instead of the typical changing of sword & shield like typical RPGs. It satisfies that compulsive gamer who plays just to get that next piece of equipment that looks totally sweet. The only connection to other Final Fantasy games actually happens to be the equipment. You can find classic equipment for various classes including dark knight and dragoon and equip your character to look just like they do from the other games, which is really cool.
The single-player experience isn’t a memorable one and lasts about 10-15 hours, so if you are in it for the single-player you’ll probably be disappointed. On the other hand, if you want some killer multi-player, Ring of Fates will do the job nicely.
There is no change in gameplay between the two modes, but the multi-player doesn’t incorporate a story. It’s similar to the experience you get if you just played multi-player in Phantasy Star Online Episode 1 & 2. You get to create a character and dive straight in. All of the dungeon layouts are identical to the single-player mode, so you’ll know how to get through them if you play the single-player first. The party can have a max of 4 players in it, but they all have to own the game in order to play. There’s no download play to speak of like other DS games. The biggest disappointment I found in this game though happened to come from the multi-player. There is no online mode like what Square Enix talked about during development, which is a real shame. If this game would have had online modes, the score would have jumped up considerably. Even despite this though, the multi-player is still the strength of the game and will have many people hooked for quite some time. It’s satisfying and doesn’t bog the player down with generic story like the single-player.
Graphically, Ring of Fates is superb. It’s one of the most impressive 3-D games on the system and features some fantastic looking CGI cutscenes to go along with it. The CGI cutscenes aren’t used that much, just a few times actually, but the game looks so well done in-game that it doesn’t really matter. Ring of Fates is a bright and colorful game that is definitely pushing the technical limits of the hardware, hence why the framerate chugs. Had their not been framerate issues, the graphics score would have been higher, but even as it is Ring of Fates still manages a high score in this category.
The sound department fairs nicely, but isn’t quite as remarkable as the graphics. The soundtrack fits the bill nicely, but to me it was a step down from the first Crystal Chronicles, which had a great soundtrack. Ring of Fates actually has a fair amount of voice acting as well to go with a lot of the major plot points and is done quite well. Since the main characters are kids, the voices for them are childish and might get on the nerves of older players, but they fit the character nicely. The sound effects sound mostly the same as the first game, which is fine.
Ring of Fates gets rid of some of the biggest problems with the original game, but also manages to make more in the process. The controls are awkward and the framerate isn’t as good as it needs to be, but you don’t have to carry around that stupid chalice and spend lots of money to play the multi-player. It isn’t remarkably better than the first game, but it is a slight improvement. What it all boils down to is whether or not you want a single or multi-player experience. If you want a single-player experience, Ring of Fates is too short and generic to recommend at its price tag, but if you want some fun dungeon crawling that you can do with a friend than Ring of Fates is worth a purchase. Let’s all hope that Square Enix learned from their mistakes on the first two games and can make the definitive Crystal Chronicles experience with their upcoming Wii game.