It surprised Wii owners to have Square Enix announce that a Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles game would finally be landing on their system – but it’d be a port of a DS game. Those waiting for the full-version, big-screen game have still got a while to wait, though Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles – Echoes of Time should do something to alleviate their pain.
Echoes of Time sees you play as another new character who has just celebrated his sixteenth birthday. The crystals are wreaking havoc again, this time making people ill with what’s being called the "crystal sickness ". Adventure time!
Presumably taking place in the same universe as the other FF: CC titles, the four races fans will now be familiar with return, all once again hosting a selection of unique abilities that players can choose to use. The art style and direction will look familiar for fans of the previous FF:CC games, and this is no bad thing, as the previous games - even Ring of Fates on the DS - have all been quite pretty.
Graphically the game is the same on both systems, which is good for the DS and not so good for the Wii. On the DS the visuals are reminiscent of Square Enix’s other rather pretty attempts on the console like FF4 DS and Ring of Fates – sharp, nice textures, decent looking models and some really nice looking environments.
On the Wii there are a few small improvements. Transparency actually looks good, some textures are slightly smoother and models a little less jaggy, but on the whole scaling a game from the size and resolution of a DS screen all the way up to the size of a TV is clearly a mistake. The reasoning for this becomes clear when you see the multiplayer manifesto for the game, though.
One player can play on the Wii’s big screen and 3 more players with a DS and the game can hook in and play. This allows for four players in the room a little easier, with the Wii acting as a ‘hub’ for the other systems. The game also is Nintendo Wi-Fi connection enabled and has support for chat in a style reminiscent of Phantasy Star Online – you’re given access to many preset text options, and selecting one will send it to all players in whatever their home language is.
The idea behind this is to create safe, fun online multiplayer without the need for voice chat, though we still feel voice chat (or true free-form text chat) does a lot to make games like this a whole lot more fun. Despite that, multiplayer in Echoes of Time is very, very addictive and great fun if you can get a full party of four together to play, even more-so than the Gamecube original.
On the Wii the game’s two screens are spread out next to each other and can be quickly and easily sized and scaled so if you want one screen bigger than the other so you can focus it’s easily done with a few button presses. There’s no local multiplayer on the Wii which could be construed as a bad thing. We however believe it was a wide decision, avoiding the shared-screen madness that damaged the original Crystal Chronicles title’s playability.
The founding ideas behind the Crystal Chronicles series are still firmly in place in this title, though. Combat is real-time and requires you to get in close and hack at your enemies rather than select items from a menu. Magic returns, but now plays a much bigger role, with the elements you can command actually having an effect on the environment.
It’s a little reminiscent of Zelda puzzles, with some puzzles requiring you melt ice, freeze water or electrify something with lightning, which is a nice touch – elemental magic rarely plays a role outside of combat in Final Fantasy. Puzzles on the whole are well presented, but Square Enix needs to learn that platforming puzzles with an isometric camera are a massive no-no and could cause players to fling their remote or DS at the wall.
Outside of battle, the item synthesis system has been beefed up massively, making it a really interesting way of powering up your characters, and making the process of synthesising new items actually more interesting with more diverse possible outcomes. The usual selection of stores are available in town for buying equipment, too.
There’s a large selection of dungeons all linked by a good-looking 3D overworld map, with your journeys from place to place orchestrated by various NPCs in segments of plot. Some are voice acted, some aren’t, and the story is simplistic and basic, which is all it needs to be for a game like FF:CC.
The voice acting isn’t as high quality as FF4 DS, but any voice acting on the DS is good to see. The music is standard fare for FF:CC, with Kumi Tanioka returning and providing more addictively memorable folk-like tunes for the game.
The game also includes AI partners in an attempt to remove some of the tedium that playing alone has inspired in previous FF:CC titles. It works in a way, but sadly the AI is on the whole quite, quite stupid. Being able to tweak the AI settings of each character is a nice touch and can make them a great addition to the party – especially with their robotically fast healing abilities – but they’re far too dumb far too often, and serve to underline the simple fact that Crystal Chronicles is better with real people.
That’s the thing about Echoes of Time and indeed the Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles series in general, excepting Sim City-styled ‘My Life as a King’. It’s better with more people – Echoes of Time is definitely meant to be played with other people, either in the same room or over Nintendo’s Wi-Fi Connection.
With great gameplay, the only things holding this game back are some of the terribly annoying platform sections, the bad AI and the Wii version looking so much less than it could on the system. In a way, the need for other people is a negative, too.
Tthat said Echoes of Time is a great showcase of Square Enix’s ability to make a compelling, addictive and above all else fun Action-RPG for four players. The fact it has cross-system play between the two systems only serves to make the deal sweeter still. If you’ve got three other people to play it with, buy it.