Nintendo Gamecube savants may recall the lackluster showing of Square Enixís Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles in 2004. Their loss is portable gamersí gain in the upcoming Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates. This sequel attempts what all sequels attain to do: fix the shortcomings of the previous game while developing a flavor of its own.
"Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates doesnít suggest any groundbreaking innovations in gameplay, rather choosing to refine its action-RPG elements until they glisten like tears in the rain."
The gameís lush backgrounds and characters -- who wouldnít be out of place at a Precious Moments convention -- suggest the game's unique flavor right away: light-hearted adventure that covers everything with a thick layer of sweet frosting. The dialogue is cute, the characters are cute, and even the boss monsters are cute. This is an action-RPG though, and a slow hand at the Curagas will drive home how dangerous cute can be. This is especially true when the cute is controlled by a human opponent.
One of the largest draws for the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series has been its multi-player mode. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates does not disappoint, offering cooperative play and head-to-head action for up to four players. The multi-player process is handled with the DSís wireless capabilities; itís no online play, but a far sight better than navigating the equipment necessary to join swords in the gameís predecessor. Also of note is Ring of Fates' distinct lack of magic buckets. The life-giving urn that was the bane of the seriesí first offering is no longer present. Characters may now travel as far as they want from each other in their search for treasure. Crossing to a new screen requires all characters to be together, but spontaneous poisoning is no longer a problem.
Single-player mode follows the adventures of two twins, Chelinka and Yuri. These rosy-cheeked moppets delve dungeons across the land in search of an ancient evil. In the process, they move from pastoral innocence to premature adulthood, explore of the meaning of family, and find a deeper understanding of each other. Chelinka and Yuri meet several companions on their quest, each of whom can be controlled by the player with the touch of a button.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates doesnít suggest any groundbreaking innovations in gameplay, rather choosing to refine its action-RPG elements until they glisten like tears in the rain. Its dungeons are packed with real-time hacking and ally-throwing, but all in an eerily familiar way. The labyrinths will prove instantly familiar to anyone who has encountered platforms in need of jumping, barrels in need of tossing, or switches that rend the night with their cries to be pressed.
Most of the game consists of dungeoneering, but that isnít all there is to do. Like most Square Enix offerings it boasts an item creation system. Unlike most Square Enix offerings, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates has powerful moogle-painting algorithms and an advanced dress-up system. The world is home to a network of moogles dedicated to helping adventurous youths; naturally, many of them can be customized with a simple in-game paint program. The resulting mooglepieces can be traded over Wi-Fi as tokens of camaraderie and achievement.
Each character can be equipped with articles of clothing from a pool of over 300 objects. The equipped items are then recreated on the characterís avatar. Each tribe has its own sense of fashion, so two similar objects may be worn differently by characters from separate tribes.
The control scheme makes full use of the Nintendo DSís features without coming off as gimmicky. The control pad and buttons command most of the action, but the dual screens and stylus play integral roles as well. The touch screen allows the player to keep track of allies, items, and other resources such as magicite crystals. Dialogue and the majority of the action occur on the upper screen. However, certain special abilities shift the action briefly to the touch screen. These abilities are targeted by tapping or dragging the stylus.
Kumi Tanioka, the composer behind Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, provides musical accompaniment. It is solidly cheerful, as befits the rest of the gameís colorful nature. The score is backed by detailed cut-scenes, which make full use of the Nintendo DSís resources. Although not all of the gameís dialogue is spoken, the cut scenes feature original English voice acting. Despite the limited vocal options, the game supports international outreach efforts in a different manner. English, French, Spanish, and German text are available on the PAL release. Come multi-player time, each player is able to view the adventure in the appropriate language.
Crystal Chronicles fans donít need to wait long to start shouting at their friends and neighbors. The game will reach North American shores on March 11, 2008. European fans will have to wait a little longer for the gameís March 22 release.