It’s difficult to imagine a better Final Fantasy game to get remastered in 2020 than Crystal Chronicles. Earlier this year we saw Final Fantasy VII Remake fundamentally flip the script on what to expect from a remake of a classic game but with Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition, Square Enix has opted for a softer touch.
It beckons fans of the original back to simpler times with a remaster that is more the game you remember rather than the game it was. It also invites new players in with open arms, offering a simple yet affecting tale of family and adventure that feels particularly welcome in our uncertain world.
It isn’t without blemish, however, and its simplicity may leave some feeling underwhelmed but taken on its own terms, Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition is a sweet little bit of escapism.
Crystal Chronicles Remastered Review
First up though, a primer for those who missed this spin-off back in the day of thicc purple consoles. Crystal Chronicles exists somewhat parallel to the Final Fantasy series, a more streamlined approach aimed at allowing more players access to the trappings of the long-running series. It’s smaller in scale than your average Final Fantasy RPG but within those limits, it created something wholly unique which rightfully captured the hearts of a dedicated fan base.
The game sees you and your trusty caravan trundling through a realm that is just barely holding back a mystical toxic miasma. This noxious gas plagues the land to no end and those who choose to make lives there must utilise crystals powered by myrrh to keep the gas at bay. Every year these crystals need to be essentially recharged and so a caravan of young adventurers from every town is sent out to gather more myrrh from various locations across the region.
This is where you come in, naturally. Building your little hero is a fairly simple affair but, like almost everything in the game, is overflowing with character. There are four playable tribes, each of which serves as character classes with unique traits and playstyles. I opted for the bizarre bronzed avian clan of Yukes who specialise in magic and looking dope, the other races being more melee or rogue focused. That said, Crystal Chronicles Remastered’s accessible combat means that no matter who you choose you’re bound to have fun with it.
Customisation is a touch limited in terms of cosmetics but each tribe has a nice selection of different looks, voices, and can be played as either male or female. You’ll also get to name yourself, your town (if you so choose) and decide on the profession of your family, a choice that will impact gameplay later. With your quaint hometown and family in the rearview, you’ll set out across multiple regions, spending “years” adventuring and collecting myrrh.
In reality, a year in the game should run you about two hours if you’re powering through, at the end of each you’ll return home and celebrate with a festival. Along the way, you’ll be recording your adventures, big and small, in the titular chronicle of your life, a book which goes on to inform a huge part of the story that is genuinely quite touching. Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition isn’t hugely preoccupied with the story, although the final act does delve into some wild stuff, but rather on the moments in between the grand narratives of RPGs.
Still, the requisite antics of a hero and their Moogle buddy call to you and either alone, or with co-op pals, you’ll set out to help keep life in your town going for another year. You’ll navigate a cute storybook style world map in your caravan, encountering towns, points of interest and dungeons along the way to the next miasma gate. These maps are beautifully drawn but do lay bare the linear nature of the game, which actually helps the pacing more than hinders it.
Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition also shirks the turn-based combat of its parent franchise and instead goes for an action-orientated dungeon crawler more akin to Diablo. You have a basic attack and defence move, along with several other command presets you choose in the menu and can then cycle through with the triggers in real-time combat. These slots can be filled with special attacks, magic, healing items and so on. It’s a nice hybrid of systems, allowing for easy access to a variety of moves such as powerful spell combinations, without over cluttering the controls.
That pesky miasma is where the dungeons get really interesting though. It is ever-present and as such needs to be kept at bay by a special crystal chalice that your Moogle pal carries around. This creates a safe zone circle around the chalice that you can’t stray from without risking a quick death, hugely limiting your area of movement. I personally found this limitation pretty exciting, adding a needed layer of complexity to an otherwise straightforward dungeon experience but it is sure to be divisive.
Doubly so considering how these mechanics change during multiplayer mode. When entering a dungeon, or setting out on the adventure for the first time, you can opt to play Crystal Chronicles Remastered with three other people across all platforms (a consumer-friendly choice with frustrating gameplay impacts). Combat changes in this mode, meaning you can no longer combine your own spells to form stronger ones but instead combine with other players magic, casting together for better attacks. The Moogle who carries the chalice is also gone, making one player the holder of the miasma barrier which needs to be near constantly moving.
This reliance on cooperation is nicely in line with the game’s themes and tone but the realities of these mechanics are a little less ideal. Communication is key here, which becomes an issue across multiple platforms. There are in-game messages you can have your character shout but later dungeons require fast decision making and coordination, which without voice chat could become a bit of a nightmare. On top of this is the general headache of actually connecting with other players, a convoluted mix of friend codes, map restrictions and region locking.
It’s an undoubtedly frustrating blemish on a game so well suited for our times. Keen players will likely still find ways to deal with these issues but it’s an unforced error that can’t really be overlooked. This online functionality also seems to have come at the cost of couch co-op, a decision which might suit our current socially distanced times but is another disappointing in the long run.
Dungeons and boss battles run the gambit of quality too, with some being overly simple and others wildly fun. The game is rather simple when taken as a whole, even with later game flourishes to combat like quick-time events and like. I was never bored as such but there are times when, especially playing alone, you might find yourself falling into a bit of a mechanical trance. At least until the difficulty spikes and you’ll be left wondering why you tried to go it alone in the first place.
There are minor quibbles and gripes to be made about these dungeon layouts or simplified combat systems but taken as a whole the game does often manage to rise above them. It’s greater than the sum of its parts, thanks in large part to that undeniable charm and earnestness that defines its character and themes. Small touches, like the mail you receive from family and friends prompting new crafting items, being able to paint and give haircuts to your Moogle and so much more make it such a joy to experience.
Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition also spruces up the cutscenes and general story with newly recorded voice acting for a majority of the dialogue. Mileage will vary on this as purists might find the original game’s text-based delivery more appealing but the new voices mostly range from inoffensive to pretty cute. They are entirely optional at the very least and can be switched off in the options menu.
The game also looks damn good, a fitting HD remaster of an art style that was already timeless in its own right. Models and textures are crisp and move smoothly around beautifully rendered locations. Everything feels appropriately fairytale-like, with cutesy UWU flourishes and bright colours. It again speaks to how wholesome the game feels, touching on the essence of Nintendo’s specific charm while retaining the unique high-fantasy elements that make Final Fantasy so appealing in the first place.
Then there’s the soundtrack, which opens with a stunning new recording of the game’s main theme and continues to delight from there on out. Composer Kumi Tanioka’s inspired score hasn’t aged a day since it first graced us with its wind instruments and ancient sounds. Much like the art direction it enhances the games storybook qualities and lends the whole thing a gravitas that is equal parts primordial and whimsical.
Thematically it focuses on the power of storytelling, the importance of memories and how family can be found anywhere through mutual struggles and victories. It is, frankly, downright lovely and feels especially welcome in our current climate. The game has a consistently charming streak running through the whole experience, reinforced by its mechanics and held together with gorgeous art direction and a soundtrack which threatens to steal the whole show.
It’s just all so captivating and lovely, rising above small annoyances or shortcomings to prove why it has been held up as a classic for so long. The online functionality is the only glaring issue here and will hopefully be addressed in future updates. Still, the remaster treats the core game with great care and ensures that Crystal Chronicles will go on being beloved for many years to come.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered was reviewed on PS4 using digital code provided by the publisher.