Platform: Game Cube linked with GBAs
Consensus: Probably the best cooperative living room multi-player game out there right now.
Crystal Chronicles is a multi-player action RPG. By this we do not mean that it is a single player RPG, with a multi-player component added on to it as an afterthought. Crystal Chronicles was built from the ground-up to be a multi-player game; you can play it in single-player, with an computer controlled character for assistance, but you probably don’t want to — where this game shines is in the multi-player. And it’s living room multi-player to boot
The game does require a bit of an outlay on hardware. Each player must have a Game Boy Advance and a cable to connect it to the Game Cube to play — the GBA serves as a controller, map, and inventory management system. It also feeds you secret missions, which add a competitive element to the mainly cooperative play.
Game-play is divided between dungeons, towns, and a world map. You spend most of your time in dungeons, each of which take 1/2 hour to 2 hours to complete. Once a dungeon has been completed, progress can be saved from the world map. The lack of in dungeon saves means that you have to set aside some time to play, but the relatively short dungeon length means that it fits comfortably into evening “TV time.” You can also play for longer stretches — we’ve spent some weekend days playing 3 to 4 dungeons in a row, broken up by in game shopping trips to towns.
Multi-player matters in several ways. Most of the puzzles take some cooperation to complete. The better spells all require the coordination of multiple players to cast. And the bosses demand that your team develop and execute a strategy together — beating a boss is truly an occasion for high fives all round. The secret missions add an element of competition — the player who executes their secret mission best gets the first pick of the loot at the end of each dungeon.
The game gets more competitive the more players you have. With 2 players, even though the player who “wins” the secret mission mini-competition gets the first pick of items at the end of each dungeon, there are enough items that the other player is usually going to get something decent. With 3 to 4 players, pickings get a bit slim at last place, providing more incentive to do well at your secret mission, even if it means messing the party up a bit (it can get really annoying when the big bruiser of the party has been instructed to “inflict no physical damage” for the duration of a dungeon, for example). Red and I get competitive no matter how strong the incentive, of course – we wound up having to forge a “no missions that screw the strategy” truce early on.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is that you can actually wander off the TV screen in dungeons. You rarely want to wander outside of the sphere of protection provided by the Crystal Chalice that the party carries — not only does the miasma gathering around it hurt you, but you’re reduced to navigating via the map on your Gameboy — but the fact that you can is an example of the sort of free, open game design that I like to see. I wish that the designers had been able to implement a similar mechanic in the villages; I really hate it when I want to walk left and Red wants to walk right, and both of us bump up against the invisible wall of the TV screen, which has no actual in-gameanalogy.
That last is a minor quibble, however, for an otherwise great game. I love the dungeon length, the clean levelling and spell casting system, and the tragic fairy tale feel of the world. Crystal Chronicles is a refreshingly fun game, and I look forward to the sequels coming out on the Wii and the DS.
At first I was put off by how damn “cute” the characters are. Once I got into the game, that stopped mattering.
The scenery is lovely, and the voice of the woman who gives the dungeon intros is to die for (rich Scotch accent). Beyond that though, the game play is quite fun. The battles are very different from other FF games, in that they are real time, and your characters can sneak around behind the monsters to get better shots. (FF XII uses the gambit system which plays more like this, but the way characters wait for attack meters to fill up is much more natural feeling in CC.) You can choose to make lots of quick strikes, or gather yourself to make a larger attack with magic or weapons. A player controlled target helps to minimize button mashing and helps with immersion because you never auto target – the player has to be engaged with the monster in order to beat it.
I REALLY love the short format dungeons. Rather than hitting the next save point before bedtime, we can complete an adventure, which is much more fulfilling.
Patch is player one on this game, so he gets to control the caravan movement when we are on the world map. This can get boring for me, especially if he misses exits or makes a wrong turn (“are we there yet?”). Fortunately, we spend relatively little time on the world map, and because I miss out on some of that action, I feel fully justified in making him play the medic so I can be a front line bashing machine once we enter the dungeon.