Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time - Staff Review  

Finding Time to Play Together
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time
Less than 20 Hours
+ It has global Wi-Fi play.
+ Lots of fun loot gathering.
+ Solid visuals and voice acting.
- The camera works against you.
- Puzzles designed for multiplayer.
- Story is laughable.
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   At first glance, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time seems like a cheap cash-in on the development of the prior DS title, Ring of Fates. In reality, it is what Ring of Fates should have been: a loot-collecting RPG with a strong focus on multiplayer and the implementation to make it happen. Echoes of Time takes the best parts of Ring of Fates and focuses on improving those while doing little else. The result is a game light on story and heavy on looting.

   The one area where Echoes of Time doesn't really hold up well is the story. Not to say that the plot itself is bad, but it's just such a minor focus of the overall package that it feels tacked on. Most people won't even care what's going on, but will merely progress the story to open new areas and garner improved equipment. The game starts with the character creation process in which players select one of the four typical Crystal Chronicles races: Clavat, Yuke, Selkie, or Lilty. This unit will act as the main storyline character even though other units can be created or recruited. The story focuses on temporal mechanics and how the crystals are used to both save and destroy the world. The plot of the story may not be the most inventive ever and character development may be quite low, but the manner in which the story is told works quite well as a means of progressing the game.

   The true enjoyment of Echoes of Time is going to come from loot gathering. As players explore dungeons and defeat enemies, items will drop which are then used in recipes to create new weapons and armor. Paired equipment can allow the game's characters to take on the look of the classic Final Fantasy jobs such as Dragoon, White Mage, and Red Mage, along with unique jobs like Setzer's Gambler. Hunting down items and scrolls to create new armor is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game and will easily have many gamers wasting hours of time even after the end of the main quest. Story progression is the only limiting factor, as new recipes only open up when new locations are found or objectives are completed.

Evil Evil ladder puzzles.

   Much like Ring of Fates, the ally AI and controls are a hindrance. Computer-controlled characters have AI presets that can be modified at will and most will follow those rules quite well. Allies will heal when needed and don't tend to waste attacks, but their movement is idiotic. Characters will get stuck on the wrong side of a bottomless chasm or blindly walk off a cliff into a lava pit. Thankfully there is a helpful warp button mapped that will teleport all allies behind the currently controlled character, and expect to use that button often.

   In terms of control, the game is a fairly straightforward action RPG with loads of platforming puzzles. Combat is intuitive and flexible depending on which race is being controlled and what weapon is being used. Players can swap between any of the four characters in the party with a tap of the stylus, so there is a great deal of variety in combat options. The problems come mainly from having an option that requires a shoulder button be held down while an arrow on the directional pad is pressed. It's too easy to confuse the option of changing characters with changing magic type, so a mix of button controls and stylus controls seems to work best. Thankfully, one major improvement made over Ring of Fates is that players are no longer required to gather specific colored orbs to cast the corresponding spell, as all spells are available at any time for a set amount magic points. Spells can also be stacked for greater results, such as two cure spells creating cura. Melee combat also offers combo and charge attacks, so there is a ton of variety in the gameplay.

   Echoes of Time features a lot of puzzles, as each area of a dungeon will have at least one that is required to open the next zone. Most of these are not problematic, but a few scattered throughout the game are extremely frustrating due to horrid camera angles or a design that would be much simpler to complete with more than one person controlling the characters. For those playing the game alone, understanding how to clear these road blocks will not take long, but actually pulling off the solution might take a great deal of time.

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   Thankfully, Echoes of Time offers a multiplayer mode that is seamlessly integrated with the single player story instead of just being available for the game's optional missions. This multiplayer option is available via local wireless and over Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection, meaning that players in the same house or across the ocean can battle together. Players can either host their own adventure to complete quests in story mode, or join someone else's adventure. Multiplayer is not limited by friend codes either, as there is an option to team up with a randomly matched group of up to three other players. The lag can vary greatly for those joining someone else's game, so just prepare for some hit or miss action. Level balancing has not been addressed, as joining players may not be at a reasonable level for the circumstances. For those able to team up, the experience is fairly solid even if communication is not extremely smooth. There are built-in instant sayings for quick and dirty communication between teammates, but the nested menus of sayings often take too long to access to be useful. Despite that issue, another player-controlled character is more likely than the AI to play effectively.

   Regardless of whether player-controlled characters or computer AI are assisting during the main quest, there is little challenge during this fifteen to twenty hour adventure. Bosses are all easily manageable, and the only easy way to die is when an overwhelming amount of enemies are on-screen. The game has an unfortunate tendency to slow down during these heavy action areas, so responses take longer than they should. Despite the slowdown issues, the game's presentation is very solid. The graphics and art style are classic Crystal Chronicles fare, and the soundtrack is decent as well. What really stands out is how well the game's voice-acted cutscenes blend in with the complete package. The DS is a system that has had very few solid implementations of well-done cutscenes complete with voice work, but Echoes of Time does a wonderful job of it. It's a shame that this work is wasted in a game with a story that is hard to care about.

   Overall, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Times is an enjoyable game with a few noticeable faults. The gameplay is engaging even if hindered by the various control issues. The story is well-told and well-presented even if the plot is weak and haphazardly thrown together. The loot gathering makes the game very addictive, as it's easy to spend a big chunk of time looking for that one item needed to craft a new piece of armor. While the ally AI is still as horrendous as it was in Ring of Fates, the Wi-Fi multiplayer more than makes up for it. While it would be easy to say that Echoes of Time is just a copy-and-paste job with the story cut back and more loot tossed in, it's more accurate to say that this is just a less charming version of Ring of Fates with some great new options, but still with some rough edges. With the strong multiplayer focus and the implementation to support it, at least it's a step in the right direction.

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