When Crystal Chronicles came to the US in early 2004, it seemed like a mea culpa. Years earlier, Square had abandoned the N64, instead bringing Final Fantasy VII to the PlayStation. And then the trend continued, as VIII, IX, X and XI all followed suit and became Sony exclusives. Final Fantasy fans who grew up with NES and SNES were devastated and betrayed.
I can remember seeing Crystal Chronicles in a game store back then and being delighted to see a new Final Fantasy console release on Gamecube. And even better? It was a Gamecube exclusive. It felt like I had to have it.
But maybe - just maybe - it was that feeling that made the game fun to me back then. Maybe I was so enamored with the fact I was playing a new Final Fantasy game on Gamecube that really made the game feel "good." Because I'll tell you this, folks: Crystal Chronicles has not aged well.
Last year, Square announced that they'd be porting a big pile of Final Fantasy games that had never appeared on Nintendo platforms to Switch. The one I was most excited about was Crystal Chronicles. I guess I had those memories attached. And I do have a soft spot for the weird non-numbered Final Fantasy games.
Well, the demo for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered dropped last night. Like with Dragon Quest XI, Square has given us a generous demo that you could sink some decent time into. I thought that this is what I'd be playing for the next week or so. But apparently, not so much.
My memories of Crystal Chronicles - as fuzzy as they may have been - were that the game looked gorgeous, and that it was a pretty fun Diablo clone. I mean, the game was built with co-op in mind, but I didn't have anyone to play it with back then on Gamecube. So to me, it was always a single player game, for good or bad.
Maybe the game was good in 2004. Maybe. But we've come a long way, baby. And yes, Crystal Chronicles does still look really pretty. But my goodness. I think I sort of hate everything else about it.
First off, let's talk about the atrocious loading times. This is 2020. A game by a large company like Square should definitely be more optimized than this. I'm talking about long loading times between... everything. Starting the game is like loading screen, pick your save file, loading screen, cut scene, loading screen, move your party, loading screen, cut scene, loading screen, move your party, pick a dungeon, loading screen, cut scene, loading screen... agh! There is just no momentum. I could feel the boredom setting in.
Just as maddening is the control scheme for battles. Basically everything is done with one action button. So you have to constantly scroll through a list to change what that action button does. You literally have to change Attack to Cure and then back to Attack, for instance. It sucks. Back in 2004 maybe this seemed like a good solution. But in the time leading up to 2020, we've seen other games (like Phantasy Star Online) come up with better fixes on console. Why couldn't we just assign actions we use a lot to separate buttons? If you're going to go through the trouble of remastering the game, why not iron out its UI wrinkles?
And forget casting spells. It takes so long to pull off a spell that it doesn't seem worth it to me. During the fight against the crab boss, I tried using Blizzard on him. You have to hold down the action button for a good second or two before it registers that you want to cast a spell, then move the little reticle thing with the analog stick. Again, if the spell is my active action, then shouldn't the button just cast the spell without holding it down? Annoying. Eventually it just seemed less tedious to get in there and attack up close with my little sword.
Everything about this game feels like the game is battling the player. It's as if Square is challenging you to like the damn thing. Back in 2004 I was able to see through the madness, but in 2020 with a near endless library of games to choose from, I just can't seem to motivate myself to enjoy this one again. It's a bummer, but it's also a prime example of just how powerful nostalgia can be.