It should be abundantly clear by now that Square Enix love the Nintendo DS. Though this love may be fuelled by the monetary success of their previous titles on the system, it’s great to see that it is quality, not money, at the forefront of the developer’s minds.
Though many were looking forward to the release of Square’s other DS games, it is the latest title in the Nintendo exclusive Crystal Chronicles series that has been anticipated the most. After three long years of waiting, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates is finally here.
And the wait was worth it. As soon as you load the game you’ll notice how impeccable Ring of Fates’ presentation is. Right from the get-go you’re welcomed by a visually stunning CG intro, and starting a game provides zero loading time. There’s also a decent amount of voice work throughout the game, which is highly welcome after playing so many Final Fantasy titles where dialogue is read, not heard. It’s true that the majority of the voice work is provided by child actors (the heroes are young), but it is by no means grating.
The game looks great too. The 3D engine used in Final Fantasy III, Chocobo Tales and recently in Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker proves that PSP games aren’t the only portable games which can stun you visually. Whether it’s the fog over the town or the expressions on the faces of characters, everything meshes together to create a wonderful classic Final Fantasy art style.
If you’ve played Crystal Chronicles on the GameCube you would know how impractical is was to play the game to its maximum potential; Ring of Fates fixes this issue by simply making the core of this title a single player affair. Unlike most Final Fantasy titles, the combat system here is in real time and the gameplay can be best described as an Action RPG dungeon crawler.
Removing the turn based staple doesn’t mean the combat now lacks depth; in fact, there’s a surprising amount of depth here. Your melee abilities range from combos, air attacks, grabbing enemies, hanging onto flying monsters, bashing enemies into walls (which shakes loose items otherwise unattainable) and of course specials using the touch screen. When working with a team the depth is fully realised by the ability to stack magic spells and customise ally gear. This is a pocket RPG in name only.
Your AI controlled allies aren’t the smartest or strongest; it’s likely that you’ll see them watching you die. Sometimes, it actually feels quite macabre. Fortunately, as you and your allies level up their awareness will open up, but be prepared to fall while your friends watch helplessly.
It’s easy to expect this instalment in the Crystal Chronicles to be somewhat kiddy with a lesser story than its GameCube father; this couldn’t be further from the truth. The story is highly engaging, spooky and serious, and the characters that flesh it out are developed equally impressively. The amount of dialogue and exposition is nothing short of astounding. This makes the world of Crystal Chronicles feel a lot larger and interesting than the GameCube title ever did.
Ring of Fates is absolutely loaded with content. Accompanying the single-player is a plethora of well-developed mini-games ranging from a Mario Kart clone (which was actually better on the GameCube) to a Moogle face painting game which allows you to trade your artwork with other Ring of Fates owners online. Sure enough, these will occupy a lot of your time, but mastering the game will take a lot more. Trading raw materials dropped by enemies to create custom weapons and perfecting your magic skills are exclamation marks to the point that the game has an almost insane amount of value.
Truth be told, you could pass on the single-player side of the game and purchase Ring of Fates for its multiplayer and still come away with excellent value for your kiwi dollar. Up to four players can team up (provided you’ve all got your own cart) using characters you’ve custom created for the multiplayer experience. In Free Mode you can trek through any area or head to Rebena Te Ra and acquire multiplayer specific quests. The beauty of these quests is that they require teams made up of members with specific classes, meaning formulating strategems is crucial. The only thing which brings the multiplayer down is its frame rate, which is already bad for American gamers - so as you’d expect, it’s even worse for us New Zealanders.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates is easily the best Square title on the DS available now, and possibly the best value for money title on the system too. Taking what was started on the GameCube, refining it, rebuilding it and offering a surfeit amount of content in a portable package, Square have made a classic for all DS owners.