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Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates Reviews
StoryThe major complaint about the original game was its lack of real story, the plot being a series of spinoff stories about minor characters, and of course something of a world history, with backgrounds on locations being much more apparent. Square Enix saw fit to change this by removing the initial character generation (relagated instead to the game's meaty multiplayer), introducing a set party of four characters with distinct personalities, and creating a plot revolving around a pair of young twins, Yuri and Chelinka.
At first, the game's plot might seem as childish as the appearance of the twins when they are first presented: a plot that seems to be about the strength of the bonds between the brother and sister, the nature of excitement towards adventure and friendship, and the journey to avenge the people behind the death of their father, to prevent those that hurt them in the past coming to hurt them again. The "childish" plot is further emphasised by the way certain characters speak, such as the Lilty, Meeth, who ends all her sentences with a harsh "ee" sound, like "It's only because you think its heavy!", sometimes inventing new ways to speak certain words just to fit that pattern, like with "I could swing that hatchet as easily as a spoony!". In contrast, the main characters Yuri and Chelinka talk in a much more adult fashion which seems disjointed when those older than them have a sentence construction fitting for a three-year-old.
This difference in childish/adult speech pattern is also present throughout the theme of the game's story, a game that presents childish themes, and yet incredibly mature ones at the same time, a fact obviously noted by the ratings board, as Europe's PEGI rated it 12+. Throughout the course of the game, the story of youths on a friendly adventure turns to the darker nature of religious corruption, seen through the story of the Temple of Rebena Te Ra infiltrated by Lunites who oppose the Light of the Crystal. As well as this the plot explores the existence of multiple worlds (dimensions), the manipulation and travel through these worlds, aspects of time travel, corruption within the heart, sacrifice, the list goes on.
All in all this leads to a slight confusion, are we playing a game aimed at children, or aimed at more mature audiences? This imbalance also stretches in how the game is set out, the true meaty plot of the game (as opposed to the childish adventure theme) doesn't really permeate until very late in the story, and as such gets squashed in within a short space of time.
GameplayThe gameplay of Ring of Fates remains, at its heart, true to the original Crystal Chronicles, meaning that its essentially an adventure game, with monsters appearing directly in whatever area you're exploring, and you get to attack them with various pushes of buttons. Relatively fast paced, and made more exciting with the inclusion of a Magicite system not unlike that of the Gamecube title (hold X and a Target Ring will appear, move it over target, let go, Magic is cast) and an Item function working similarly to that of Magic.
The differences in this system to the original game's come in several respects, first of all only Clavats can perform Combo attacks, and you don't need to time your button-presses to do so. Magicite is no longer lost once you leave a dungeon, instead you can keep a limited number of each Magicite on you permanently, and you use these up when you cast them, and replenish your stock by finding, buying, or making it (more on that later). Ring of Fates also doesn't employ a restricting "Ring Menu" system whereby you could only access a certain amount of items at a time, instead, you can now access all your Magicite (Fire, Blizzard, Thunder, Cure, Raise, and Clear) and Items (Potion and Ether) from the touchscreen nice and easily.
As well as this, Square Enix added the new "Tribe Ability" system, whereby each race has access to their own special ability, accessed by pressing the R shoulder button (or by touching the Weapon icon on the touchscreen). For the Clavats and Selkies (or Yuri and Gnash in story mode), this ability is virtually useless, as it merely allows you to perform stronger attacks on enemies, but leaves you vulnerable to attacks because you can't move and dodge. The Yuke's (or Alhanalem's) ability is the one you're forced to use the most in-game, as it allows them to activate the power hidden within magical posts to cause footholds and climbing vines to appear, as well as light magical candles. The Yuke's ability to make "invisible" items appear also allows them to see hidden items such as Phoenix Downs (for example, try using their Tribe Ability on Mt Vaal before picking the giant Moogle Plant). The Lilty's (Meeth's) ability is the one I find of most use, as it allows you to create Magicite in their melting pots by collecting "magic clouds" emitted by little structures, which is sometimes incredibly necessary if you're running low on Magic. The ability also allows you to create other items, such as Materials for use in Workshops.
As with the Gamecube title, making your own equipment is a big part of the game, with enemies dropping Scrolls on a regular basis, on which are written the recipes necessary to make either Weapons, Head Armour, Body Armor, or Accessories. These Scrolls, and the necessary items needed for the fulfilling of the recipe, are used up upon confirmation of payment (which will increase slightly if you choose to use an additional jewel in the process, which increases the benefits of the Scroll). A majority of Scrolls are useable for all four races, such as the Novice's Weapon scroll (which makes a Hatchet for Clavats, a Wooden Staff for Yukes, a Wooden Bow for Selkies, and a Wooden Hammer for Lilties), whilst some are exclusive to certain races, or even genders, such as the Formal Fashion Scroll (a Tuxedo for male Clavats and Selkies). Another point to make on this front is that equipment changes the appearance of your playable characters, something which never happened on the original Crystal Chronicles (where you only controlled your overall game appearance at the start of the game).
Add to this an exploration system which isn't too small so as to be over too quickly, but not so large so that it gets boring, with a splattering of enemies, and a returning moogle painting system, much expanded upon from the original game, even allowing you to trade your designs with other people across Nintendo's WiFi network and you're good to go. One small annoying aspect is the fact that monsters are rather unoriginal, as there are only roughly 15 monsters (and then bosses for each dungeon) throughout the entire game, with some of them being recoloured to create "new" monsters, something which I felt to be a small disappointment.
After all this, you may wonder as to the game's multiplayer. Well here it comes, when you start it up you get to create a character by choosing from any of the world's four races, and then choosing a gender. This fixes your appearance from one of seven designs (for some reason both the male and female Yuke designs are identical). Once you've completed the rather sparse formalities of creating and naming a character, you access multiplayer (where you can play alone, or with friends in a local setting only, as the game requires you to be able to communicate decisions). Multiplayer is split into two distinctly different modes: Quests and Free. Quests are probably what everyone is wanting from the multiplayer, by talking to King Kolka in Rebena Te Ra Castle, you get to take part in multiplayer quests. These quests aren't just about exploration and killing like the game's Story Mode, but instead range from things like killing monsters within a time limit to activating all the switches in a location of the game as quickly as possible via the rather bizarre quest of finding black and white cats and putting them into seperate herding pens. And if that gets boring or you just want to level up your character, you can send them off into the world and train them in locations from the main game as well.
The gameplay, however, does have some downfalls, most of which stem from an overtly complex mix of the use of buttons and touchscreen. Whilst the majority of the game is played using the buttons and D-pad, since the action takes place on the upper screen, there's a clumsy addition of the need for touchscreen. Access to all your Magicite and Items is done by pressing the appropriate icon in battle, which leads to frustration if you're low on health, and you need to stop jumping and attacking in order to switch to your Cure Magicite, leaving you vulnerable to attack, it feels as if Square Enix designed it for people with three hands. As well as this, the Tribe Abilities are made mostly useless as they leave your character completely unplayable whilst you select your targets on the touchscreen, and thus again, totally open to attack. Finally, my biggest gripe, the game cannot be paused, at all, unless you close the DS. For those of us with a natural instinct to hammer the Start button when someone tries talking to you in the middle of a boss fight, this will lead you to a few casualties. I've played Ring of Fates for a total of 30 hours now (although a portion of that has been me leaving the DS open for this review, or when I've gone to make a drink, etc...) and I'm only just pretty much getting used to the fact that Start is useless.
Another minorly annoying aspect of the game is the almost total lack of coherant AI with the party members in Story Mode. You only ever control one character at a time (though you can freely switch between different party members), and the others will attempt to follow you around and they will occasionally try out the odd attack themselves. The AI, however, is really dumb, easily getting stuck on complex paths, getting killed because they don't move out of the way of attacks, and you'll find yourself ignoring the use of Raise Magicite simply because they're of so little use except in exploration of dungeons. However, to fix the absolutely uselss path-finding skills of your party members, a quick press of the L shoulder button makes them instantly warp to your party leader, a very handy feature.
Overall the gameplay mechanics of Ring of Fates are nicely polished and work extremely well. Other than the occasional problem caused by the nature of the game's control system, and somewhat dodgy AI.
Graphics & DesignWith Ring of Fates retaining a lot of the major staff from The Game Designers Studio (aka Squaresoft's Development-2 Studio), the game has strived to stay recognisable to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. To this effect Art Director and Main Character Designer Toshiyuki Itahana has carefully selected and crafted a team that would stay true to the visuals that we remember from the original game, and translate them as well as possible for the Nintendo DS. Fairly-well polished, in-game designs and textures seem to lie somewhere between Final Fantasy III's unfinished look and Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales' more simplistic, but incredibly refined and finished visual appeal. I suppose what I mean by this is that visuals simply don't feel finished, especially for the world-map system, which I felt was ridiculous in comparison to that of Crystal Chronicles.
What the game has achieved visually is an amazing diversity via the game's locations and of course, armour choices. The game's locations range from a small village to a rain-sodden ruined temple via a city, snow-covered mountain, volcano, forest, and more. In fact, the only location that you could say was missing would be a desert, and to be honest, after Final Fantasy XII I think I've seen enough of deserts for a while. For those who liked the locations of the original game, a handful of them make a nice return, such as Rebena Te Ra in its former pre-miasma glory, Kilanda Isles, and even the River Belle Path makes a return once you finish and restart the game.
The game's graphical surprise comes in the form of how your characters change appearance depending on the combination of Head Armour and Body Armour you're wearing. This is a feature the development team are very happy with, and I must admit its a feature I like myself. Designs for armour pieces vary from the traditional Japanese ninja and samurai designs to more Western bronze and iron armour suits, all the way through an array of more jokey outfits such as frog costumes for Lilties or maid outfits for the women of your party. Want to dress up as a pirate? Or a chocobo? Why not combine the two? The possibilities are endless. And of course it wouldn't be Final Fantasy if they didn't have the traditional designs, like cloaks that turn your characters into Black or White Mages, and there's even clothing choices that allow your characters to resemble the choices of designs from Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles.
This is Final Fantasy, and no modern-day Final Fantasy game would be complete without the requisite pre-rendered video sequences, so of course Ring of Fates is no exception. Unlike Final Fantasy XII Revenant Wings which had a relatively large amount of these throughout the game, in Ring of Fates we are teased with a number of these countable with the fingers of one hand, which, other than the loop demo before the game's title sequence are limited to a handful of seconds, definitely something that hasn't had an over-abundant amount of time invested in the making of.
Visually, the experience of the game is entirely subjective to the gamer, and depends on whether or not you were a fan of the designs from the original Crystal Chronicles game for the Gamecube. On a more technical scale, if you thought the graphics for Final Fantasy III were passable, you should enjoy the graphics for this game, which are much more polished, and are some of the most stylised and enjoyable visuals available on the Nintendo DS.
Graphics & Design: 8/10
Music & SoundReturning for Ring of Fates is the composer behind the gorgeous soundtrack for Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Kumi Tanioka. Her work on the original game using an array of "ancient" instruments from the medieval and renaissance periods gave the soundtrack a gorgeous and original feel, and very much set the mood for the game, and as such we were all expecting much of the same.
A disappointment is probably the best way to describe the game's musical score. Whilst not bad as such, comparing it to the original game (as many of us did), it just does not seem as though Tanioka spent any time working on it. It is entirely possible that the soundtrack has lost something in its transition from composition and arrangement (studio quality) to its game quality synthesising by Yasuo Yamanaka as I've heard one track from the game's actual soundtrack and it is of a much higher quality and is much more pleasurable to listen to. Unfortunately though, the soundtrack has to be rated based on what we hear in game, and as I said, for me it was a huge disappointment. Sound effects for the game, however, all seem to be well crafted, and gel nicely with what they're supposed to be. I haven't really found one that sounds out of place.
The big sound-surprise for the game is the quality of the voice-over work performed for key scenes littered throughout the story. At first I was dubious as to how they'd sound, having heard a few of the voiced scenes in the Japanese version, where it sounds as though they used the first group of people they found on the street. The English voices, however, are of a much better caliber than I'd originally anticipated, and deliver the majority of their lines fluidly, believably, and naturally. Obviously the voices aren't always perfect, and there is the odd line which sounds off, such as some of Cu Chaspel's many insane evil laughter moments, and virtually all of Lady Tilika's lines (which is only about ten). A fully official voice cast hasn't been confirmed for this game, with the actors providing their work uncredited. Certain websites have, however, been listing a handful of credits (though whether they're reliable I can't guarantee) of established voice actors such as Mona Marshall as Yuri, Paul St.Peter as the twins' father Latov, and Liam O'Brien as the villainous Cu Chaspel.
Unfortunately, despite good voice performances and fun sound effects, the soundtrack really lets the game down in the music department, and you may find yourself trying to find other things to listen to whilst playing (especially during the second visit to Rela Cyel). Its a shame considering the woman behind the game's composition.
Music & Sound: 7/10 (saved somewhat by good voices)
Length & ReplayabilityOkay, on a technical aspect, the game consists of eight obligatory dungeons to complete the game, though three of those are revisted in a changed/expanded way, making a total of eleven required dungeon crawls throughout the game, with a rather chunky storyline. Taking the game slowly, occasinally leaving my DS open when I made a drink or had a conversation, or just forgot to close it, I totalled up about fifteen hours of gameplay on my first play through the story. Comfortably, I'd say the game can be finished in ten to fifteen hours.
What really extends the game is its replayability, a word not often used in the Final Fantasy series except for those who like to perform certain challenges, or those who, like me, just enjoy replaying them to get the story again. Ring of Fates furthers the gameplay of itself after the end-credits by allowing you to boot up your save file again, and start the game from the beginning (New Game+), with all the items, abilities, levels and equipment from your first playthrough. Not only that, all monsters are now much stronger than they were the first time around (I actually died twice against the first boss of the game on my New Game+), and they drop better and different items to what they did on your first playthrough. Treasure Chests contain different items, and you can access a whole host of new Scrolls for making equipment in the workshop, and as if that wasn't enough, once you've "progressed" to Yuri having grown up, you also get access to the optional River Belle Path dungeon designed to be reminiscent of the Gamecube version (complete with signposts announcing that there's a location perfect for a "Moogle House" for recently married couples), but different enough for us to believe that this is set a long time before it. If you finish that game, you unlock yet another extension to the game (a New Game++ of sorts) with even more powerful enemies. So all in all, the two extensions add about another twenty to thirty hours of gaming, purely for the storyline. If you take the multiplayer mode into account as well (a portion of which you can play solo), then you can expect at least fifty hours of gameplay in total, quite respectable for a Nintendo DS game.
Overall its a game that at first appears to be short, but with a multitude of different things to be done, the game can be made to last for an incredibly long time. A perfect game to take on holiday with you (as I did).
Length & Replayability: 8/10
ConclusionAll in all Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates is an extremely enjoyable game which surprised me from the moment I started it up, featuring a large number of advances from the original Gamecube game and a host of strong gameplay points. The game isn't perfect, however, and for me the main issue is that the developers couldn't quite decide on a target audience for the finished product, which leads to an inbalance in some respects. That said, the story is well crafted once it really begins, and is actually a rather mature storyline that RPG veterans will most likely enjoy, whilst newcomers will find the easily accessible nature of the gameplay the biggest attraction.
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