Thursday, August 13, 2015

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicle: Echoes of Time review

(All images used for review purposes only.)

FFCC: Echoes of Time (Square Enix, 2009)
Echoes of Time is in the Crystal Chronicles line, and along with Ring of Fates is only one of two games released for the DS (the first CC game came out for the GameCube, and the other 3 for the Wii). Echoes has a lot of similarities to Ring, so much so that you could say that it's almost the same game but just with a different storyline. Basically, the crystals give immortality to certain people on the planet, which has led to a situation where someone masquerading in town as a librarian is going around trying to destroy them in order to restore his own city. Unfortunately, he's created a village of ghosts. This village discovers your character and created a second village that you're raised up in, thinking that everything is normal. When the librarian returns and destroys the crystal in the cloned town, your character has to turn into a hero to set things right.

There are several key differences from Ring, one of which is that you can create your character from scratch, male or female, from one of the 4 races. This is one reason why the game instructions don't specifically refer to you by a fixed name (as in most other RPGs). You have the same spells as before (fire, blizzard, thunder, cure, clean, revive), but there's no magicite. Instead, you cast spells as straight magic and use up SP as in other RPGs. The challenge is in getting ethers to restore SP, since you can't buy them in shops or store them in inventory. Monsters and chests drop scrolls, alchemy items, food, HP potions and SP potions (ethers). (Food can restore SP or HP.) There's one town on the world map, and it has a weapons and armor shop (where you can buy a limited selection of equipment and accessories) and an order shop. The order shop lets you create equipment using the scrolls and alchemy items. This time, one scroll can create unlimited pieces of equipment (so you only get one copy of any given scroll), but it's much harder to find rarer items to make the better weapons and armor. Additionally, you can locate gems in some of the dungeons, which can be attached to the equipment to add effects like improved HP recovery, bonuses to experience, and elemental attacks. The weapons level up as you use them, with an ultimate upper cap (for the better weapons) of 20 (from what I understand; my best item is only at level 5). The scrolls for the best weapons are found in the tower near the end of the game. The game is very stingy with money, which is mostly used for ordering and customizing the weapons and armor.

(In town, with the main character wearing a cat ear helmet.)

Two other differences are that you get quests in single player mode now, and there's a mercenary guild where you can either create other party members (4 people in the party maximum), or try to recruit unlockable NPCs. When you go to the quest master moogle, he pops you into one of the regular dungeons and gives you some kind of silly task, such as either putting out fires with barrels of water, saving cows from aliens trying to abduct them, or killing a certain number of one kind of enemy with one kind of magic within 5 or 10 minutes. Quests reward you (sometimes) with accessories, scrolls and/or items, and a small amount of money. I've completed maybe 15 quests, given up on 5 others, and still have 10 in the list that haven't been unlocked (which occurs either when you talk to NPCs in town, read certain signs in the dungeons, or finish some of the other quests) and I'm being told that I've only done 16% of the total. I assume that some quests are only available in New+ and New++ games, or multi-player mode.

Now, for the similarities. All of the non-boss monsters are exactly the same as in Ring. The concept of a limited world map and a handful of dungeons (with your home village and the main big town) are similar, but with slightly better artwork and different designs. The magic system is fundamentally the same, as are the different party member races. The main biggie is that Echoes is also all about the puzzle solving. You have the same jumping, button pushing challenges as in Ring, with a few new variations (including the fact that you can now swim without ever drowning), but now they're trickier. I really, really hate the jumping and short-time limit puzzles, and wish Echoes would just stick to a dungeon crawl format.

(The main screen, which appears both in town, in the fields and in battle, with the party to the left, and the spells to the right. The current area map is in the middle of the screen.)

The game is stingy with money, alchemy scrolls and items. One thing I miss about Ring was the option for getting strong enough weapons to actually beat the chapter bosses more easily as you level up. In fact, one of the quests is to re-face the 4 random stage bosses by yourself, with a 10 minute time limit. I'm finding that as my character gets stronger, it's getting progressively harder to defeat even one boss in under 5 minutes. The bosses develop immunity to freeze and stun when you hit them with thunder or blizzard, and you spend most of the time running around dodging their attacks, waiting to find an opening. I've been dodging so much with this game that I've pinched a nerve in my left thumb, and it keeps going numb after a little while into the battle.

According to the game FAQs, Echoes has the New+ and New++ games (Normal, Hard, Hardest) (unlocked when you beat the final boss each time), and the same secret River Belle dungeon from Ring that's available with New+. But I dislike the puzzles here so much that I have absolutely no interest in going through them again (at least with Ring I didn't mind trying to beat the New++ game to see what the leisure suit armor would do. Not going to bother doing that with Echoes.)

(World map.)

Summary: Echoes of Time is a very clear sequel to Ring of Fates, with much the same system, but the introduction of recruitable party members and single-player quests. It's stingier with money and scrolls for making weapons and armor, and the boss monsters are harder to defeat as a result. I do like some of the ideas here, such as having equipment that levels up as you use it, and unlocking NPC party members, but that's not enough to overcome how much I dislike the puzzle-solving element. The puzzles remind me less of Zelda this time, and more of Tomb Raider. All I want is an RPG like Chrono Trigger... It's a good thing Echoes was only 500 yen ($4 USD) used.

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