Square Enix - Tested on the Nintendo Game Cube in 2005
For centuries, people in the world of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles are living in constant danger. Not by the usual monsters or a devilish villain - no, the atmosphere of the world has been polluted with a deadly gas called "Miasma". Only areas surrounding some special crystals are inhabitable for the main races, the humanoid Clavats and Selkies as well as the dwarven Liltys and the strange-looking, bird-like Yukes. So, as time proceeded, villages and towns have been built near the bigger crystals so that people can make a living there. The problem is, the crystals' power only lasts for one year - after this year, it has to be moistened with a chalice full of a special water from mana trees. Every village in the world - only a few remained - has a crystal caravan looking for fresh mana trees where they can gain enough myrrh drops for their villages' crystal.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicle, unlike other Final Fantasy games, is a classical Action RPG in the style of Zelda or Secret of Mana. The difference to the games mentioned is, that the story isn't too dense on the surface. To reveal all the reasons why everything is the way it is, you have to read and talk a lot. As mentioned above, you have to fill your chalice every year to secure your villages' survival. Yet, you're not under time pressure. One year is over after you collected three drops of myrrh. The problem is, that every drop has to be gained in a dungeon. So you have to clear three dungeons, including a nice boss.
You can choose when to finish the game, by the way. Well, you can't finish it before the fifth year (Five years with three dungeons make 15 dungeons, which is the amount of the dungeons available on the world map), but the game is open-ended, if you wish it to be. I heard of people playing more than ninety virtual years. Since there are only15 dungeons, you'll have to repeat them in order to continue your journey. To make the repetition years less boring, the dungeons are getting more difficult after you finished one, two or three times. There are also some new areas in new dungeons if you repeat them.
Nevertheless, as a solo player, continous repetition isn't too thrilling. The problem is, that you have to play at least 14 years to reveal the complete story. And if you want to know even more about the backgrounds, you have to play more. So for singleplayers, the game is fascinating at the beginning, but has some serious gameplay-flaws due to the repetition and the story that needs to be worked out.
But Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles was never meant to be a single player game. It's been designed to be a multi player game. Along with up to three friends, you can go to the journey and power up you and your friends after every dungeon. This gives the game some in-mate competition, although you're playing for the same goal. The multi player feature is the main part of the game, sadly enough, you need a Game Boy Advance for every player. This makes it a little expensive... But the reasons are clear why this feature was implemented. If everyone could access the menu and pause the game with this action, the gameplay would certainly lose some of its flow, like in the old Secret of Mana days. So, everyone has his own menu and does not pause the game while entering it. The character in the menu will run along his or her buddys on his / her own.
While the gameplay is quite twisted, the graphics or audio gives no reason to complain. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is one of the most beautiful RPGs ever made, and the soundtrack - although not created by Mr. Uematsu - is very decent as well. Controls are smooth, even with the Game Boy as your controlling unit.
The soundtrack of the game was done by the same person who always did Game Arts soundtracks in those days, Noriyuki Iwadare. Along with the soundtrack of Lunar 2: Eternal Blue and Grandia 2, his Grandia soundtrack is his masterpiece. The compositions never lack the soul of a good song and on top of that, the sound quality of Grandia is top notch. If you've got a good sound equipment, Grandia is an impressive sound experience.
To complete the audivisual overkill, it is needless to say that the graphics are superior as w.... no, wait. Isn't there supposed to be any flaw in this game? Yes, there is. First of all, the visuals. Grandia looks pretty neat, with decent modeled backgrounds and nice sprites, but as soon as you begin to move, the game slows down. Grandia can barely keep up 30 frames per second. Sometimes, when there's much action on the screen, "Frames per second" almost turn to "Seconds per Frame". But you have to consider that there are many interactive or animated objects on the screen and the game just doesn't want to budget any details, for example, not one of the trees seen in the game is a so-called "cardboard display", they're all actually looking like trees.
Another drawback are the voices. Although some voices are pretty cool, others sound slightly demotivated (Mullen). Hearing the characters speak, you sometims wish Working Designs would have done the translation.
But, considering all aspects of the game, even the sloppy framerate and the demotivated voices cannot really scratch Grandia. The only thing that can actually destroy your Grandia experience is this vile demon called "PAL-conversion". The german version of this game is horrible. You don't just have to deal with the usual big "PAL-planks", at some scenes the original english voice acting has been replaced with (even worse) german voices. And at some point of the game, the german voice acting just overlays the english one, so you're going to hear both english and german voices at the same time. As far as I've heard, the french version should be even worse with those "overlaid voices" all the time. At least, the german version of Grandia got a very good colored manual.