Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time
How incredibly annoying it is when publishers, out to make a quick buck, create a cheap port of a full console title to handheld. It’s ostensibly the case on PSP, and even a few better titles like God of War, Grand Theft Auto and Tekken are effectively PS2 games shoehorned onto Sony’s little system, if not technically mere ports. Is this really how we want to partake in our portable gaming, with watered down, half-baked retreads of whatever we play at home?
Rarely, however, is the situation reversed. We’ve seen some PSP titles ported up to PS2, but they were arguably more at home there in the first place. No, we’re talking products genuinely suited to handheld which have been released on the home machines, lazily burned to a disc and thrown out the back door for unsuspecting consumers to misguidedly purchase. It wouldn’t bear mention that to count them using two hands would be overkill, but here is one shining example. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time is a middling DS game. Not great, but by no means awful, and possibly worth a look for fans of the series or those hungry for some online adventuring on the move. Fine – but this is not a DS review and on Wii it’s a different story altogether, though the game itself is unaltered.
That’s its biggest problem. The game is unaltered. As in, entirely the same videogame. The boot screen boasts a “Multi-Platform Development Engine”, but that’s in essence a byword for “We can now develop games for DS and stick them on Wii for next to no money”. Game critics are often targeted for not playing the games they give bad scores to (or even very good ones in the case of a certain Killzone 2) for long enough, but it’s so hard to persevere with Echoes of Time on Wii that there’s no point in pretending otherwise. The crux of what makes it so unpleasant is the insistence on ham-fistedly forcing televisions to output two displays at once, one on the left and one on the right, rather than a full, single screen. There’s a reason every other game ever made doesn’t do this, and that’d be because it strips away any potential enjoyment from the word go.
Concessions have been made, but they’re ineffective. The – and + buttons on the Wii remote maximise the left and right screens respectively, but even then it’s a hassle to continually switch between the two, and attempting to engage in dialogue descends into farce. Because of the way it’s set up to take advantage of the DS’ lovely, clear display, outputting on two relatively small standard definition screens means players have to squint to see text properly even at its largest, and given that replies to NPCs’ chatter, which appears on the left-hand screen, are selected using the second screen, major problems arise. The load times, also, are suspiciously long, and it debatably takes longer to actually start playing from the moment the system is turned on than Assassin’s Creed and its ridiculous, splash-screen concealed boot-up time.
Both visually and aurally, the Wii version is lacking. On the handheld, the slightly blocky character models and basic textures are understandable and much less prevalent. Blown up for the television, conversely, they’re offensively bad. Astonishingly, there’s still massive screen tear, and it’s a wonder things like this didn’t get ironed out if the insistence was to display both screens concurrently. The Wii game’s sound is very tinny, and the music also appears to have been of whatever quality could fit on a DS cart. It’s a wonder this version wasn’t independently developed, with the same core content and a full sized main screen, but the ethos here was doubtless to quickly and cost-effectively get the game out on a disc as well so that the “proper” Wii Crystal Chronicles game, The Crystal Bearers, could be prepared for a Winter release.
The grand justifying factor for this nonsense is the multiplayer, in which DS and Wii players can cooperate for the first time. If Shadowrun’s cross platform versus was a whimper, though, this is little more than a shrew’s fart in the wind compared. Nintendo’s famously restrictive online modes – permeated by their perpetually family-friendly image – are in full evidence here, and even if a lag-free game can be found, the lack of proper text chat and general intolerability of the Wii version make it barely worth the effort. If the driving idea was Monster Hunter-lite, then it’ll take a far more solid networking foundation than the home system can provide right now.
In the colloquial vernacular, then, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time on Wii is a complete mess. It’s simply unpleasant to play, which is a real shame, because content-wise it’s not half bad. Clichéd, but decent nonetheless, with the typical nonsensical JRPG plot about “Crystal Sickness” and coming-of-age festivals accompanied by some bog-standard questing. The battle system is passable, if virtually unaltered from previous entries in the spin-off series, and the world map and the locations within it are charming, if a little empty. The quests themselves range from the usual monster-bashing to distracting mini-games, and though they aren’t particularly praiseworthy, they’re at least serviceable.
None of this matters a jot, however, when it’s considered just how difficult it is to put up with all the problems this Wii version is plagued with. Those desperate to get to grips with a Crystal Chronicles game on Nintendo’s little white money-spewer would be best advised to hold off until later this year for The Crystal Bearers, or better yet nab the original adventure on GameCube. For anyone stuck between the two available versions of Echoes of Time, however, there’s absolutely no contest.