IGN Review of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time
The idea of DS-to-Wii connectivity is something that interests me in a big, big way. Nintendo currently has the most popular console out there, but the company has also been dominating the handheld world for two decades, so it only seems natural that the two systems would converge into one superpower system, similar to how Voltron, the Power Rangers, or Constructicons form into something more amazing than the sum of their parts. Pretty much every piece of cool tech out there does it, so it's high time Nintendo does too. Right?
Unfortunately, there hasn't been too hot of a track record, as GameCube's connectivity started and ended with Zelda and the original Crystal Chronicles, and now Wii's offering is less than stellar. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time is a great DS game on its own, but it's entirely a cop-out Wii package, and one that not only drops the ball on its own, but is also far from an ideal multiplayer offering from handheld to console. Looking for a great DS dungeon crawler? You've found it. Want to skip on the handheld and grab it on Wii? You'd be better off waiting for the real Crystal Chronicles later down the line.
It isn't often I get to review DS and Wii games in tandem, but this is certainly a case where it's vital to do so, and the DS version destroys Nintendo's home console offering. Quite simply, Echoes of Time is 100% a DS port. After an oddly long load process, the Wii version of Crystal Chronicles runs a fully emulated version of the DS game, including everything from legal screens to the system's dual screen setup. The only difference for Wii cosmetically is that the + and – keys on the Wii-mote will resize the two screens on the fly. Wii IR is available for clicking on icons and entering text on the right (bottom) screen just as the stylus does on DS, but outside of that, it's the same game. Identical visuals, identical story, identical tech.
The core game itself is impressive, and if you're a DS user (or own both Nintendo's console and handheld) it's a must-buy piece of software for your pocket gaming needs. Echoes of Time does what Ring of Fates seems to miss out on in the previous DS offering, which was – quite frankly – the core dungeon crawling aspects. There's less story in Echoes of Time, but a much larger emphasis on grabbing a group of four players, AI or human, and blasting through quests in a classic Diablo-like fashion. Right from the offset you'll select from the game's four races/classes, and can then go immediately to a guild within the first major town in the adventure and add in as many allies as you'd like. If you want to run with four custom-made warriors, it's up to you. Four mages? Go for it. A little of everything? Knock yourself out. It's this free-form offering of main story and side quests, loot drops, bosses, weapon upgrading and creation, and classic dungeon crawling that really makes the core Echoes of Time offering simply a blast to play.
The difference between Wii and DS comes into play in a big way though. While the game is obviously made for DS, having quick stylus control (or thumb control for magic), pushes the system to the max, and blends top and bottom screen extremely well, it's obvious the Wii version is a port, and it just doesn't translate well. Using IR in place of the stylus or a quick finger tap is a pain, since you'll not only need to take a second to bring your cursor on screen, but then do any tweaking needed to the two screen sizes on Wii. Pointer control isn't tough to grasp, but when you're dodging boss attacks with the analog stick on the left screen, resizing a screen on the right (assuming you want to make quick selections without fuss), and then tapping away with the A button in menus, things can get pretty complex. As an odd little touch to it all, the A button attacks, with B acting as jump during the main game. On DS, those controls stay while you're tapping away with your thumb. On Wii, if the cursor is in the right window, player attack and jump are removed, now using A for "select" since there's no way to "tap" with a cursor, and B for moving backwards in menus. If you don't own a DS and are hell-bent on playing this game, it's still possible. Just know that it'll be a tougher experience than if you just grab the game for the system it was meant to be played on.
Unfortunately, while the main game is still extremely impressive on DS (and Wii, if you can work with the troublesome port controls), Echoes of Time still has some inherent issues outside of just the "What system do I play it on?" dilemma. This game was meant to be played multiplayer, whether you connect multiple DS systems and a Wii host together, pair up four versions of DS, or take the game online. If you don't though, prepare for some moronic teammate AI. Computer-controlled companions are rock dumb, and while they'll act as an extra sword or spell caster on the battlefield, there's a lot of babysitting to be done as well. Players won't pick up their own items, heal themselves, heal teammates, resurrect or cure other members from death or status effects, won't participate in platforming puzzles, or even attack enemies unless following your lead for the most part. Each character can follow one of five AI settings, including Just Follow Me, Do Your Best, Don't Use Magic, Protect Yourself, and Go Nuts With Magic, but that's the limit to your control over them, outside of warping them to your position if you lose sight of them completely.
If, for example, you want your mage to grab magic potions so they can keep casting, you'll need to physically switch to them via the touch screen icons, and pick up items for them. It's a simple thing to ask when you're free from attack and just hanging out with your crew – though moving from person to person just to spread the health and MP around isn't very intuitive - but it's near impossible to deal with during the heat of battle. On Wii, it can be even more of a pain, as the luxury of a quick tap of the touch screen is gone, so you'll need to manage IR for selecting each person, selecting the right magic, moving the cursor off-screen so you can be mobile and have full control, and then move it back again to do it all over with the next character.
With that being said though, multiplayer is a blast with Echoes of Time – specifically if you pick it up on DS – and it more than makes up for the clunky single player offering. Connecting with players across systems is simple, going online is effortless and works across the two versions of the game, and text-based party chat is even included via free type, pre-set, user-crated messages, and generic quick text. Sadly no voice chat was included. Lame. This game is made to be played with four players though, and any setbacks I experienced with AI issues were immediately negated once I got a team of players together, either online or locally. And while online still works with Wii (and connects across both Wii and DS versions), there are some limitations to what console users will be able to do. Most obvious among those is that the game isn't portable, so the idea of bringing the game to a friend's place or meeting up with random players is gone. The real issue, however, is that the game uses a "visit" vs. "invite" system, which allows players to either host a match, or send their character data to a friend's system. On Wii, however, you can only invite, meaning that if you want to send your character and play within a friend's quest (instead of the other way around, with them accompanying you on your own story mode) it's a no-go. Full online works, but if you want to co-op in your friend's towns, you'll need to do it online, or pick up the pocket version instead.
When it comes to the overall audio/visual presentation, Echoes of Time is of course a mixed bag depending on what system you get it on. You're getting the same core experience, but the game feels far more at home on DS. Usability, overall presentation, touch vs. IR control; it all feels custom-made for DS (which it was), and merely ported over to Wii. When stacked against each system's library, Echoes of Time is not only one of the best games of its kind on DS, but it's also a visually pleasing experience with a nice amount of voiceover and some beautiful musical composition. On Wii, the music holds its own, and the limited voice work is a nice touch, but the visuals – as you'd expect – are seriously lacking when compared to other Wii titles. Since we rate each game based on their respective tech limitations and libraries, you'll see that reflected in our final scores below. With that being said, keep in mind that the Wii version is still a port of a very impressive game; it's just a DS game burned on a Wii disc, and asking any DS game to compete against a fully-funded Wii offering isn't exactly fair.
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