If there's one thing I can say about Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition, it's that the game faithfully keeps up 2020's long, painful legacy of disappointment. Here's a Square Enix RPG that everyone was excited to play when it was announced in 2018, and now that it's finally out, we're all cheesed off.
The salt's being laid on especially thick because it's not as if the core Crystal Chronicles Remastered experience is poor. Crystal Chronicles, and by extension Crystal Chronicles Remastered, is a lovingly crafted, whimsical game. Its soundtrack is spectacular; I got chills when I heard the re-recorded version of "Morning Sky," which brings back the original singer, Donna Burke. Burke also re-recorded the narrative bits that open up every dungeon, making Crystal Chronicles Remastered feel less like an RPG and more like a fairy tale you play through page by page.
The problem is that Square Enix repeated the same mistake with Crystal Chronicles Remastered as it did with the original release of Crystal Chronicles for the GameCube: It built a fun, light-hearted action-RPG that friends are supposed to enjoy together—and then it built a big barrier that makes it stupidly difficult for said friends to team up. And if you can believe it, Crystal Chronicles Remastered is a less-accessible multiplayer experience than the first game.
The first iteration of Crystal Chronicles infamously required a GameCube and four friends with four Game Boy Advance units, plus four link cables to journey through the game with a full caravan. I don't know how Japan fared, but in North America, nobody had that kind of set-up. There's a reason why the college dorms of the Aughts loved games like Super Smash Bros. Melee and Halo: Four players could cluster around a single console and join in the fun for the cost of a cheap controller.
That's why the announcement for Crystal Chronicles Remastered was met with good cheer. Crystal Chronicles was never regarded as an absolute must-play like Final Fantasy 7, but it was remembered as a warm action-RPG that was quite fun to play with friends. (It's also remembered as an important bit of RPG history, as it was one of the first major titles Square Enix released for a Nintendo system after the two companies had a falling-out in the '90s.) We assumed Crystal Chronicles Remastered would remove the original game's barrier of entry by making it a local co-op game, with the possibility of online cross-play for anyone who wanted it.
Remember how your teachers used to say, "Assuming makes an ass out of u and me?" (Well, at least my foul-mouthed grade 7 shop teacher did.) There's no local co-op in Crystal Chronicles Remastered. Worse, trying to play with friends online involves a convoluted code system. If you do manage to assemble a full caravan, only the leader of the party earns the rewards for completing the dungeon—and once you exit the dungeon, your pals disappear. You can't wander the overworld or towns together. Sure, it was expensive to gather up the Game Boy Advance units necessary to play the original Crystal Chronicles on GameCube, but at least you could actually play as part of a real team once the deed was done. It's also far easier to plan attacks with a teammate who's sitting next to you versus some voiceless, nameless schmuck on the other end of a wi-fi signal.
In other words, Square Enix made a multiplayer game that's hard to play with friends… and then it did the exact same thing, only worse, when it had the opportunity to make things right 17 years later. Yeah, Vaas from Far Cry 3 is hissing, "Did I ever tell you what the definition of insanity is?" in my ear, too. It's not just you.
The real kicker is, Crystal Chronicles Remastered isn't a whole lot of fun as a single-player experience, either. The core gameplay is pleasant, if shallow; it's definitely the kind of experience that I'd love to try with my husband, who's not really into RPGs but might find Crystal Chronicles easy to latch onto. But the biggest problem with Crystal Chronicles Remastered's single-player campaign is that it's unbelievably slow. The load times are inexcusable, especially when transitioning from a town or dungeon to the world map. Mog the Moogle will carry the Chalice for you while you focus on fighting monsters (the Chalice holds back the poisonous miasma that surrounds the world of Crystal Chronicles), but the little bat-winged slacker can hardly keep up with you. Ideally, someone in your party of four takes on the role of the Chalice-bearer while they move with the pace you set, but, well…
Six months from now, the servers for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered will be dead, and this charming little RPG will sink into obscurity once again. Maybe it's not too late. Maybe Square Enix can release a patch that adds couch co-op and makes the online multiplayer less of a bubbling cesspool. I'd like to see it happen. Whenever I hear "Morning Sky," I remember how this rich universe Square Enix built is being disrespected by its own creators. It makes me a sad Selkie.