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Square Enix has released no shortage of Final Fantasy games for the Nintendo DS, with them running the gamut from traditional turn-based roleplaying games to more complicated strategy RPGs to even lighthearted minigame collections featuring mascot characters from the series. Filling the role of the action RPG in this equation is Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates, a Gauntlet or Diablo flavored dungeon crawler of sorts. Unfortunately, this also happens to be one of the developer's weakest efforts for the dual screen handheld.
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Ring of Fates stars a pair of twins, Yuri and his sister Chelinka, who early on in the game witness the death of their father. As a result, Yuri vows to become a skilled knight while Chelinka temporarily loses her voice but gains the ability to communicate telepathically with her brother. They are later joined by two of their mentors, old allies of their father's -- Alhanalem, a member of the Yuke race who is skilled with magic, and Meeth, a powerful alchemist who despite her advanced age acts very childlike. Together the four of them set off on a quest to avenge the death of the twin's father and put a stop to the activities of a sinister cult. What starts off promising eventually breaks down into a bit of a confusing mess, though, and by the end of it all odds are you'll be completely puzzled and left trying to figure out exactly what the heck just happened. Not Square Enix's best work.
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There are both a single player and a multiplayer mode in this Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles game, with the only noticeable differences between them being in terms of difficulty (opponents and bosses have more hit points and are harder to bring down) and story. Like most action roleplaying games, you control one party member at a time, though you can switch between them on a whim and take advantage of each of their abilities to solve puzzles. Good thing, too, because in single player the A.I. is seriously lacking. Characters use basic attacks to combat enemies, can purchase or forge new equipment, use items and magic, and level up as they explore various dungeons and field environments. There are supposedly over 300 different types of weapons, armor and other equipment that can be created or discovered, and hunting for them can be make for some great fun.
Magic is handled differently than you might expect, as you need to acquire items known as Magicite to cast Fire, Blizzard, Thunder, Cure, Clear (which cures status ailments) and Raise (which brings fallen characters back to life). They need to be equipped and triggered to be used, and can be stacked to increase the effects. This, on the whole, is the biggest problem with an otherwise fairly solid battle system, as it is difficult to use higher-level magics with any kind of regularity. Also, there are a lot of platform jumping elements in the game. Those who have played the older Square Enix games Brave Fencer Musashi or Threads of Fate should know what to expect. I have mixed feelings about this -- on the one hand, it is a nice change of pace from most other dungeon crawlers, but on the other, some of the jumps can be pull-your-hair-out frustrating, thanks in part to a lousy camera.
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Graphics and Sound
This is a Square Enix game, so if you're familiar with their work on the DS, you know the drill: "Brilliant visuals, excellent production values, top notch music, blah, blah, blah, and so on," right? Only, this time, not so much. Sure, the graphics are pretty impressive, far better than their last attempt at a dungeon crawl (Children of Mana) and especially because your character's appearance changes along with his or her equipment. The music isn't bad either. So what's the problem? That would be the voice acting, which is quite simply abysmal and damn near ruins the whole experience. The worst offenders are Alhanalem and Meeth. The former has an annoying tendency to end everything he says with "-al" which is especially annoying when he mispronounces a word to do it. Meeth, on the other hand, ends much of her dialogue with a cutesy "-ie" -- even the word "hell" if you can believe it. Add to that her grating, high-pitched, fingernails-on-a-chalkboard delivery voice, and you have a game that you'll pretty much have to play with the sound turned all the way down in order to stomach.
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Simply put, I was stunned by how absolutely subpar Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates was. As a big fan of dungeon crawlers, and as someone who was so impressed by the game's looks and potential that he pre-ordered this title, I came away immensely disappointed. The battle system is good but hampered by the magic scheme and the poor ally A.I. The platforming bits range from pleasantly challenging to insanely frustrating, and that inconsistency hampers one's enjoyment of these aspects of the game. The story isn't particularly great, and the voice acting is cringe worthy to say the least. Worse yet, even if you can stomach all the flaws, you'll be rewarded with a game that takes no longer than 10-15 hours to complete. Sure, the multiplayer mode adds some replay value, just so long as you can blackmail or bribe some poor schlep you know into playing this turkey along with you for any length of time. Ultimately, there are better Final Fantasy games and better dungeon crawlers available for the Nintendo DS. Spend your time and money with one of those instead.