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Tycho / on Wed, Feb 4 2004 at 4:30 am

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Lock Your Doors

There’s a wonderful snack that’s easy to make, the portable party they call the “cup-cake.”  But who knew that we lived in the long shadow cast by these treats?

I sometimes wonder if I will ever reach the point where the slipshod garbage at IGN won’t enrage me. 

There’s an entire paragraph in their Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II review about what a problem it is to switch between special attacks during combat.  I guess the developer must have agreed with that, maybe that’s why you can pull the left trigger to access a fully configurable shortcut menu.  Things like that.  It’s not even worth me bringing it up by itself, at least, not unless I’m just going to use it as an introduction to some graver sin. 

IGN’s Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles review is pretty amazing.  It is as though they had written a review of the sun, but forgot to mention that it was hot.  There are so many details omitted from their calculation of the game that one wonders how, in four pages, they couldn’t find the space to mention them.

Perhaps it’s because so much of the review is given over to truly incessant carping about the divergences from Final Fantasy.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fact that needs to come out - this is not a sixty hour single player epic where the protagonist is the dream of a lost city whose dad is not only a real dick but also an immortal monster.  I would be surprised if anyone was still under the impression that Crystal Chronicles was that kind of game.  It’s a four player action game, dense with Final Fantasy fan service and extraordinary production values for the genre.  But the mere fact that Crystal Chronicles isn’t an RPG in the classic sense, something they could glean from five minutes’ play, is held against the game in every conceivable way.  It is as though they were presented with a race car, and then spent an hour criticising all the ways it differed from chocolate cake.     

You know what I hate about multiplayer roleplaying games?  This applies to Massive ones, as well.  You miss a couple nights, maybe a week, and once you get back in your friends are all riding dragons or wyverns or something, they’re all level awesome and you’re level bullshit.  That never happens in Crystal Chronicles.  Why is that?  Well, because of all the things the reviewer complains about, basically.     

Yes, it’s true enough that you do not keep spells from level to level - at least, not at first.  If any character grabs a water orb, they’re a water mage now in addition to whatever else they want to do.  If any character grabs a Heal orb, they can heal other players.  You can even drop them out and trade them, as often happened in our group.  You’d have a couple battle mages, a melee guy, and somebody who walked the line.  What if you want one of those battle mages to be in command of the Phoenix Down, to raise teammates from the dead?  No “white mage” required.  Even your melee guy could do it - with no explicit classes or even levels of those classes, people can do what they want to and even change their minds halfway through.  Want a more powerful spell?  Have your party cast two or more spells on a foe.  Want to elementally enhance a melee attack?  Cast it as someone charges into battle.  And in higher levels, when you enter an extremely tough spot and have to get by with no magic until you earn it back?  Exhilarating.  Maybe it’s just one player that gets to the Phoenix Down and brings the whole party back.  I’m trying to figure out exactly what we’re bitching about here. 

There were also cross words for the “experience” system in the game, referred to as “bizarre and unfair,” and where the reviewer found such assholes to play with is a mystery - though I guess we can presume they work at IGN.  You don’t gain levels in the game, so if they’re thinking of it as “experience” that can be stolen from you in some “unfair” manner, it’s no wonder they’re frustrated by it.  Here’s how it works:  At the beginning of a level, you receive a directive that shows up on your GBA.  Maybe you need to avoid attacks by enemies, maybe you need to not pick up items or refuse to heal yourself.  Then, you and your crew rock the house throughout the whole level, collecting the loot you’d expect to - money, magic, food - and some things you might not expect, especially if you read that review.  For example, you can sometimes collect special materials which, combined with the proper recipe, will produce brand new equipment.  You also collect what amounts to stat bonuses - they can bolster you temporarily during the level, but when it’s over they’re laid out for party members to choose.  This final screen might also include special materials, items that give you more hearts, as this game handles hitpoints in the Legend Of Zelda way, or magic rings that let you have spells permanently - I wouldn’t call any of those things “experience.”  You’re then ranked according to how well you did satisfying your directive, which determines who gets “first dibs” on any of these bonuses.  There is typically plenty for everybody.  This is where things get bizarre and unfair, apparently, when you are recognized based explicitly on your performance.  If “merit” is suddenly a distasteful method for justifying reward, then I’m not sure what to say to that.  I guess I’m sorry that everybody doesn’t get a hug at the end of the level.  Jesus Christ

The thing is, aside from the special things I mentioned, these bonuses just aren’t all that big a deal.  It’s cool to have this much defense or this much whatever, but don’t forget - this is an action game.  The guy with 20 defense and the guy with 40 defense are both going to take damage from the big monster if they wander into its maw.  Also, and here’s where the asshole portion comes in: if you need something, why don’t you just work that out with the group?  This isn’t deathmatch, where you need a leg up on your opponents - you’re going to need every one of these motherfuckers when that huge orc comes out.  Guys on the frontline need the hearts, problem solved.  This shit is only complex if you play with a bunch of dumbfucks.   

The review disregards the creation of items, the role your family plays, the letters home, how dungeons can change significantly from year to year, how gravity spells can down extremely dangerous birds, and no mention whatsoever of the minigames.  I doubt that in their whirlwind tour of Crystal Chronicles they even saw any of these things.  I’m completely infuriated - the “annoying” chalice, a.k.a., The Bucket?  You mean, the one that keeps your party together?  I guess it is pretty annoying, especially when you’re all going the same way and working together to defeat fabulous beasts in one of the most beautiful games available for any system.  Yeah, it’s super annoying. 

It all becomes clear when you understand that a professional reviewer’s objective isn’t to complete the game - their objective is to complete their review.  In order to do that, some combination of codes, strategy guides, or FAQs are no doubt employed to lubricate the trying, time consuming gaming that is their cross to bear.  Look at them now, beaten and bloodied, hauling a Gamecube trailing four controllers down the Via Dolorosa.  A game’s greatest crime to a person in their position is that it be inconvenient, which Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles unabashedly is.  You need to hook up GBAs to it.  You need to carry a chalice.  You need a bunch of people.  It’s sometimes very difficult.  You know what else?  It’s also very rewarding - at least, when it it’s not your job to endure it. 

(CW)TB out.

he did the best he could for me

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