Ports have existed for a long time in gaming, with franchises routinely jumping from one system to another with nary a thought about the technical limitations. Recently, major titles like BioShock and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 migrated from one console to another, and there are plenty more examples where that came from. The thing is, we're used to seeing console games get ported to handhelds, but rarely vice versa. Most times, titles developed with the small screen in mind are deemed too technologically unimpressive to warrant a console remake, but not all developers hold this concept to be an absolute truth. Enter Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time, a title that dreams of rising above its handheld origins to become a console superstar, only to fail and prove once more that transitions such as these rarely work for a reason.
Calling the Wii version of Echoes of Time a port is technically incorrect, as the game was developed for simultaneous release across both the Wii and DS. Still, the title was clearly designed with the DS as the lead platform, and as a handheld game, it works brilliantly. Unfortunately, all the things that make the game unique on the DS (or, at the very least, don't detract from the experience) make the Wii version practically unplayable. Yes, the title works in the basic sense on a console, but there is almost no fun to be had, and the entire experience is severely underwhelming. If you have a DS, by all means buy Echoes of Time, but this is a Wii review, and console owners are left with a decidedly less impressive game.
First and foremost, the game's interface is an utter failure on the Wii. Echoes of Time is presented in a dual-screen style, almost as if it had been developed with a certain handheld system in mind …. This wouldn't be so bad if not for the fact that the two screens as presented on your television take up less than half of the entire screen, and interacting with either one is a massive pain. You can resize either screen on the fly, but it's always at the expense of the other, so while one side grows, the other shrinks. In order to achieve a playable balance, you are left with either a screen that's too tiny to see much of anything or one that is too tiny to do much of anything. Pick your poison.
The main reason the screens were left so tiny and unusable is likely because if they were blown up any bigger, you'd see just how ugly this game is. The jagged, polygonal characters would look perfectly at home on the PS1, but in the 21st century, they're just ugly. Combined with the fact that the world is all sharp angles and square-based paths, and you begin to wonder if the developers just dug out their Final Fantasy VII kits, minus the impressive (for the mid-'90s) cut scenes. The game isn't going to win any visual awards, but at least it's passable on the DS; on a console, it's an absolute embarrassment.
If you can get past the lackluster presentation and come to grips with the terribly awkward dual-screen setup, you'll find a competent, though not entirely compelling, dungeon-crawler. Set on the dawn of your created character's 16th birthday, you are given a crystal and ushered into adulthood. Unfortunately, one of your fellow villagers contracts a mysterious case of "crystal sickness," and you must trot off to the nearest town in order to track down a cure. Your good deed has unintended consequences, as the local madman finds out about your remote village and access to crystals and proceeds to make all sorts of mayhem. The premise and plot development is much thinner than most Square Enix games, but it still does a fair enough job of driving the plot and making sure your actions always have some sort of meaning behind them.
In your quest to restore order, Echoes of Time takes all the rest of its cues directly out of the Dungeon-Crawling 101 handbook. Your first step is creating as many characters as you would like from scratch and placing these teammates into your four-person party. Conveniently enough, there are four different races, so it's nice and easy to set up a balanced team. Of course, if you prefer to eschew balance for a squadron of mages or warriors, that's fine too; the game lets you set up your team however you'd like.
The major downside to all this is that because all the characters you create are basically nothing more than the means through which weapons and spells do damage, they really don't figure into the plot at all. Your main character will never interact with the rest of the party, and NPCs don't even bother to acknowledge the existence of your companions. One of the driving forces of most RPGs is team camaraderie and learning more about your friends as things progress, but all that is absent here.
The combat doesn't break much new ground either, pitting you against hordes of monsters in real-time battles, complete with the requisite loot drops that you can then turn into weapons and items at your friendly neighborhood customization shop. The areas all consist of the same old formula, so you go through rooms killing everything, solve some simple switch puzzles, and fight the boss. Of course, all the clichés like the ice level, fire level and sewers are here in full force. I know that "originality" isn't an adjective normally used to describe Square Enix, but this time, it's almost like they're not even trying.
Fans of dungeon-crawlers don't ask for a lot of complexity, and they'll be perfectly happy whiling away the hours grinding levels and killing the same enemy hordes in the hopes of the rare loot drop so they can synthesize the ultimate weapon. Just don't expect your AI companions to be of any help; most times, they're about as useful in combat as sheets of drywall. Most of their time is spent standing still or aimlessly running around behind you as you try and gain a moment's rest from the big, scary monster on your tail. In the few times they see fit to attack or cast a spell, they normally hit for little damage or call up an enchantment to which the monster is resistant anyway, and since they almost never bother to heal themselves and refuse to revive one another, they're more a liability than anything else.
One can only presume that Square Enix included this dunderheaded AI so as to force you to partake in the title's main gimmick, cross-platform multiplayer. Wii and DS owners can either invite players to join them or host their own games, and you are able to jump in and play regardless of which system you own. Unfortunately, all the good intentions in the world can't mask this half-baked idea because almost everything about the multiplayer is broken. First up, there's no matchmaking system, so it's highly likely that when you join a game, you'll probably be paired up with players who are either way above or way below your main character's skill level. That means you'll either be hanging in the back doing nothing while they have all the fun, or babysitting a bunch of under-leveled hoodlums who don't even have the common sense to not rush straight at the boss 20 levels above their own, thus leaving you on healing and revival duties rather than making any sort of appreciable progress. Couple this with the constant lag that pervades every session, and it won't be long before you go crawling back to your brainless AI cohorts; at least they know when to stay out of your way.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time was clearly made for the DS, and on the DS is where it should have stayed. The game mechanics work fine for the handheld, and even its shortcomings don't amount to much when you consider all the cool opportunities the touch-screen affords. On the Wii, however, the game is an absolute mess that does little more than tarnish the Final Fantasy name. Yes, the game is playable, and dungeon-crawler fans will enjoy it simply because it doesn't mess with the basics, but that's really all lowest-common-denominator praise. If your choice is to get the Wii version or nothing, then skip this outing altogether; there are plenty of better games out there to play.
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