Most people would probably agree the Gamecube's strongest area was multiplayer. With games like Super Smash Bros., that's hard to deny. There is a game, however, that is often left out of Gamecube multiplayer lists. It someone manages to sneak under people's radar, despite the fact that I remember this game being advertised like crazy. That game, of course, is Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.
Final Fantasy is a very storied franchise will millions of faithful followers. In its beginnings, it was always on Nintendo's console but when the Playstation rolled around, Square switched its platform of choice. We wouldn't see a Final Fantasy game, save for some portable games, on a Nintendo system again until this - and even then, Crystal Chronicles is so incredibly different from Final Fantasy's main series, that it's almost hard to call it Final Fantasy. It's got Final Fantasy staples, like the crystals, and the monsters, but it's kind of its own thing.
Crystal Chronicles takes place in a land in which the air has been polluted by a magical, poisonous substance known as miasma. If it weren't for the protective Crystal's in each town, people wouldn't be able to survive anywhere. The Crystal's are powered by a substance known as myrrh. Each year, the Crystal's must be re-energized by more myrrh, but this illusive substance is only found from a particular type of tree that is quite rare. In the game, you take on the role of a caravan of travelers (or traveler if you choose) from a village which you get to name. Your goal is to bring back enough myrrh to keep your friends and family healthy for another year, and even though the village elder warns you the last caravan who tried to eliminate the miasma was never heard from again, you don't listen to that old hogwash, and try to get rid of it anyway.
In the beginning, you get to create and name your character. You get to pick his or her family trade, name, and of course their race and gender. There are 4 races to choose from, and 4 variations of each. There are the Clavats, essentially humans who have very rounded skills, Selkies,whom are basically elves who are extremely fast (F.Y.I. they're the worst race, don't pick them), Lilties, small creatures that surprisingly excel in armed combat, and lastly my favorite the Yukes, mysterious creatures who have innate magical prowess. Which race you choose to play determines what types of weapons and equipment you can wield, and of course your stats. You're never truly restricted, however. For example, I like to play Yukes. Yukes cast magic faster, and farther than any other race, but at the same time they can also wield some weapons that have some interesting side effects. Even though magic is obviously my field of expertise, it doesn't mean it's a bad idea for me to jump in and smack some baddies around now and then.
When playing multiplayer, it's best for players to choose varied classes, but it may also be fun to experiment by having an all Clavat or all Lilty party. In order to play mutliplayer at all, however, you're going to need a couple of things. Unfortunately, it isn't as simple as plugging in 4 Gamecube controllers. Each player needs to have a Gameboy Advance system, and your also going to need 4 link cables to hook them up. Controlling the game in multiplayer honestly takes a bit of getting used to, and I much prefer the Gamecube controller (supported in single player). Each player can access their stats, items, and other such things on the GBA system by pressing select at any time. This prevents them from pausing the game to equip items and perform various other menu actions. The game can be played easilly using the shoulder buttons and face buttons, as they're all you really need, but moving is a pain with a GBA. The game is in full 3D, and therefor control is analogue. The GBA d-pad as you might suspect is digital. After you get used to it, it's honestly not that bad, but it can still be an annoyance. If you're playing solo, a GBA can also be plugged into the second controller port as used as a map.
This game was built around the multiplayer aspects, and while perfectly enjoyable alone, to experience everything this game has to offer you're going to want to play with friends. Me and 2 of my best friends once played this game religiously. We played at least 16 game years before we finally quit, but we enjoyed every second of it. In single player, a Moogle named Mog carries the Crystal Chalice for you. The chalice contains a small crystal fragment and collects the myrrh, therefore it also protects you and your friends from the miasma. the chalice has limited range, however, and must be moved. In multiplayer, Mog is absent and one of the party members must carry it. If you step outside of the boundaries of the chalice's protection, you will begin to take damage from the miasma. While an interesting concept, it puts a damper on things, limits party movement and arguments over who's turn it is to carry the damn button may be frequent.
Your party does not level up in a traditional RPG fashion. then again, why should they? this isn't a traditional RPG in the first play, it's really more of an adventure game. Throughout the level, you will fins artifacts, each of which will boost the stat which it affects temporarily upon being picked up. At the end of a stage, after a boss is defeated, a screen will appear - on this screen, it will be revealed that each player had a secret objective. That objective will be revealed, and points ill be awarded based on who best adhered to their goal. After this, the artifacts will be shown and each player may claim one to keep, permanently altering that statistic. Players will choose in order of greatest amount of points to least. It is during this section as well that the mail Moogle will pay a visit, and live each player a letter from home. You may reply to these letters with simple responses that can either be good, or bad and you can also send items home. It is a good idea to keep your family happily, as it will be very beneficial later in the game. For example, if you chose to be from a blacksmith family, it's possible to get up to a 60% discount at your family forge by keeping good relationship statuses with all of your folks.
Musically, the game is about as final Fantasy as it gets. Flutes, and lutes, and fanfare are everywhere in this game, and each theme is very befitting of its area. If it's graphics you're concerned about, be not concerned at all, because they're beautiful. Crystal Chronicles utilizes a very classic Final Fantasy style the likes of which we unfortunately haven't seen much of in recent years with the exception of Final Fantasy IX. While the graphics have aged, they are still very beautiful.
Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles is an absolute blast with friends, and if for some reason you don't have any of those, it's still enjoyable as a single player adventure as well. The chalice mechanic really bogs the game down more than anything, and while I've heard newer iterations of the game have alleviated this issue, I have yet to try them and cannot confirm this. Crystal Chronicles is from a time when online multiplayer was a niche. You didn't have a headset - you had yell at friend in person if he didn't heal you. There were no achievements to fight over - only item drops. I feel like a lot of this on couch multiplayer experience is just gone from gaming as a whole, and if ever feel the need to revisit a simpler time when you had to actually socialize to play multiplayer, Crystal Chronicles is a great game for that. Unfortunately, if all of your friends don't already have a GBA and link cable, it can get pricey. Despite this, the biggest issue of them all remains just who is going to carry that damn bucket.