Though the gaming industry has grown sizeably throughout my lifetime, never was it quite as notable to me as it was during the sixth console generation.
In the mid-2000s, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft were duking it out in the home hardware market. Sony left the competition in the dust, with their PlayStation 2 going on to becoming the best-selling console of all time, while Nintendo faltered to a distant third place for the first time in their storied history.
For me personally, this generation coincided with my teenage years, and marked the peak of my multiplayer experience. It was just so goddamn fantastic, with highlights including 99-stock matches of Smash Bros Melee and a seven person Madden season capped off by a 61-21 Super Bowl victory for yours truly.
What it hadn’t quite nailed just yet, however, was 4-player couch co-op. Though games tailor-made to be enjoyed with friends was the norm, actually working towards a collaborative goal was still a little more scarce.
In fairness, trying to fit all of those details on a rapidly diminishing screen was a tall order, and concessions would have to be made. We vividly enjoyed Phantasy Star Online as an entirely offline endeavour, well aware that we were not quite receiving the intended result. It just seemed to be as close as we would ever get.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles seemingly had the solution: all four players sharing the one screen all at the same time. The only tradeoff was that you would have to invest in a little bit of extra technology.
Although the solo campaign could be played through use of a regular controller, multiplayer was locked behind the requirement that each person would have to use a Game Boy Advance and corresponding link cable.
This would display the map, as well as details such as each character’s abilities and food preferences. A sub-menu also allowed access to spells, equipment and the like. It sounded like a legitimate cost of entry at the time, though in hindsight it was entirely superfluous and could have been implemented in a more conventional manner.
As an avid Nintendo fanboy, I already owned a GBA and link cable of my own, despite this functionality proving nowhere near as valuable as the previous generation’s Transfer Pak. The issue is that my friends were not Nintendo crazed, so the notion of forking out the dosh to purchase peripherals for a console they didn’t even own was a tall order.
Fortunately, we had been pooling our funds together for gaming-related items for some time, ranging from a PS2 multitap (good investment) to Tales of Symphonia (awful investment). We had a little bit left over, so we went on a spending spree to obtain three more GBAs and three more link cables.
How much did this all tally? I really could not tell you, so long after the fact. I do recall that the handhelds were second hand, alleviating the cost somewhat, but even a conservative estimate would place the total somewhere above $200.
For teenagers, that’s not exactly pocket change. For me nowadays as a thirty-plus failure of a human being, even less so.
But it didn’t matter. We had done it. We had assembled the complete package to delve into the magical world of… well fuck, the world doesn’t have a name so we’ll just have to call it Trevor.
The magical world of Trevor, then, was covered in a toxic miasma that made many of its corners uninhabitable. Only a steady supply of myrrh from legendary trees can ward it off, channelled through the fragments of the Great Crystal that must be gathered frequently to keep the isolated villages afloat.
It’s all a big wanky bit of exposition that basically explains why the four characters have to stay close to one another, with one of them tasked with carrying along a chalice that generates a circle of safety.
Choosing from one of the four available races, players scour the landscape, fighting off enemies and bosses until they can obtain that sweet drop of myrrh to bring back home to ma and pa.
And really, that’s… all there is to it. The gameplay is fine, yet for all that we had put into making it possible, this was a rather underwhelming result. It’s not to say it wasn’t fun, and I recollect with some amusement the time that our party had been all but wiped out by a powerful monster, with the only remaining member refusing to uncloak himself to assist.
Despite the fact that in this state he was invulnerable, he was also incapable of dealing damage or moving from the spot, leading to us all waiting for him to stop stalling out of pure spite.
Then one day, we booted up the game only to find that our save data was corrupted, wiping all of our progress from history. You’d think this would have been an infuriating moment, but in actuality, we found it hilarious as we watched all those hours of gameplay disappear before our eyes.
Does this sound like the reaction of someone who is particularly invested in this game? Perhaps we were just in high spirits at the time. Or perhaps we felt like we had been absolved from having to keep supplying batteries for all of those Game Boy Advances.
We never did touch Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles again, and for some reason, I can’t even locate my copy of the game anymore. Though I have admittedly traded away some of my older games over the years, I do at least remember having done so. For this one to have left so little of an impression on me that I don’t even know whether or not I still have it?
That’s not the kind of game that you want to spend any significant amount of money on. And twenty years later, it’s one that I would just as gladly forget about entirely.