Nintendo and Square have been trying to push connectivity for a while.  They had an idea during the Gamecube generation that they hoped would push the console and handheld systems closer together called Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.  If you’ll remember, it was a great action-RPG for the Gamecube that demanded that everyone who played had a Gameboy Advance hooked up to the system.  Naturally, while it was a great game, the byzantine setup scared away a lot of gamers.

After a middling effort that was released solely for the DS, Crystal Chronicles is back with Echoes of Time, which is receiving a simultaneous release on the DS and the Wii.  The focus of the game is multiplayer, but supposedly with a lot less hassle than the previous Gamecube effort.  We’ll be reviewing both games, but we’ll be doing them separately.  We’ll tie it all together at the end of both reviews with a review of how the multiplayer works.  First, we’re going to answer the question: Which is worth your money?  The DS version, the Wii version or both? Echoes of Time looks good for a couple of reasons.  One, there’s a lot of customization.  When your characters change armor or weapons, you see it in-game.  There are even hairstylists who’ll change your haircolor.  By the end of the game, you’ve made a party that’s uniquely yours in every respect.

Enemies and dungeons also look very unique.  You’ll never get confused whether you’re in the library dungeon or the desert dungeon, as they all look very different.  There’s a lot of different enemies, and while some look better than others, most are fairly well animated.  Of special note are the slimes that melt when you kill them.

The only problem I really have is that you can’t rotate the map.  This means that if an item falls behind a piece of the scenery, you may not be able to find it right away, which can be frustrating.  The cutscenes are also a little silly since none of the characters move their mouths while they’re talking.  Still, with everything put together, Echoes of Time looks pretty good. The music is really good.  It takes itself just seriously enough to add a little gravitas to the story, but not so serious that you can’t laugh along with the game when it makes jokes at the genre’s expense.  The sounds all sound like they should, although the male players have surprisingly deep voices, which is a little distracting. Echoes of Time controls excellently while using both the touchscreen and the face controls.  You’ll handle movements and attacks with the face controls, while selecting magic and getting to status screens is all handled with the touchscreen.  To give you an idea of how well it controls, I handed the game to my wife, gave her a one-minute explanation of the controls, and after a little time to acclimate she was able to play right alongside me.  Just about anyone will be able to pick up and play. Echoes of Time walks fairly standard territory for an action RPG.  You’ll be traversing various dungeons, looting them while killing all the baddies therein and sometimes killing a boss creature.  Afterwards, you find the next quest hook which takes you to the next dungeon.  Rinse, repeat as necessary.  Square understood the formula and didn’t mess with it too much.

The single-player game is fun, and I had a great time with it.  It’s well-polished in a lot of different areas, like the cool crafting system.  Enemies will drop random detritus that you can use to build new weapons and armor, and those weapons and armor level up with use.  Once they reach their peak level, you can change them into a jewel which can be affixed to new weapons and armor.  The only downside is that they don’t really explain the crafting system in-game.  I suppose I could have read the manual and found out everything I needed to know, but since I am a l33t hardcore gamer I refused.

Echoes of Time is not without its problems, though.  For instance, you can hire extra characters to work alongside you.  You can switch back and forth from one to the other, level up their weapons and armor, and wreak all manner of havoc to your little heart’s content.  Your computer controlled friends have a slider for their respective AI, with which you’re able to pick certain behaviors for them, like “Go Nuts With Magic” or “Just Follow Me.”  The problem is that the sliders don’t seem to have any appreciable difference as to what the computer player will do.  Most of the time, the computer player will stand around while it gets surrounded by beasties, and you have to go rescue it.  You might find yourself constantly babysitting the computer players, which isn’t fun.

There’s also one command that was horribly, horribly overlooked: STAY.  Many puzzles revolve around having one person stand in one spot and another person go somewhere else.  If you start walking away from your computer-controlled friend, they start getting all clingy and want to follow you.  In other words, you’ll spend an awful lot of time saying, “Don’t you DARE get off of that switch, don’t you DARE, awww, you got off the switch!  Get back over there!”

Multiplayer is the meat of Echoes of Time, but that will be covered in a special article.  Here’s a quick spoiler:  It’s pretty good. Despite its flaws, I really loved Echoes of Time.  It looks like it’ll have long legs, as there are more dungeons to unlock and harder difficulty levels that you can try and conquer.  There are also some characters that won’t join you until you have a certain amount of time in the game, so there’s lost of cool little tidbits scattered throughout Echoes that will reveal themselves on multiple playthroughs.

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