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Final Fantasy Echoes of Time is a relatively straight forward follow up in the Crystal Chronicles action role playing series. However, it has a couple of ingenious tricks. Firstly you can play it on either DS or Wii and have the same exact experience. Secondly you can play co-op across the different platforms.
Now, before I go any further I need to frame this for you. As I said above, you can play this game on either DS or Wii. However, this is different to the usual dumbed down DS minigame version of the Wii's main experience. The DS visuals, sound, voice work and everything in fact are identical to the Wii game. If you turn both systems on together the screens match each other exactly. The Wii game benefits from some higher fidelity versions of the textures, polygons, and audio, but other than that they are the same game.
This lets the player choose how and where they want to play. If you prefer things on the move then the DS game is obviously the one for you. If however your an evening gamer at home in the living room, the Wii version is going to float your boat.
Most interesting though is that no matter which version of the game you have purchased, you can play with anyone else who has the game. This works across platforms as well. Load up the game on your Wii and go to the co-operative location in the town. Startup the DS game and go the same and you can both jump into the same game.
It's the sort of flexible forward thinking that Nintendo used to be famous for, before they became more interested in their casual market. Remember Zelda: Four Swords on the Gamecube? There, you could hook up four Gameboy Advances via a special cable to the Gamecube's controller port and play the game across both systems. Its the sort of move that opens up all sorts of game play opportunities as players can't see each others screens - ideal for setting traps and the link in Four Swords. Final Fantasy stays shy of really leveraging this functionality, instead focusing on the cross platform co-operative game play and an impressively snappy experience.
Whilst playing in single or multiplayer the Wii screen is divided in two to match the DS's top and bottom display. At first this seem to annoyingly rob the Wii player of valuable screen real estate. However, pressing the plus or minus buttons on the Wii-mote make one or other of the screens grow to fill more of the screen. It's another simple solution to a complex problem that works well.
The result is that the Wii game benefits from the extra investment possible from its multi format nature, and the DS gains kudos by aligning it alongside a proper console experience.
It's the sort of flexible forward thinking that Nintendo used to be famous for, before they became more interested in their casual market.
The game itself continues the familiar fixed isometric visual that in the past has lent itself to turn based game play, although here the action is mostly real time. The usual high quality Final Fantasy production values are at play within the cross platform nature of the title.
Things proceed through adventuring interspersed with real-time hack-and-slash fighting. A new weapon system where characters have their own specific weapons abilities has been added. Some new weapons makes an appearance too, like sling-shots and paddles that mix up combat somewhat.
For me and my family though, the cross platform co-operative play more than makes up for any shortfall in depth or complexity.
Equipment itself (as well as your characters) can be level up through its use in battles. A jewel system replaces the levelling ability of previous games. Players now apply jewels to weapon slots to enhance them - this ranges from a simple attack increase to more complex level cap breaking enhancements.
Magic also has had some attention. While it retains target rings and elemental casting, it now uses Magic Points rather than magicites. Potions and ethers now have to be used when they are found rather than stored for later. Fusion spells are also simpler as they mostly require less complex combinations of elements. And finally, rings now lock onto an enemy, making it impossible to miss a spell and waste Magic Points.
A lot of sensible decisions have been made throughout to make the game more accessible. These efforts mainly focus on streamlining and simplifying what was previously a slightly impenetrable process. Combine this with the multi platform options and you have a game that works hard to attract the more casual Nintendo audience.
While the Wii version undoubtedly ends up a slightly less ambitious game, the overall package across both DS and Wii more than makeup for this shortfall. It will be interesting to see how well each version sells. If, as I suspect, the DS will be the version of choice for most casual players and the Wii adopted by those with more of a Crystal Chronicles history the relative numbers will be very telling. For me and my family though, the cross platform co-operative play more than makes up for any shortfall in depth or complexity.
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