Taking advantage of wireless technology, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time lets you play the game on the Wii or the Nintendo DS with up to three friends. As with most of the games with the Final Fantasy name, the stories aren't connected and you don't have to have played any previous game before playing a new one. Echoes of Time uses Square Enix's Pollux engine, in which you can host a multiplayer session on the Wii and play with three other people on the DS locally, or via Wi-Fi as long as everyone has their own copy of the game. Square Enix came by to give a multiplayer demo, and we were happy to see how easy it was to get a multiplayer session going and that the lag issue that bogged down Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates has been addressed.
This action role-playing game spin-off series is set in its own world with four different races: clavats, yukes, selkies, and lilties. You get to choose your race and gender when you start the game and play through the main storyline, but in a multiplayer session you play one of the four races so that you have a balanced group. We joined a three-player game, which was enough to make the dungeons easier but still keep things rowdy. Only the person hosting will have his or her progress saved, given that you're jumping into his or her game, but playing together definitely makes the experience livelier. Picking up people is an excellent way to get on someone's nerves, or you can use it strategically to hoard all of the loot. Your burden can kick you in the head until you drop him or her, but you'll risk dropping some cash as well. We started in one of the main towns, in which you can purchase weapons, customize gear, and store extra items that you've acquired on your journey. Quests can also be taken up here, but we'll get to that a bit later.
Before setting off into a dungeon, we decided to check out the different outfits that we could try on, which included a pirate outfit, a frog costume, and even the king's suit from My Life as a King. Once we were done with our fashion show, we headed to one of the earlier dungeons to get a feel for how the game works. Like previous games in the series, it's action-based, and you work together with your traveling buddies to solve puzzles to get to the dungeon's boss. By hitting switches, moving blocks, and casting spells at particular targets, we eventually made it to the dungeon's boss, a large, minotaur-like creature that didn't last very long once we had it surrounded. The dungeons are designed to be playable solo, but it's easier, faster, and more exciting to have other people help you out.
To talk with those who might not be playing in the same room as you, the bottom screen of the DS will have exclamation bubbles that will prompt a few preset messages that you can use to communicate. It will also be translated if you play with people from another region. The preset messages change depending on the situation you're in so that you can say something appropriate to the situation. Before a multiplayer session, you can always enter some of your own preset phrases as well. Otherwise, you can pull up the keyboard in-game and create your own messages.
One noticeable change from Ring of Fates is that instead of collecting crystals to cast spells, you have magic points, which helps reduce the clutter onscreen so that the game can run more smoothly. There are plenty of items that you'll come across to replenish your health, and to maximize efficiency, anyone who is touching you can also benefit from the effects of a potion. Using the touch screen, you can select which type of magic you want to cast, and then use the X button to target your spell. On the Wii, you use the pointer and the C button to cast. A map is also on the bottom screen for your convenience so you have an idea as to where your friends are. When casting spells, if you can properly time a fire spell with a friend or two, you'll cast fira or firaga and deal more damage.
Once we returned to town, we took up a couple of quests that are in the form of minigames. The first one had us picking up barrels of water to douse fires, and the other required that we get rid of some squirrels using the fire spell only. You're on a timer, which means that you can fail the quest, but you'll be rewarded with quite a bit of goodies if you win. There's a small fee to play, but there are more than 60 quests that will be available to play on your own or cooperatively.
The Wii version is the same as the DS in that the two screens will be displayed on your television side by side, except the screen with most of the action will be larger. It's like having your dual screen blown up, with the top screen on the left and bottom screen on the right. Using the plus and minus buttons, you can zoom in on the right or left screen.
Echoes of Time looks great so far on the Wii and the DS. The visuals are cheerful and bright, and there's quite a bit of variety with all of the different outfits that you can collect. You can strut your stuff in town by stepping on a pedestal so that your character will do a little dance or pose to show off his or her new outfit. Our demo was strictly focused on the multiplayer, but we'll soon have a chance to play the main game from the beginning, so we'll update you with those impressions shortly. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time is set to be released on March 24.