You got your Zelda in my Final Fantasy!
That's what we smart-mouthed teenagers of the nineties were saying about Secret of Mana, a landmark 16-bit game from Square that blended multiplayer monster-slashing action and light role-playing elements into a delicious whole.
So it's baffling that nowadays, the action RPG genre has almost died out. But there is hope: Square Enix's closest thing to a Mana revival, the awkwardly-titled Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates. This Nintendo DS game isn't quite up to the quality standards of action RPGs past, but it's good enough for genre fans.
Any port in a storm, right?
The first thing you need to know about Ring of Fates is that it shares little in common with the original Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles on GameCube. That was an experimental multiplayer-focused game which required every player to use a Game Boy as their controller. It was interesting, but getting four people and their Game Boys together to play it was a pain in the ass. Plus, the game's single-player mode was almost an afterthought, a hacked-together disappointment.
Ring of Fates, wisely, puts the emphasis on the single-player game. The story is much more entertaining, focusing on the coming of age of your brother-and-sister pair of characters and their quirky friends. The writing is consistently sharp and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny -- fully appropriate for kids, but with great under-the-radar gags for grownups sprinkled throughout. And not long after the game begins, the story takes quite a dark twist, pulling off serious drama surprisingly well for a game in which all the characters resemble nothing so much as the unreleased Medieval Times line of Cabbage Patch Kids.
The game takes place across a series of dungeons crawling with colorfully-designed enemies. Everything is real-time: Slashing creatures and defending yourself relies entirely on your reflexes, not on strategy. But although the dungeons have a few small puzzles, the level designs are more Final Fantasy than Zelda. It's about staying alive long enough to see the end.
While this isn't a Diablo-style "dungeon crawler," there's one clear nod to those games. Enemies drop all kinds of loot after you defeat them, and you soon build up a massive stockpile of raw materials and recipes from which you can craft a vast array of different armors and weapons for your characters.
For the life of me I can't figure out why, as all this system adds is a bunch of laborious busy work after each dungeon, paging through a phalanx of text-based menus trying to build new equipment. If the loot system has any positive effect on gameplay, it's that you don't get new stuff until after a dungeon is over. This means that you never have to worry about pausing the game mid-battle to futz with equipment.
It shouldn't take much longer than 10 hours to get through the single-player mode, although you can definitely kill a lot more time than that if you go back to earlier dungeons and search for hidden secrets once you get new characters and skills. But you don't really need to do any grinding, as Ring of Fates is quite easy. I was challenged a few times in the dungeons to get past some tricky areas, and individual enemies can put up a fight. But I only ever died during boss battles, and the game lets you retry those with no penalty.
But the light difficulty level isn't all bad, as it probably kept me from getting too frustrated with the things that Ring of Fates does wrong. For one, your computer-controlled partner characters are, not to put too soft a touch on this, complete drooling idiots. They will sit there and get wailed on by the computer and not lift a finger in their defense; they won't run towards healing spells; they will fall into poisonous sulfur pits and sit there dying without thinking to leave.
You can play the game in multiplayer with your friends controlling the other characters, but I didn't, because there's no online mode and so you have to know someone else who owns the game before you can tag-team.
There are several different magic spells, but all I ever used was Cure. You can target enemies with Fire, etc., but reaching over to the touch screen to cast the spell is so cumbersome that I just used the sword. Same with the touch-screen special attacks that each character can use: In the heat of battle, I'm not going to pull out my stylus and start inelegantly poking the screen when it's just not necessary.
And in the final hours, the theretofore strong story abandons its character-centric charm and takes a depressingly typical Square Enix nosedive into incomprehensible metaphysical bullshit.
I'm complaining a lot, and that's because Ring of Fates' gameplay issues are not trivial things. But this is an instance of a very fun game that overcomes substantial problems. This is as close as I've come in a long time to feeling like I do when I play Secret of Mana and get that perfect combination of leveling up, boosting my stats, building my character, but also having a great time slashing my way through a gauntlet of enemies.
I wouldn't unhesitatingly recommend Ring of Fates to anyone who's not already a genre fan, but if you're like me, you need to play this one.
WIRED Long-overdue action RPG revival, awesome writing, solid gameplay
TIRED Terrible A.I., lame implementation of magic attacks, no online or single-cart multiplayer
Price/maker: $40, Square Enix
source : blog.wired.com