Platform: Nintendo DS
It's safe to say that the biggest name in Japanese RPGs has whole-heartedly adopted the DS. Little more than a month after Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings we get a new FF branded game for Nintendo's handheld money-maker, I mean games platform, and that's with one FF remake (FFIII) already out and another (FFIV) on its way. On top of that we've recently had Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker and we can soon expect Final Fantasy Tactics A2 and The World Ends with You. That little selection covers traditional RPGs, strategy RPGs and now, with Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates, the action RPG hybrid.
For those of you with a reasonable memory, the Crystal Chronicles moniker may be familiar. Some of you - well, maybe one of you - may even have played the original GameCube Crystal Chronicles as it was intended: with four friends, four GBA link cables and four Gameboy Advances. In which case you should, I'm reliably informed, have enjoyed a great little multiplayer game. The surprise with Ring of Fates, then, is that it isn't a multiplayer focused title. While it has a multiplayer option and takes certain game mechanics from the first Crystal Chronicles game, it's primarily a single-player effort.
The good news is that it's a surprisingly satisfying game. The one person I know who played Crystal Chronicles assures me that it was excellent when played with mates but a total waste of time played on your tod. Ring of Fates plays more like a traditional action RPG. In fact, at first it plays like a slightly clichéd and simplistic one. Your protagonists are pre-teen twins with (yawn) untapped powers who (sigh) find themselves caught up in a battle over some (are we done yet?) crystals of awesome power. If you haven't seen this one already, you've obviously never played an RPG.
If there's little inventive about the plot, at first the same seems true of the gameplay. Bar the odd lavish pre-rendered sequence, in-engine cut-scenes drag the player from one dungeon area to the next - though these ‘dungeons' may include crumbling city districts, tangled forests or icy mountain peaks - where the twins, represented as one figure, wander around whacking the local monster population with the best available sharp object. After the first section the game then throws in a basic magic system, whereby magical spheres with various properties can be lobbed at friend or foe to heal or harm respectively. Kids may well get it straight away, but anyone over the age of twelve might not be so enthralled - particularly as the general tone and style seems aimed at a younger age group.