A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this role-playing game is part of the Crystal Chronicles franchise, a series that developer Square Enix (makers of the popular, adult-themed Final Fantasy games), has created to appeal to younger audiences. It supports online co-operative play for up to four players, including text chat abilities, but safety measures are in place to ensure that people cannot send custom text messages to anyone with whom they haven't personally exchanged friend codes. The fantasy violence is mild, and sexuality is limited to some slightly provocative clothing worn by a couple of female characters. Language never becomes more obscene than the word "hell," which is used very rarely in the game's text dialogue.
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What's it about?
In FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES: ECHOES OF TIME players design and take control of a teenage hero (you can select between male and female leads hailing from four different races). Your primary aim is to save a young girl who has become sick with a mysterious disease. Your protagonist leaves the village in which he or she grew up and wanders about a large world map, entering various towns and dungeons on a quest to hunt down medicinal ingredients. Plenty of side quests are available along the way.
Play is standard stuff for action role-playing games, involving plenty of battles (press A to swing your weapon, X to unleash a magical attack), lots of environmental puzzles (players will push blocks, flip switches, and open gates), and lots of treasure hunting (loot chests and pick up items left behind by defeated monsters). However, an innovative multiplayer element is thrown into the mix via online play that allows, for the first time, DS and Wii players to connect with one another and play cooperatively in groups of two to four.
Is it any good?
Echoes of Time is cleverly designed to allow players to experience the game in its entirety by themselves, with friends, or alternating between solo and multiplayer play. The action is easier going and faster when friends are around to help, but monsters can be dealt with individually so long as you don't run around the dungeons haphazardly, which will cause multiple beasts to spawn at the same time. If you find that one area is simply too taxing, simply hop online by approaching a save crystal and recruit some help. Should you not happen to have access to a wireless connection, you can also recruit up to three computer-controlled allies to lend a hand. The range of multiplayer, multi-character options are nothing if not impressive.
However, once you get past the novelty and ingenuity of the multiplayer element, Echoes of Time is a pretty traditional action role-playing game. Level design is kind of neat -- we get to discover and follow narrow paths up to higher levels and swim in deep pools of water -- but battles are limited to hammering an attack button and using specific magic spells on certain enemies. What's more, the flip-switching, block-pushing puzzles are generously described as quaint. And the save-the-girl plot, while modestly entertaining, is interchangeable with those of dozens of other such games. Echoes of Time is an undeniably competent and fairly kid-friendly adventure, and it has some great multiplayer functionality, but it lacks the sort of memorable characters, puzzles, and battles found in the very best action role-playing games.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what it's like to play a game online with someone using a different system (people who own the DS version of Echoes of Time can play with those who own the Wii version--a first for these two platforms). Do you think that one system holds an advantage over the other when playing cooperatively? What do you think of the limited text communication abilities afforded players? Do you understand why Square Enix and Nintendo control the sort of messages that players can send one another, and why you can't send custom text messages to anyone with whom you haven't exchanged a friend code?
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