I need not have worried. Ring of Fates boasts a surprisingly rich coming of age story in a world that is beautifully realized and packed with dungeons just waiting to be looted. Even the most hardcore fans, who prefer a traditional Final Fantasy experience, will find little to disappoint here.
So what's with this whole Crystal Chronicles thing? Is it linked to the GameCube title? Indeed it is -- as a prequel, set in the same world, but many, many years earlier. It's lighter Final Fantasy fare, but your old favorites are here -- wild hair, elaborate costumes, great characters, and moogles galore. As twins Yuri and Chelinka (yes, you're playing as two people, but they're represented outside of dialogue and cutscenes as one entity), Ring of Fates tasks players with taking on the challenge of growing up Clavat. The young twins are only just learning about their abilities, and along with their father and various teachers, they are about to embark on a journey of epic proportions.
In the beginning, as with so many RPGs, the story seems designed around familiarizing the player with everything as quickly as possible, but don't worry -- things pick up quickly, plotwise, and what began as a simple tale soon begins to take on a great deal of depth, in both story and gameplay. At times, Ring of Fates can seem a little repetitive; as an ARPG, you do a lot of running around, hacking, slashing, and jumping through various dungeons and battles, and you collect a lot of loot. From there, however, your possibilities seem almost limitless. There's a lot of item combination and creation in Ring of Fates, both in the game's workshops, and via teacher (and later, party member) Meeth, whose tribal abilities include magicite creation.
If this sounds like an extremely brief overview, it is. Why? Ring of Fates is dense. It's packed with content. Even the manual is completely huge, because there's a lot to explain. But the best thing about it is that you can make of the game what you want. If you're the kind of person who lives for loot, you can go a-hunting for better gear (and there's tons to be had, all beautifully rendered). There are optional quests, silly games, and customizable weapons, and oh, yeah, that whole Crystal Chronicles thing -- if you can manage to get friends together who own a copy of the game, you can go on multiplayer adventures. We unfortunately did not get a chance to try out the multiplayer, as it requires more than one copy of the game, but there's so much to the single player experience that there wouldn't even have been time.
And speaking of multiplayer, therein lies one of the game's flaws. The fact that the multiplayer experience is restricted to local wireless is a disappointment. Someday, perhaps, Square Enix -- who claim to be just as interested in developing for the west as they are for Japan -- will realize that many of the world's gamers want more than just a messaging or trading service for their online experience. While Ring of Fates is certainly the kind of game you'd probably prefer playing with friends versus playing with random people, it's sometimes difficult to collect all those gaming friends in the same room, and online multiplayer can really facilitate those experiences. Ring of Fates would be much improved if this were the case.
As it is, however, there isn't much to fault. At times, the controls can be a little frustrating. Overall, they're very well done -- for the most part, buttons for the action, touchscreen for the menus -- so when you suddenly need to use the touchscreen in mid-battle, it can be a little jarring. Some of the other touchscreen functionality seems a little fluffy and tacked-on as well, but since it doesn't take anything away from the experience, there's no reason to complain. Otherwise, the problems are few and far between; Ring of Fates is a huge experience that you can make your own, by playing in a variety of ways, alone or with others.
The basics (or, the review is in the details):
Controls: This is the only real obvious problem area with Ring of Fates, and it's not so much a problem as an annoyance. It's nearly impossible to move in a straight line anywhere, due to both the D-pad and the level designs, so you end up running in a rather irritating eight-way zig-zag unless you're very careful. While this seems like a nitpick, it takes a while to adjust and master some of the aspects of the game, like jumping onto and up to (for grabbing) some items and creatures, because it's difficult to position yourself. Also, Ring of Fates suffers from a condition that plagues so many DS titles -- random touchscreen inclusion. If the game simply divided the controls between touchscreen menus and buttons for everything else, things would have made a lot more sense; as it is, at times, Ring of Fates feels a little unintuitive.
Visuals: Not only is the game beautiful, but the detail with which all the different outfits are rendered on the DS's tiny screen is just amazing. In fact, overall, the game is full of astonishing detail, down to the smallest things. The spell effects, in particular, are simply gorgeous.
Sound: It's a Final Fantasy game. Expect the best -- and Ring of Fates delivers with a rich score and some selective voice acting that fits the characters quite well.
Story: Not only does Ring of Fates offer up a charming, fascinating story, packed with the development of its maturing heroes, but the game is also filled with hilarious dialogue. But hey, no worries -- if you're not the story type, you can skip it all and just get into the action.
Difficulty: No one challenge is particularly difficult, but there's so much to do that Ring of Fates will keep you busy for a long time. There are a few issues with the AI, particularly in the beginning, that add to the difficulty in an unfortunate way -- there's nothing worse than your allies thumb-twiddling while you're getting your butt handed to you -- but those issues are, thankfully, infrequent.
Final verdict: 8.5/10 -- Ring of Fates is definitely quality, but the game's few flaws keep it from being the ultimate action RPG experience. Definitely worth picking up, however!