Like many action role-playing games, the gameplay of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles can be broken down into two sections: exploration and combat.
Exploration makes up the majority of the game, which is a standard feature of role-playing games. The player travels in their caravan to various settlements via an overworld map. While in a town, the player can talk to various non-player characters and buy supplies and equipment using gil, the in-game currency. Unlike most role-playing games, equipment cannot be bought pre-crafted: instead, players must buy or find "designs" (blueprints for a piece of equipment) and the necessary components before paying for it to be crafted at a blacksmith or tailor (depending on whether the equipment is a weapon, piece of armour or an accessory).
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles features real-time combat with no transition to a separate screen. Rather than limiting certain skills to specific characters (physical attack skills, magic, etc.), every character can use all abilities, but with varying degrees of talent based on their race; for example, Lilties are the most powerful in terms of physical attacks, but weakest with magic, and vice versa for Yukes.
In terms of physical attacks, characters can chain up to three-in-a-row or charge their power to use a more powerful "focus attack". There are multiple focus attacks available, dependent upon weapon. Magic in Crystal Chronicles comes in the form of "magicite" (a term first used in Final Fantasy VI and later used in Final Fantasy XII and other titles set in the world of Ivalice (as part of the Ivalice Alliance)) and encompasses only a few basic offensive and defensive spells, with the majority of the spells in the game accessible by combining two or more basic spells. This is done differently in single- and multi-player modes: in single-player, the magicite is combined in the command menu in a process called "fusion", while in multiplayer, players must charge and cast individual spells in the same place with a certain timing in a process called "stacking" (pictured).
To play Crystal Chronicles in multiplayer mode, each player must use a Game Boy Advance as a controller, connected to the GameCube by a Nintendo GameCube Game Boy Advance Cable. Each Game Boy Advance acts as its players "personal screen", with which they can control their character and access an individual menu without disrupting the game's flow.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, and related titles, take place in an unnamed world. In the time of Crystal Chronicles, this world is covered in a noxious gas known as "miasma", to which direct exposure can prove fatal. Towns, villages and other settlements throughout are protected from the ill effects of miasma by crystals, which generate a barrier which miasma cannot penetrate. But this effect is not permanent: it only lasts for around one year. Therefore, each year, brave people from each settlement venture out into the world to collect "myrrh", a liquid substance that powers the crystals' protective effect. But myrrh can only be harvested from special "myrrh trees", which are almost exclusively found in dungeons filled with monsters and other hostile creatures. The people collecting myrrh often use a caravan as a means of conveyance, and so are often called "caravanners", and their caravans are often called "crystal caravans".
The world of Crystal Chronicles is inhabited by four humanoid races, and the relationships between them, and events thereof, form much of the world's history.
The Clavats (クラヴァット, Kurabato) are biologically similar to humans and are a very peaceful race. They are generally farmers or ranchers. In the present day, a majority of Clavats live and work in the fertile Fields of Fum, providing a majority of the world's produce. Clavats are only confirmed to be capable of interbreeding with Selkies and Lilties. Their emblem is a crystal with a wing seen in profile, similar to the ones on the heels of their shoes. Clavats' main advantage in battle is their high defense, which makes them good for being able to withstand powerful enemies. They fight with swords, and use shields as their race-exclusive armor.
The Lilties (リルティ, Rirutī) are a proud, stout race of warriors and knights. In the past they ruled the world in an empire, founded off the weapons forged from materials of the Cathurigian mines. Even though their empire is now gone, the Lilties maintain the roads built then, and form patrols to ensure the safety of the towns and caravans. The Lilties are the shortest race in the game, as an adult Lilty is noticeably shorter than most other characters. The Lilties also have a unique, flower-like appearance, which is perhaps the source of their name. Their emblem is a triple-pronged spear with two banner furls. Of the four races, Lilties are the most powerful, starting with a naturally high attack stat that lets them do heavy damage. They are inept at magic, and take the longest time to cast a spell. They equip gauntlets as their race-exclusive armor, and use spears as weapons.
Selkies (セルキー, Serukī) are taller than Lilties, around the same height as Clavats, and usually have silver, blue, yellow or light purple hair and possess extremely fit and athletic bodies. They are a rugged race that dress in furs and stolen goods, and are mostly thieves.They usually put their own interests first and are often scorned by the other tribes. In the past, the Selkies were under the control of the Liltian empire and migrated from their ancestral homes to search for a safer place to live. They also seem to have been more culturally developed than in the present. They had their own language, and modern Yukes are studying Selkic texts on the Miasma, suggesting that they had lore of their own. It is said that they come from the sea. Their emblem is a stylized Selkie dancing, kicking, or jumping. It has two arms raised up, and one leg to the side. Selkies are the speediest of the races, and can take enemies down with a hit-and-run tactic. Selkies' race-exclusive armor is belts, and as weapons they use rackets.
Yukes (ユーク, Yūku) are tall, slender creatures with helmets that cover their faces most of the time, though it is mentioned by a scholar in the game that Yukes may lack physical bodies and only have souls. They also have long, feathered, striped arms, and small, vestigial wings. In the past, the Yukes were the only tribe not to be under the control of the Liltian empire. They achieved this by being sieged on the island of Shella, aided by their magic. In the recent past, they built the Veo Lu Sluice, which diverts Lake Shella into the Jegon River and enables the high fertility in Fum. A majority of Yukes live at Shella, teaching magic to others, but they still retain their aloofness. A non-Yuke can enter the city only if they have a Mark of Shella, which can be found at the Sluice. Their emblem is a stylized Yuke seen head on. Yukes are powerful magic casters, but are weak physical attackers. Their "Defend" command is possibly the most useful, as it makes them immune to all physical and magical attacks. Yukes use hammers as weapons, and their race-exclusive armor is helmets.
Player characters are created by the players, with choices of race, name, gender and one of four set designs based on race and gender. Therefore, this section will list non-player characters with importance to the storyline.Amidatty: the rather eccentric leader of the Yuke caravan from Shella. At one point in the game, he buys a loaf of bread from Gurdy, who claims it to be a highly scientific model of the world, believing mold that formed in it to represent miasma. Amidatty reveals later that he knew it was bread the entire time.
The Black Knight: a mad Lilty knight clad from head to toe in black armor. He spends his time chasing a 'light' across the countryside claiming it stole his memories. Later he is mortally wounded by a child Lilty, Leon Esla, that believed the Black Knight killed his father. Before the Black Knight dies, he seemingly remembers who he was before he died. It turns out that Leon Esla was his son, born after he left with Hurdy to try to rid the world of miasma.
De Nam: A rather peculiar Selkie who players meet in Shella. He is studying magic and wants to one day rid the world of miasma. He will send players letters if they talk to him in Shella saying he is drinking miasma-filled water in Conall Curach to try to build up immunity to miasma. His final letter to players tells them to come to Conall Curach, where he has been corrupted by the miasma and turned into a monster.
Gurdy: The rather untrustworthy Clavat makes his living out of cheating people out of their money. Players see him cheat both the Fields of Fum caravan and Amidatty. Possessing a great acting ability and silver tongue he seems to get away with it, though he often comes begging to players for help or money. Though one of the less pure characters he does help players a great deal in their quest with his poems. It later turns out that he has suffered from a loss of memories and barely knows who he is.
Hurdy: A traveling priest who is apparently Gurdy's brother. However, near the end of the game, players will be given clues that suggest that Hurdy is Gurdy, who thought his name was Gurdy after his memories were stolen by Raem. This is confirmed in the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Official Guide.
Mog: A moogle who carries the chalice for the player in single-player mode. He will also ask the player to paint him and trim his fur in the moogle holes. Depending on what color he is painted, he may add his power to the player's for spells (red for fire, blue for blizzard, green for thunder). If a GBA (Game Boy Advance) or SP is connected to socket two with a GBA GCN connector during single player mode, the color will also change the type of radar it displays. (Normal or cut hair for Map, red for Enemy Radar, blue for Treasure Chest Radar, green for Monster Data)
Princess Fiona: The half-Lilty, half-Clavat princess of Alfitaria. Her heritage is visible through the leaves sprouting from her hair, large bust, and although she has a Selkie crest on her left cheek, this is part of a disguise used in Leuda. She runs away from Alfitaria during the game because she is scared of her duties, but is eventually inspired by the caravan and decides to return home giving a large sum of money to the caravan. Note that in the game Princess Fiona is referred to as a strange "Selkic Maiden" by the Selkie Merchant in Marr's Pass. When she runs away she decides to spend time in Leuda, land of the Selkies.
Roland: In year two onwards till around year five the village elder will stop characters on the bridge on their way out of Tipa to give them some information about a scholar from Tipa who wanted to rid the world of miasma and hired the Black Knight for protection when he traveled in search of a way to dispel the miasma. The scholar apparently disappeared after sending a letter home to him from Mag Mell. He also claims that he recited certain poems which seemed to refer to the Lynari Desert. Gurdy will later recite these poems for players revealing that he could possibly have been the scholar before he lost his memories, when he was named Hurdy. This is confirmed in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Official Guide.
Sol Racht: The Lilty leader of the Alfitaria caravan. The knight is the first character players meet in the game and introduces them to the moogle Stiltzkin who teaches them how to fight. Although he is a little obtuse he helps the caravan, often giving advice, food, or weapons. Later in the game, his child is born, and he retires to provide parental care.
Crystal caravans have been journeying throughout the world, seeking myrrh for many years now. The player is put in control of one such caravan, from the small village of Tipa, setting out for the first time (and as many subsequent times as the player desires). As the caravanners' journey continues and they travel further in the search for myrrh, they meet many interesting characters and learn much about the history of their world.
Eventually, they reach Mag Mell, home of the Carbuncles who, after the fall of the Meteor, shut themselves off from the world and entered hibernation so as to not get caught up in any more of the world's problems. After hearing of the caravan's travels, they realize their folly and advise the caravanners to head for the nearby Mt. Vellenge, resting place of the Meteor and source of miasma. There they fight the Meteor Parasite, to halt the flow of miasma once and for all. When they are about to strike the final blow against the Meteor Parasite, they are pulled into an alternate dimension: there they meet Mio, a being connected to peoples' memories, taking the form of a young girl bathed in light; and Raem, her dark counterpart born from the violence sparked by the Meteor impact, taking the form of a bird-like beast. Mio and Raem both thrive on memories, but have significantly different habits: Mio occasionally "nibbles" on peoples' memories, causing forgetfulness. Raem, however, is much more malevolent, devouring peoples' entire collection of memories, causing amnesia, of which there has been a recent outbreak.
The miasma spreading throughout the land had created in people plentiful painful memories for Raem to feast on, but destroying the meteor parasite would break this cycle. Thus, Raem attacks the caravanners, who are able to resist his assault on their memories and defeat him. Fading away, Raem panics and attacks Mio, fusing her into himself to mount one last attack on the caravanners as the final boss Memiroa (anagram of "Raem" plus "Mio", as well as "Memoria"). The caravanners' positive memories gain physical form, becoming high-powered magicite that they use to make swift work of the creature.
Defeated, Mio and Raem separate and begin to fade away, with Mio telling the caravanners that she and Raem will rest for a while. The caravanners are sent back to Mt. Vellenge, where they are finally able to kill the wounded Meteor Parasite, ridding the world of miasma. The caravan's journey, and the journeys of all other caravans, are over for good.
First officially announced at the Jump Festa event in Japan on December 21, 2002, Crystal Chronicles marked the first Final Fantasy game to be released for a Nintendo home system since Final Fantasy VI in 1994. Nintendo had previously started a development fund called "Q Fund" to encourage software development on their consoles, and some of the funds money was combined with those of The Game Designers Studio. This "studio" was a shell corporation for Square Enix's Product Development Division-2 majority owned by Akitoshi Kawazu and established for the purpose of creating games for Nintendo consoles within the limits of an exclusivity deal with Sony. Funding between the two groups was split 51 percent from Q Fund and 49 percent from Game Designers Studio. The title was rumored to be related to the anime Final Fantasy: Unlimited, especially with Akitoshi Kawazu rumored to have been working on such a game since the previous October.
Crystal Chronicles was designed to be more easily accessible than other Final Fantasy games due to its more action oriented gameplay and its user-friendly interface. The game met with some initial confusion as to the nature of the Square Enix and Nintendo project, the departure from standard Final Fantasy gameplay mechanics, and the use of the Game Boy Advance and link cable instead of a GameCube controller for multiplayer play. The game's producer Akitoshi Kawazu explained that using the Game Boy Advance will "introduce different elements of gameplay", as players will have access to information on the GBA screen, and can choose to share it with the other players or keep it to themselves.
The soundtrack to Crystal Chronicles was primarily composed by Kumi Tanioka, while music programmer and arranger Hidenori Iwasaki provided one additional piece of music. Tanioka has described the musical style for the soundtrack as being based on "ancient instruments". The soundtrack makes extensive use of many medieval and Renaissance musical instruments such as the recorder, the crumhorn and the lute, creating a distinctively rustic feel. Tanioka said that the idea came to her while looking at illustrations of the game world, which gave her the idea of making "world music", where the tracks would "not [be] limited to a single country or culture". She also credits Hidenori Iwasaki, the synthesizer operator for the game, with doing "fantastic technical work" that brought her vision to life. The soundtrack was released as a separate album on the Pony Canyon label on August 20, 2003. It included all of the music from the game with the exception of the English versions of the opening song, "Morning Sky" ("Kaze no Ne" in Japanese), and the ending theme, "Moonless Starry Night" ("Hoshizukiyo" in Japanese), sung by Donna Burke. The soundtrack spans 52 tracks over 2 discs, covering a duration of 2:11:38, and has the catalog number PCCG-00613.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: A Musical Journey was a European promotional album which was given alongside the game on March 11, 2004 if the game had been pre-ordered. It contains six tracks from the soundtrack, including "Kaze No Ne" in both Japanese and English, the only time the English version has been released. It was published by Nintendo of Europe, and covers a duration of 17:37.
"Sound of the Wind" (カゼノネ, Kaze no Ne) is the opening song of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, composed by Kumi Tanioka and performed by Yae. It was released as a single by Pony Canyon, featuring the "Kaze No Ne" song, an arranged version, and two other songs by Yae from her album Blue Line, "Carol (scat)" and "Flower of Love" (恋の花, Koi no Hana). The single was released on July 30, 2003, has a length of 14:12, and has a catalog number of PCCA-01915. While "Kaze No Ne" follows the medieval theme of the rest of the Crystal Chronicles soundtrack, the arranged version is a more "produced" electronic-sounding track. The two unrelated tracks are vocal and instrumental pieces, with "Carol" as a scat song, and "Flower of Love" more of a slower "ethnic/world" piece.
Crystal Chronicles received positive reviews overall. The game was noted on IGN for its Phantasy Star Online-like multiplayer cooperative play, but the use of the Game Boy Advance, while innovative, was thought to be detrimental to the gameplay. The game's visuals and music were also praised. The game received the Grand Prize at the 2003 Japan Media Arts Festival. It was also rated the 42nd best game made on a Nintendo System in Nintendo Power's Top 200 Games list. The game sold 187,035 copies in Japan in its first week of release, over 350,000 copies in Japan by the end of 2003,
Shane Bettenhausen of Electronic Gaming Monthly praised the game's multiplayer element, which he said transforms its "simple hack-n-slash gameplay [...] into something strategic, wild, and addictive". He also called the game "visually arresting", and noted that "every location you explore harbors stunning details". Kevin Gifford, of the same magazine, criticized its single-player element, which he said "gets boring very quickly". However, he said that the game has "a superb graphic and sound package (the most beautiful on GameCube, I'd say)", and praised its multiplayer elements.
Shortly after the release of Crystal Chronicles, there was a manga series that ran in Monthly Shonen Gangan known as Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Hatenaki Sora no Mukou ni (ファイナルファンタジー・クリスタルクロニクル ～はてなき空の向こうに～).
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles has since evolved into a metaseries. There are currently five more games set in the same world: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates, a prequel for Nintendo DS, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers, a sequel for the Wii, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time for the Nintendo DS and Wii, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord, direct sequels for Wii released through the WiiWare download service. The series also includes a browser game, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King - Everyone's Kingdom.