Spirit of Co-operation
Still, if there are all these problems with the single-player game, then that's probably because the multiplayer works a treat - right? For the most part, yes, absolutely. Ring of Fates' strength lies in its multiplayer, and there's no question that it's incredibly well-structured and designed as a game for four players. Progress is fast, the drops from enemies are plentiful (and structured around an item-crafting system which demands a certain degree of co-operation among players to get the best results) and the puzzles are perfectly well balanced to present a challenge without frustrating.
Each player can create and level up as many as eight characters, choosing from the four race archetypes to do so. All of the characters are colourful and well-designed (although the race that look like giant, fully-grown babies strike us as being downright disturbing), a trait they share with the imaginative monster designs in the game. The real plus, of course, is that there are no concerns with AI in multiplayer - at least, if your friends are being thick, it's not the game's fault. Combos and puzzles, too, are both easier and much more enjoyable in a group.
Fans of the original Crystal Chronicles might be a bit sad to note some of the elements which haven't made it across to Ring of Fates, though. Gone is the bucket which had to be carried around to dispel the poisonous mist from around your players - an interesting idea, although we doubt it's one that'll be missed much. Gone too, and far more likely to be missed, is the bouncy physics on the magic crystals dropped by enemies, which allow you to cast spells (in Ring of Fates, each crystal is one cast - and when you run out, you'll need to find more before you can use magic again). It might sound like a minor thing, but kicking those crystals around to try and get them before our allies could grab them is one of our enduring memories of Crystal Chronicles.
Ultimately, however, these are fairly minor elements - and the core concepts and strengths of Crystal Chronicles have been translated very nicely into Ring of Fates' multiplayer mode. It would be remiss, however, not to mention one glaring flaw which has also been carried over from Crystal Chronicles - namely that this remains a very expensive game to play. For reasons best known to themselves (which may be technical - we noticed that the game suffers from heavy frame-rate glitches in multiplayer, which could be related), Square Enix has opted to restrict multiplayer to multi-card only - so if four people want to play, you'll need four copies of the game. In addition, there's no Wi-Fi Connection online play - this is for local wireless play online. Having crafted a great experience, we can't escape the feeling that Square is now doing its utmost to prevent many players from being able to enjoy it. Again.
This is a shame, because we suspect that many people who pick up the game on the strength of its single-player will be somewhat disappointed. Certainly, the presentation is wonderful - the graphics are lovely, the voice acting surprisingly good given the child-heavy cast, and while the story may be a bit predictable, it's kept moving along by some genuinely excellent dialogue and lovely nod-and-wink adult humour which will pass right over the kids' heads. However, the experience of single-player is definitely weighed down by the AI problems and broken spell combos, which can reduce it to the realms of being a simple hackandslash game at times.
It's in the multiplayer that Ring of Fates excels, and we have no problem with recommending it thoroughly to anyone who fancies some co-op action RPG fun with their friends. On the strength of excellent multiplayer and enjoyable if somewhat flawed single-player, we also have no problem rating Ring of Fates fairly highly - but we suspect that the lack of single-card multiplayer or WFC support is going to be a huge disappointment to many players. Let the buyer beware; this is a great game, but continuing the traditions of its predecessor, it may well not be the great game for you.