Despite being one of the most recognisable names in gaming, there's a sense in which the Final Fantasy moniker can do as much harm as good to a new game. The words call to mind images of interminable, winding adventures, capricious random battles, protracted cut-scenes, juvenile philosophising and hermaphrodite heroes. As a result, Square-Enix's increasingly regular habit of slapping the brand on products that have little resemblance to their flagship series risks seeing these games dismissed by swathes of gamers. How many readers chose not to click on this review simply because it bears the words "final" and "fantasy" and so couldn't possibly be relevant to them, for example?
In the case of Echoes of Time this is something of a minor tragedy, as the game represents a great many things that Final Fantasy does not. This is a snappy action-RPG in which storytelling plays second fiddle to Zelda-style puzzling and Diablo-esque dungeon exploration. Its USP - that Wii and Nintendo DS owners can adventure together simultaneously - is executed robustly and the finer details of the experience are crammed with creativity and sensible implementation. On that basis one can't help but feel that the Final Fantasy branding might cost Echoes of Time sales it would otherwise have attracted.
As the latest member of the Crystal Chronicles suite of Final Fantasy spin-offs, this is closer in style to the mediocre Ring of Fates than the WiiWare release of mixed success, My Life as a King. It's a fully 3D dungeon-exploring adventure with a heavy emphasis on item collection and equipment customisation. These systems are then tied together by a straightforward, childish story that's mercifully light enough not to get in the way. Conversations are never drawn out and the cut-scenes are brief, as indeed are many of the missions, ensuring the game's suitability for portable play. Your quality of experience is going to be somewhat influenced by the platform on which you play (more on that later) but the game within is sound.