An ancient evil has awakened and it is beginning to stir up an apocalyptic stew. As usual, the entire population is panicking, and it doesn’t help that all of the King’s elite soldiers are cowering in their quarters. It is a dire situation; the world has never been in more desperate need of a saviour. And so, it rests the heavy burden upon the shoulders of our pre-pubescent hero of the day — Yuri. No, not the badass Yuri from the boss-infested RPG Shadow Hearts, nor the Yuri who was the first man in outer space; this Yuri is an adorable little munchkin dressed in pinstriped pyjamas who needs his twin sister’s help to simply swing a sword straight. Luckily for him (and the world), Yuri’s not the only star of this show.
Do you fancy a stout swordsman who hits harder than a truck? Or are you more of a long-distance sniper? Maybe you’re the type that doesn’t enjoy getting physical; lobbing great balls of dark matter might just be your thing. Or are you a pacifist? That is, you prefer brewing magicite crystals over using them to hurt people. It’s hard to choose, isn’t it? Well it really doesn’t matter in Ring of Fates; you will get to play as all four unique characters, simultaneously, sooner or later.
To save the world, you must take your awesome foursome into the deepest depths of several decrepit dungeons. You’ll need to make good use of each individual’s innate abilities to make it through alive. It’s like an MMORPG raid, but with only four players, and you are in control of all of them. Of course, you only directly control one character at a time, but you may switch between them at a moment’s notice. It’s easy, but it doesn’t always work well.
Battles are carried out in real-time. Enemies roam about the dungeon corridors and if you feel the need to whack them around, you simply walk up to them and begin hammering on the A button. Yuri can perform a combo of powerful sword slashes so he’s usually your front-liner (i.e. the most used character). Alhanalem is your mage-type who hurls dark balls of energy from afar, Gnash is an expert archer who has the handy ability to double jump, and Meeth is your token pacifist; she hits like a baby and would much rather cook up magicite. They all have their uses and sometimes a situation calls for one over another.
Since you only have control of one character at a time, the AI governs the actions of the other three. I wouldn’t expect to see marvellous team AI in a DS game (the memories of Heroes of Mana still haunt me), but calling it inept is an understatement. If you tackle enemies head-on with Yuri, Alhanalem and Gnash will usually back you up with projectile attacks (Meeth usually stands back to enjoy the show). However, if you use any of the other characters to lead an assault from afar, the AI tends to fumble around with who your actual target is. It’s forgivable when you’re dealing with a few weak fiends, but later monsters can really rip you apart in a matter of seconds if your offence isn’t coordinated. It sucks to die just because the AI decides to walk your comrades around in circles instead of laying some smack down.
Of course, multiplayer is a totally different story with each one of your comrades being individually handled by another close-by player, via a local wireless connection. There are severe problems regarding lag in certain hectic situations, but hey — an otherwise enjoyable four-player co-op experience for the DS is not to be sniffed at.
The first Crystal Chronicles game that was released on the GameCube demanded too much from players for an optimum experience; multiple GBAs and link cables weren’t easy things to come by. This DS sequel makes a big improvement by offering wireless multiplayer and a complete single-player quest to boot. Sadly, this is the Metroid Prime Hunters of Final Fantasy in that the incompetent AI and simple (and short) dungeon structure makes the solo game an enjoyable, but less-than-stellar challenge. Multiplayer is where it’s at and this is why the absence of Wi-Fi battles is a sore loss. Your mileage may vary, but my current adventures thus far have, most unfortunately, have been rather lukewarm.