Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles - The Crystal Bearers is an extremely odd title. If you go into it expect anything like a traditional Final Fantasy title, you're going to be extremely disappointed. It's not because it isn't an RPG, as Final Fantasy includes plenty of action-RPGs like Crisis Core or Dissidia. No, The Crystal Bearers stands out because it isn't so much a game as it is a lengthy series of sandboxes connected by a plot. For anyone expecting a traditional Final Fantasy experience, that is like popping in Halo and finding a game where you control an adorable cherub. Sure, the title is technically accurate, but it wasn't at all what you were expecting, and it's hard to look past that. If you can, though, The Crystal Bearers has a lot to offer, although perhaps not to the hardcore RPG fans who normally play Final Fantasy games.
The Crystal Bearers is set in the same universe as the other Crystal Chronicles games. For those who've passed on those titles, it's a traditional fantasy universe populated by four species: Clavat, Lilty, Selkie and Yuke. The Crystal Bearers is set a bit further in the future than the other games. The Lilty Kingdom has become one of the most powerful places in the world, and thanks to their advanced crystal-based technology, they control most of the land. The Clavat and Selkie live in a semi-peaceful relationship with the Lilty, but the Yuke have all but died out. Players are put in control of Layle, a cocky Han Solo-esque Clavat with the mysterious power to control gravity. This power, as a well as a crystal embedded in his right cheek, marks him a Crystal Bearer, making him simultaneously respected and feared by all. The plot begins when Layle is hired to guard a Lilty airship, only for it to come under attack by another Crystal Bearer: a Yuke with the power of summoning. Layle is hired to hunt down and capture the Yuke, but as is the case in these sorts of games, he quickly finds himself entangled in a plot that involves the fate of the entire world.
Despite the rather dramatic-sounding plot, The Crystal Bearers is actually an extremely lighthearted game. For the most part, Layle is an enjoyable protagonist. He doesn't seem to overly care much about what is happening and takes everything in stride. Instead of being angsty over being a potential outcast, he cheerfully uses his powers and doesn't care if people call him a freak. Likewise, the cast is filled with energetic and fun individuals, and the straightforward adventure story has very little that could be called deep or thought-provoking. Some of the writing is a little weak and really hinders the plot. The script lacks the polish and time given to their mainstream Final Fantasy games, and while it never comes across as mistranslated, a lot of the lines seem to be overly literal. The script could really have used some cleaning up to make it sound like actual people talking. As such, the story never really manages to get going as well as it should because it never feels quite natural. It's enjoyable enough, but a cleaned-up script could have made it something special.
Crystal Bearers is more of an action game as opposed to a traditional Final Fantasy-style RPG. You directly control Layle using the Nunchuk's analog stick. The Wii Remote is used as a pointer, which allows you to aim Layle's gravity powers. Aiming at anything on-screen and pressing the B button allows you to grab it and the toss or move it with your gravity powers. Depending on what you interact with, you can throw barrels, toss people into the air, restart a clock, open a door, glide down a zip line, or many other things. Every environment in the game is full of things for Layle to use his gravity powers on, and most of the game is spent trying to find new and interesting things to do with them.The Crystal Bearers has large, involved and beautiful areas to explore, which are both a blessing and curse. Every area in the game is interesting in its own way. The towns are really quite impressive, packed to the brim with townspeople and various objects you can interact with. If you're in the mood, you can spend your time tossing children into guards, causing fire hydrants to explode, or shaking rich people until money falls out. Likewise, you can return lost keys to people, help children find balloons, or watch people hanging out and having fun. There is a lot to see in each of the beautiful rendered environments, and they all are unique places.
The downside to these fun environments is that it's really easy to get lost. The in-game map is nearly useless and only shows a wide overview of the area. The only real hints you get come from a friendly Moogle, but they are often strange or poorly worded. Telling someone to go "south" doesn't really help when there is almost no context to figure out which way south is. There's another section where you're told to "cross a rope" directly in front of a long tightrope. Logically, you'd cross the tightrope, but the answer is to turn around and use your gravity powers on a zip line located behind you, a mechanic you've probably not used up until that point in the game. There are a lot of moments like these, and it gets worse when the game expects you to return to old areas, whether or not you actually remember how to get there. Exploring is a large part of the title's charm, but it still hurts to be left to guess where you're supposed to be going. A slightly better map would have made the game a lot more playable, especially for younger or more casual gamers, who are unlikely to be keeping notes or making maps.
A good portion of your time in The Crystal Bearers is going to be spent playing various minigames. Some of these games are optional, while others are part of the plot. Sometimes you'll be shooting down monsters with a Wiimote-guided cannon, racing Chocobos, throwing wine barrels at foes, fishing, playing a ridiculous game of soccer, or countless other things. Most of the minigames are reasonably fun. Some are a bit dull and a few others could have had better controls, but they're perfectly serviceable. One of my favorites has a pseudo-stealth sequence where you have to escape from guards by performing a variety of actions, some of which have different consequences later on. Perhaps the thing that will most turn people off these minigames is that you can't really lose. At worst, you'll either restart from a nearby checkpoint or get a bad score at the end of the sequence. The Crystal Bearers appears to be doing everything it can to facilitate you doing neat things, instead of working against you. This is a double-edged sword, as it makes it very easy for casual players or young gamers to have fun in The Crystal Bearers. On the other hand, the traditional Final Fantasy audience will probably feel unsatisfied with how little the game asks of them.
There is combat in The Crystal Bearers, but it is almost completely optional and extremely unusual. In certain areas of the game, a Miasma Stream will appear and summon monsters. You can see the number of monsters on your screen, and your goal is to defeat them in a certain time limit. If you do so, you can close the stream, which rewards you with special power-ups. Failing to defeat the monsters fast enough causes the stream to close, destroying all the monsters instantly and depriving you of valuable items. I'm using the term "valuable" loosely, as The Crystal Bearers' difficulty level is so low that you don't really need them unless you're being a completionist. Many enemies can be easily ignored. They're not very aggressive or dangerous, so as long as you occasionally fight or do other things to get items for crafting, you'll be fine. If you're skilled enough, you can probably get through the game with your default equipment. The only items you can get are new pieces of armor for your character, and while they have minor effects, they're not game changers.
Despite showing some rather adept kung-fu skills in cut scenes, Layle doesn't actually do hand-to-hand combat and uses his gravity powers to fight enemies instead. You can grab an object with your powers by holding the cursor over it for a few seconds while holding the B button. Once an object has been grabbed, you can toss it in various directions or capture it and hold it over your head. However, defeating enemies isn't as easy as throwing them around randomly. Every object in the environment reacts in different ways to other objects. For example, picking up a bone might cause all the dog-like monsters around you to become friendly and follow you around. Other enemies may react in unique ways if they're picked up by Layle's gravity powers. A bomb can explode, doing massive damage to everything around it, or a water-spewing enemy can be used as a makeshift squirt gun. Regardless, each object in the environment has some kind of use in combat, including enemies.
Each foe is sort of a puzzle. You can defeat a majority of foes by throwing rocks at them, but doing so within the time limit is difficult. Instead, you have to figure out each monster's gimmick and how to use your gravity powers to influence them. Some are simple, such as throwing a bug into the mouth of a more powerful enemy, while later ones require fun gimmicks, such as making an enemy shoot itself by moving its tentacle or catapulting Layle into a foe at the right time to make it accidentally blow itself up when it's trying to launch a powerful attack.
The combat system in Crystal Chronicles is fun, but it can be a bit tedious at times. Not all the enemy gimmicks are fun, and some of the fights are just kind of boring. It's nice to be able to skip any battles you're just not interested in, so you can take on foes when you're interested in playing their game instead of feeling forced into it. There are some exceptions, but they're fairly few and far between. The biggest problem is that the Wiimote can be a bit wonky in places and doesn't always register the right motion. It's annoying to screw up defeating a foe because the Wiimote registered left instead of up, but thankfully, this is a rare problem. Slightly more annoying is having to use the d-pad to move the camera, which can be more than a little awkward during intense action sequences. Beyond all of that, The Crystal Bearers' biggest problem is that combat doesn't feel very necessary. The difficulty is low enough that you'll probably reach the endgame before you find a sequence where better items feel necessary, and combat is such a small part of the game that it feels a bit odd to have power-ups for one section of it.
Unsurprisingly, Square Enix has turned out a very good-looking game. The character animation and models are all very well put together, and the art design is top-notch. The Crystal Chronicles world usually felt a bit bland to me, but The Crystal Bearers does a great job of making it feel like a fully realized place, especially in the towns and other busy areas. The frame rate is solid, and I very rarely noticed any hiccups or problems, usually only when Layle was throwing explosives into a crowd of enemies. One especially neat feature is the ability to take a screenshot at any time by pressing the 2 button, whether it's during battle or in the middle of a cut scene. You can then save that screenshot to an SD card, allowing you to save a favorite picture for later viewing.
The Crystal Bearers has a top-notch soundtrack that's full of both classic Final Fantasy songs and a few new ones to boot. It's a true pleasure to listen to and generally up to Square Enix's high standards. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about the voice acting. There are some fairly good voice actors here, but nobody seems to have been given any context for their lines. People sound surprised when they should sound angry, happy when they should be sad, or just confused at whatever line the actor is emotionlessly reading. The good actors manage to make the lines work some of the time, while the bad actors never do at all. Regardless, it casts a nasty cloud over what could be a fun plot. It's hard to care about the banter between Layle and the other characters when it sounds so forced and awkward.
Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles - The Crystal Bearer is basically the opposite of traditional Final Fantasy games. Combat is relegated to a puzzle-like minigame, the plot is lighthearted and silly, RPG elements are minimal, and you're never really placed in a challenging situation. However, if you can look beyond your expectations, you'll find a surprisingly fun casual game. The Wii-based minigames are reasonably well-designed, and few provide a barrier to your progression. You're more likely to get frustratingly lost due to the poor map system than stuck in a battle or minigame. The Crystal Bearers is basically a big sandbox in which you have fun, wander around and interact with the world, and there's very little risk in anything you do. It's great if you want something casual and relaxed without the completely unfocused quality of a Wii Sports title, but anyone who's looking for a deep RPG experience or action game is going to be deeply disappointed. If you want a simple and relaxing trip into the Final Fantasy universe, you'll find a lot to like in The Crystal Bearers, but hardcore RPG fans should keep waiting for Final Fantasy XIII.
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