Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers Cover
Platforms Wii
Genre Adventure RPG With A Title That Is Much Longer Than It Needs To Be
Score 6  Clock score of 6
Buy from Amazon

"Some of this game is that enough for me to keep playing?"

Ever had that feeling? Maybe you trudged through an RPG with a terrible battle system just because you liked a few of the characters. Perhaps you put up with a broken sports game just because the presentation was TV-true. Or maybe you played any of the open-world Spider-Man games recently, swinging joyously through the boxy Manhattan skyline, full of texture pop-in and framerate dips.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers is kind of like that. Except where the fun elements of these previous examples are woven into the overall progression of the game, FFCCTCB never actually shines the spotlight on its best feature throughout the otherwise lackluster adventure, leaving it merely as a side attraction.

I was hoping the game would improve after its first hour, and it did...but was it too little, too late?

The tale of the Crystal Bearers begins with nonchalant, crystal-bearing telekinetic hero Layle and his advancement-focused partner Keiss on a routine escort mission for a cruise airship. Monsters mysteriously appear and attack the flying boat, and the enigmas keep on coming when their master is revealed to be a Yuke, a race that was thought to be extinct. Complications arise and Layle finds himself on the lam from the Lilty Kingdom that rules the land while also tracking the Yuke for a rematch. The rather sparse cast includes a fugitive photographer who often plans her escapes around Layle's misfortunes, a kind Lilty princess who fights for political control and peace in her kingdom, and the true villain whose nature is immediately apparent in his first moment on-screen.

Final Fantasy Crystal Bearers Horrid

At the very least, it's refreshing to see a hero who doesn't really care. Your garden variety JRPG lead tends to have some sort of universe-saving predilection or a tragedy driving their resolve, but Layle isn't all that interested any of the epic events that come his way. He mostly just rolls with it because he's curious about where it will go. The problem is that I never really came to care about any of it, either. There are only a very few memorable moments in the story, and I shared Layle's disinterest in the resurrection of a long-forgotten race, the social divides in the kingdom, the handful of acquaintances to collect, and so forth.

Layle's lack of character growth through the adventure is mirrored in the sparse upgrades available through the game. Equipped items can increase the range of influence for Layle's telekinesis powers, the time it takes to lock onto an enemy, damage caused by tossing foes, and Layle's defensive stats. There's an item-forging system in place that allows you to combine the 20+ item elements you can acquire into new equipment, along with the standard shops that will just sell you items. Apparently the order in which you throw the items into the combination affects the overall stat increases of the final product, but this is merely hinted at and never fully explained like many of Crystal Bearers' finer elements. You can also increase Layle's overall health by closing off a monster-summoning miasma stream in each area. There aren't many stats available to upgrade, and doing so isn't necessary. I only forged a single item for each of Layle's equipment slots and made it through the adventure with little trouble.

Closing off each miasma stream is definitely the game's strong point, as the battle system is rather unique. Rather than building your character into an unstoppable arsenal of spells and summons, Crystal Bearers encourages you to experiment with your surroundings. Using the Wii remote pointer to target, the B trigger to lock-on, and basic motions to toss objects, Crystal Bearers operates its combat in real time with an uncomplicated input system that focuses on using your enemies as playthings. You can spin them, toss them around, pick them up and roll them at each other, lift them out of the ground, and bombard them with various items strewn about. All of these tactics are triggered by Wii remote motions that rarely miscue. Many of these actions cause unique "Reactions," which are then recorded into a database that works exactly like the Checklist Grid from Kirby Air Ride. Levitating a Cactuar above your head will allow you to shoot its needles at enemies, while drenching it with a bucket of water will grow it to jumbo size. Pulling apart a skeleton enemy will attract wolves to feast on its marrowy goodness. And tipping cows will cause them to retaliate with projectile milk, fired with the stopping power of a shotgun. There's a feeling of discovery tied to Layle's telekinesis that makes Crystal Bearers' combat worth playing, even with the clumsy camera and occasional control hiccups.

Final Fantasy Crystal Bearers Wolf

The tragedy, then, is that Square-Enix puts the thrill of battle very low on the priority list. Though the Lilty Kingdom is full of farms, prairies, caves, and forests that double as battlefields, the number of required fights in the story mode is less than a handful. I can actually only remember two standard brawls along the plot path, off the top of my head. There are two or three boss scenarios that have Layle on foot and using the Force as well, but these encounters don't have the same feeling of experimentation and discovery, the combat system's greatest strengths. Further, there's a sort of "night and day" system in place a la Ocarina of Time, and the monsters only appear in an area during certain cycles. With no ability to alter the passage of time, you're a slave to the game's schedules and time limits, which often feel all too short when you're having a good time tossing volatile Bombs at their Goblin cohorts.

Rather than letting Layle flex his telekinetic muscle through the campaign, Crystal Bearers loads the plot path with minigame scenarios, and the quality level ranges from decent to deplorable. Things start out well enough with a worthwhile light gun shooter in the game's very beginning, and the unexpectedly puzzle-like scenario where Layle must secretly rig a butt battle match between two unsuspecting beach-goers was a cheeky surprise. Unfortunately, most of the minigames are mediocre -- an anemic rhythm game for dancing, a single dull Chocobo race course -- or downright awful, as in the case of the running-from-a-monster chase sequence. And the main story progression offers little else outside of walking from one minigame to another.

And surprisingly, the challenge in the story mode stems not from doing well in these little challenges but from finding the damn events. I honestly can't think of an adventure game I've played within the last ten years that had worse navigation than Crystal Bearers. Getting from place to place using the game's world map is like using a globe to navigate the streets of Paris. Your memory is the only real tool you have to keep track of what each location is called and how to get there. And the only reminder of where your next objective resides is a vague icon on the useless map. I probably spent more time looking for where I needed to go than doing what I needed to do, and that was while playing the game regularly over the course of a week: good luck getting back on track if you ever put the game down for more than a few days and lose some memory of what path goes where. A shoddy warping option becomes available in the tail end of the story, but it's just too little and far too late.

Maybe that horrible navigation was intentional, though, because Crystal Bearers is only really fun when you stumble away from the story path. The Lilty Kingdom is full of pleasant environments to discover, and each has its own peacetime characters that offer mini challenges and wartime enemies that produce opportunities to experiment through the telekinesis system. And there's plenty of this content to discover. I had only visited about half of the games' locations by traipsing through the story mode, and much of my Reaction database was still blank.

Final Fantasy Crystal Bearers Bomb

Final Thoughts

Video: The vibrant color palette and detailed character models would look pretty impressive on the PS2, but they don't quite reach the upper echelon of Wii titles. The environments look quite inviting, however. Overall, it's a pretty game but won't set any standards.

Audio: A surprisingly hummable collection of guitar and fiddle country tunes accompanies some not-quite-Uematsu level symphonic arrangements in the more dramatic story elements. Voice acting is just barely north of annoying.

Story: The Final Fantasy name belies a more relaxed and lighthearted tale, but the game has its share of JRPG cliches and tropes. Nothing to really rant about, but nothing special.

Gameplay: Square Enix will try to keep you away from having fun in this game by excluding anything truly worthwhile from the minigame-filled story trunk. The combat branch of Crystal Bearers is actually rather novel and enjoyable. Exploration is heavily flawed but highly encouraged.

Challenge: Combat only rarely felt threatening, and I hardly upgraded Layle's abilities at all. I once came across some enemies that could take me out in one or two hits thanks to my underleveled stats, but a few retries and clever strategy were enough to surmount that hurdle.

Pacing: Play a minigame. Stumble onto the next one after random wandering. Repeat. But if you get tired of that, there are plenty of places to explore, enemies to play around with, and side activities to try.

Longevity: Ten hours will be enough to get you to the credits, but the only real reason to do so is to unlock all the areas and warp points in the game. The bulk of the fun worth having in the game is in exploring the effects of telekinesis on the world, and the timer can easily reach dozens of hours before reaching total completion.

Fun Factor: Exploring the fun side activities (i.e. the core combat system!) is hampered by the game's recommendation that you complete the lackluster story and also the poor navigation options given to the player.

The Verdict: One of the reasons I began writing for the First Hour is my preference for games that waste no time in getting to the fun. There is definitely a good amount of fun to be had in Crystal Bearers, but I had to spend about ten hours plodding through minigames and meandering back and forth across the world to get to the bulk of it. If you don't mind a good bit of downtime before and between the real fun, or if you think you'd enjoy the game's lighthearted, JRPG-typical narrative, then you can probably find Crystal Bearers for pretty cheap and squeeze your money's worth out of it.

I can't in good conscience recommend Crystal Bearers lightly, but that doesn't mean parts of it aren't enjoyable. I just wish Square Enix hadn't tried so hard to hide those parts.

Final Fantasy Crystal Bearers Gold