24 Feb, 2010

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers Review

Wii Review | Will these Chronicles prove bearable?
Those guys at Square-Enix sure are sneaky. On one hand they’ve been dangling the carrot of Final Fantasy XIII, gaining our attentions with all its splendour and fanciness. But while our eyes are glued to that shining beacon, Square-Enix have snuck the wordily titled Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers right under our noses. As the title gives away, The Crystal Bearers is from the Crystal Chronicles stable of Final Fantasy games. These to date have included a Gamecube title and two DS titles, the second of which was ported to the Wii. In some ways this differentiation is irrelevant though, because The Crystal Bearers doesn’t bear much resemblance to the Crystal Chronicles games or the traditional Final Fantasy titles. This game is very much its own beast, and it’s a strange beast at that.

Before we get to the many ways in which The Crystal Bearers isn’t like normal Final Fantasy games, let’s look at the areas in which Final Fantasy fans will feel right at home. Firstly, the story and characters are exactly what you’d expect from a Final Fantasy title. You take on the role of Layle, a Crystal Bearer (which you’ll learn very quickly since other characters nearly always refer to him by that title). Unlike other Final Fantasy titles where you gather together a party, Layle is the only character you’ll directly use. The game’s story again revolves around the mythology built up in the previous Crystal Chronicles games, of a world governed by four crystals and four races, and is set approximately 1000 years after the first game. There’s a whole lot of crystals involved, large and small, and though it takes some time to get rolling it is a pleasant enough tale. Refreshingly, Layle is grumpy and weary as opposed to the painfully cheerful protagonists of the past.

Why are people so unkind?

Why are people so unkind?

Square-Enix have been developing this game since at least 2006 when it was first announced, and as far as presentation is concerned, it shows. In the vast wasteland of visually poor Wii titles, The Crystal Bearers stands tall. With a style somewhere between Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy XII, the environments are lush and detailed and the character models interesting. Some of the subtle graphical effects, such as the shadows of clouds overhead and the splashing of water on the screen, are impressively rendered given the Wii’s limitations. The voice acting ranges from passable to poor but the game’s score has plenty of atmosphere and personality. You’ll come to identify different areas with the songs that play while you’re in them, often the sign of a good soundtrack.

The gameplay is where The Crystal Bearers takes a strange turn. The game hinges upon a singular mechanic; highlight something with the Wii remote’s cursor, then pick it up and throw it. In the game, this translates as Layle using his crystal powers to levitate objects. This applies to pretty much anything in the world you can interact with; treasure chests, people, monsters, inanimate objects you find lying around. How much you’ll be able to enjoy this game depends partly on how fast you get sick of this mechanic, because you’ll be doing it over and over and over again. Primarily though it is your method of combat. There are no selections of commands, certainly no ATB bars, no casting spells or conventional attacks of any kind. Every action you take is by levitating and throwing objects. While this sounds quite limiting, the possibilities do open up somewhat in how different enemies and objects interact with one another. The game encourages experimentation and there is definitely some enjoyment to be had in simply trying things out. But at its core, this is still an extremely simplistic system that will satisfy neither the stat crunchers or the adrenaline junkies. It’s not RPG combat and not quite action combat either, and though the experimentation lends this system an interesting angle, it’s ultimately a one trick pony.

Quick, Cactuar, use 10,000 Needles!

Quick, Cactuar, use 10,000 Needles!

It’s also let down by the lack of a lock-on button. Since all aiming occurs through where you point the Wii remote at the television screen, your accuracy will depend on how steady your aim is. Without a lock-on combat can become a clumsy and unnecessarily painful affair. This is exacerbated by the fact that the game has an extremely lazy camera, which does little other than simply exist. The player is left to ensure they’re facing what they want to face by pressing Z to shoot the camera behind Layle, or to manually adjust with the d-pad. It’s all well and good to include these controls, but the player is meant to be playing the game, not having to babysit the camera every step of the way just so they can see what they’re doing. All these problems become blatantly obvious by the time of the game’s first boss battle, where you’re expected to manually aim without lock-on but also somehow control the camera to point you where you want to aim at the same time, all the while evading goblins and picking up dropped swords. It’s not much fun, and the fact that the solutions to the problems are simple ones makes it all the more frustrating.

The Crystal Bearers does however puts equal emphasis on exploration and sidequests. The game's world is actually quite seamless and you'll be able to traverse large stretches of space without loading screens or pauses. You’ll also encounter plenty of mini-games too, from the rather exciting plummet through the sky in the opening moments of the game to the significantly more mundane picking of grapes. Though the quality of these mini-games varies, they’re nonetheless welcome as a way of breaking up the gameplay. The chocobo chase scene early on in the game is a fun highlight. Equally compulsive is the game’s medal (see also: Achievements, Trophies) system, which hooks you in by providing hints on how to get the medals surrounding the medals in the grid you’ve already won.

The prettier the hero, the uglier the monster.

The prettier the hero, the uglier the monster.

It’s hard to quantify The Crystal Bearers. It’s really important to note that most of the traditional RPG elements you expect from Final Fantasy are non-existent here. There is no experience, no levelling, no learning of new abilities. The best you can do is to create a few accessories that will improve your statistics. Layle’s abilities never change; the evolution of the game is dictated by the abilities of your enemies and how the player exploits them. This is a game with the sounds, appearance and feel of a Final Fantasy title without really being one. It is a little mystifying that Square-Enix would spend so much time and effort on a Final Fantasy title that so drastically departs from many of the conventions that have been typical features of the series, but on the other hand you don't want to discourage them from trying something new. The Crystal Bearers feels ultimately like an experiment, applying casual gameplay to a Final Fantasy setting to see if something playable would emerge.

So did the experiment succeed? In some ways, yes. The Crystal Bearers can be quite enjoyable. It’s the kind of game you might play to come down from the rush of the latest action title, the gaming equivalent to a walk in the park. It's not quite exercise and you're not really getting anywhere, but you enjoy the walk for what it is. It will especially appeal to Final Fantasy fans who'd like to experience the series in a different light. Unfortunately the overly simplistic and repetitive gameplay will prove too big a detractor for everyone else. The Crystal Bearers definitely isn’t for everyone, and most eyes will remain firmly affixed to Square-Enix's next 'real' Final Fantasy title.
The Score
Great presentation is let down by average gameplay in this black sheep of the Final Fantasy family. 6
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  4/02/2010 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $79.95 AU
  UBI Soft
Year Made:

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