'Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers' is the latest game in the 'Crystal Chronicles' offshoot. It was in development for about four years, long enough that at one point, rumors started flying that it had been canceled. But it is finally out now, and Square-Enix clearly put that extended time to good use. While it has some definite flaws, 'Crystal Bearers' is still an awesome game.
To begin with, the graphics are fantastic by the standards of the Wii. The visuals are crisp and clear, with no noticeable pixilation or jaggies. There can be tons of moving bodies on the screen at once before there will be any slowdown, and there are no collision-detection problems (which is a good thing, since collision between bodies makes up a huge portion of the game play).
Which segues neatly into the game play. The most important thing to note is: **THIS IS NOT A jRPG**. 'Crystal Bearers' clearly graduated from the Hyrule School of Action/Adventure Gaming (something a lot of "professional" reviewers completely missed). So don't go into this thinking that the name 'Final Fantasy' means you'll have a party of adventurers fighting random battles. You have only one character, Layle the Crystal Bearer, and he fights against monsters in real time.
Being a Crystal Bearer, Layle is one of the few people armed with magic in a world where magic has become a criminal act. He commands Gravity magic, which allows him to lift and throw things using telekinesis. The combat is based solely on lifting items, like rocks and barrels and even the enemies themselves, and hurling your impromptu ammo at the enemy you want to kill. Simply point the cursor at what you want to lift and push B to grab it with your power, then wave the remote to lift it or hurl it out of your way. If you lift it, then just point the cursor at your target and press B again to throw it at whatever you targeted. It is a very simple and easy-to-master system.
At the same time, though, combat can be a lot more than just lift-throw-lift-throw. The system rewards clever and creative gamers. If you're fighting one of the flying flower monsters in the woods, don't just lift it into the air. Force it to take root back down into the ground, where it becomes immobile and therefore much easier to beat. If you find a Bomb, then beat it up a little and throw it into a mob of enemies, and watch them all die when it explodes on them. Fighting a Cactaur? Lift it over head and force it to shoot its needles at the other enemies. Up against a Hydra hiding in the middle of a lake? Force its mouth open and throw a couple rocks into its gullet, then watch it sink and drown. The possibilities are nearly endless.
If there is anything bad about the combat, it is the poorly implemented camera. In fact, this is a problem both in and out of combat. The camera is entirely manual, which is extremely annoying sometimes. When you're walking some direction, you naturally expect the camera to fall into place behind Layle. It doesn't do that; you have to move the camera yourself, either by centering it with the Z-button or by swiveling it with the D-pad. My choice to deal with this is by holding the remote slightly higher so that my thumb is resting on the D-pad instead of the A-button. It feels a bit awkward, but it works out OK, and I've gotten used to it. Even so, an entirely manual camera is an unnecessary annoyance.
The main quest takes about 10 to 15 hours to complete. That may sound short for a Final Fantasy game, but it is a good length for a game in the action/adventure genre. Besides, the side quests, mini-games, and treasure hunting increase that time considerably. All told, there are 330 special achievements you can have through this game, and it is possible to go triple or even quadruple the length of the main quest while trying to uncover everything. And there is also a new-game-plus feature after beating the game which lets you keep all your special achievements so that you can focus on uncovering the ones you missed.
As for beating the game, that requires you to play through a story line that is very typical of a Final Fantasy game. It starts as something very small, and quickly turns into a much larger quest that involves the fate of the entire world. For all that it is typical, however, it is also well-written and very fast-paced. You leap right into the action, and events start moving in the very first scene. In fact, it is so fast-paced that you have to pay pretty close attention, lest an important plot point flies right by you.
That's not a downside, by the way. A tight, fast-paced story is always a huge plus.
The music and sound are also really good. Most of the soundtrack is not typical FF-style music, but it is generally catchy and sets the scene really well. The sound effects are also really good, from the sound of Layle's footfalls and the thudding of monster steps, to the rush of traveling trains or babbling brooks. And as an added bonus, the voice acting is quite good. There is the occasional bit of flat or awkward dialogue, but it's still pretty high quality by video game standards.
Meanwhile, in the course of the game, you have to travel to lots of exotic locations, all of which are amazingly beautiful thanks to the lush graphics and perfect sound effects. During that travel, unfortunately, it is extremely easy to get lost. There is no mini-map or compass to point you in the direction you need to go. The mission subsection of the menu does always tell you where you need to go next, but not how to get there. You'll frequently encounter the Moogle Stiltzkin, who *does* tell you how to get where you need to go, but his instructions are sometimes overly vague. All in all, this can be a rather annoying problem.
If you *do* know where you need to go, however, you can examine the sign posts which stand everywhere. The signs on them point the way to the nearest locations. And if you lift the signs with Layle's power, the arrows continue pointing toward the location, serving as sort of Crystal Bearer GPS. It's a cute feature that makes sense thematically, considering the power you have at your command, but better directions would have been preferable.
Another major hang-up that some 'Crystal Chronicles' fans have is the very limited multiplayer. Personally, I couldn't care less about this, but other people are severely annoyed by it. The multiplayer is limited to activating a second remote and having a second cursor on the screen. It allows a second person to use Layle's Gravity powers at the same time, but only during combat and certain mini-games. There isn't a second Crystal Bearer who joins Layle on his quest, unlike most of the rest of the CC series which does allow multiple characters on the screen at the same time.
But if you are a fan of Zelda-style action/adventure games, chances are you'll enjoy 'Crystal Bearers' a great deal. And if you are a clever and creative player, the game will reward you with lots of Easter Eggs and special achievements. And if you like treasure hunting, side-quests, and mini-games, you can keep yourself occupied for a very long time.
As long as you know not to expect a standard FF-style jRPG, 'Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers' is an awesome game.
+ Amazing, creative game play
+ Simple yet versatile control scheme
+ Well written, fast-paced story
+ Lovely music/sound
+ Good voice acting (by video game standards)
+ Tons of optional Easter Eggs
- Annoying Camera
- Easy to get lost while traveling
- Limited multiplayer