In the extensive Final Fantasy franchise, the Crystal Chronicles sub-brand has always been a departure from Square-Enix’s usual JRPG fare. The CC games have more closely resembled action-adventure games like the Legend of Zelda games than their traditional bretheren. And where previous CC titles have emphasized multiplayer action, the bulk of the latest edition, Wii-exclusive The Crystal Bearers (TCB) is a solo adventure.
You assume the role of Layle, a Clavat “crystal bearer” with the innate ability of telekinesis. With the mystical Yuke clan having been wiped out by the Lilties in the last great war, arcane arts have become outlawed; most crystal bearers are thus outcasts and criminals. Layle, for his part, works with a Selkie named Keiss, taking various contract jobs such as the escort mission that opens the game. When the cruise ship they’re watching gets attacked by monsters, Layle literally leaps into action; when a Yuke shows up on the deck, things really get interesting.
Since Layle is able to manipulate objects with his crystal bearer power, he doesn’t normally carry any actual weapons. You point at objects with the Wii Remote and lock on to them with the B button; once locked on, you can either fling the object or “capture” it by pulling it towards you and then tossing it at something else. Just about anything that can be picked up is a valid target, including most enemies — although you’ll probably have to soften them up or otherwise incapacitate them first. Other objects behave as you’d probably expect; you can rip newspapers out of the hands of readers, or remotely throw switches from across the room. Layle can also collect dropped items like gil or materials just by pointing the Remote at them, which is very handy.
The materials can be forged into accessories by Moogle craftsmen; accessories can also be purchased outright from jewlers, but are often prohibitively expensive (and gil isn’t easy to obtain). Each accessory requires three ingredients, and combining them in certain ways can sometimes result in a “miracle” upgrade that adds a special ability beyond the increase(s) in attack, defense, focus (lock-on time), range, and/or luck granted by equipping it. You can never sell anything (a big reason why gil is so scarce), so once you have obtained all of the variations of a given type of accessory it becomes unavailable for purchase. Other shops sell materials, although the most common way to get them is by defeating monsters.
As you explore, you may come across miasma streams from which monsters spew. Defeating all of the monsters in an area before the stream closes can earn you a valuable health upgrade; the streams reopen after a certain time whether or not you are successful in closing it the first time, but subsequent clears of the same stream will earn you a material instead of another upgrade. Bigger, boss-level fights are frequently puzzle-oriented, with you having to use Layle’s powers in interesting ways in order to defeat them.
The rest of TCB‘s gameplay is an eclectic collection of minigames. Shooting a swarm of flying monsters, steering a giant ship through winding canyons, being chased by chocobo-riding guards, battling a summoned Bahamut, and sneaking through a soldier-infested train unseen are but some of the variety that you will encounter. A few even support two-player cooperative play, if oyu have a friend and a spare Remote handy. Several of these can be replayed (once you access a certain location), if you want to achieve higher scores or win specific medals. Other medals are received, achievement-like, for completing certain tasks. There are 330 medals in all (a few are available in bronze/silver/gold depending on how many times you meet their requirements); each one you earn unlocks hints about how to get some others. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any reason to earn them, other than bragging rights and/or boredom.
Boredom might just be an issue, as without hunting all over the world for those medals or hunting down obscure monsters for rare accessory materials you should be able to blow through the actual story in 15 hours or less. It’s a good story, and there are a couple of interesting twists, but it doesn’t seem like enough. Maybe it’s just expectations caused by seeing the Square-Enix name, but TCB‘s narrative doesn’t feel… “epic”.
What is epic, however, is the usual Square-Enix presentation. Easily the most attractive game on the Wii since Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, TCB fills every frame with lush detail, pushing the non-HD console as few have. On the audible side of things, an understated score provides just enough background music to give each setting its own feel. The English voice work is very well done, although in what is probably the presentation’s only flaw, someone forgot to change the Japanese lip movements.
Someone also forgot to program a workable camera. With the pointer being used for cursor duty and the nunchuck’s c-stick obviously moving Layle, that just leaves the D-pad for camera movement, with the Z button serving to re-center it behind Layle. A lot of your time fighting monsters will be spent fighting the camera to even find them in the first place. You can also hold down the Z button for a first-person look, but that’s often more of a hindrance than a help. Hopefully if there’s a sequel the staff at S-E can straighten that out (maybe using the C button to toggle the pointer functionality?), but it’s not a deal-breaker.
Finally, I would have really liked some sort of map beyond the vague “Mission” screen in the sub-menu. The world given to TCB is pretty vast, and it’s easy to get disoriented while fighting. You get a limited monster radar when in combat, but outside of the occasional signpost there’s very little indicating which way you need to go once you’re out of danger. The signposts are a neat concept, however; capturing one lets it function as a compass needle, pointing you towards where the sign directs. It’s sort of a nuisance to use in practice, but it was a nice try at least.
A lot of the interface could have used a bit more of the polish that went into the presentation, but what we did get was still highly enjoyable. As long as you aren’t turned off by the abundance of minigames or unwarranted RPG expectations of the Final Fantasy name, The Crystal Bearers should fill the same sort of niche as other Zelda clones. It’s a little light in the challenge department, but overall worth your time.
Plays like: A Zelda-style adventure with a FF:CC twist
Pros: Awesome presentation, some unique concepts, and decent story
Cons: Camera issues and pointless “medals”; some may be turned off by the minigames