December 2009

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


From our family to yours, we’d just like to wish everyone a joyous holiday season and general merriment.  Whatever and however you’re celebrating, be sure to have some fun before 2010.

Feel free to stop by and let us know how it goes!

Nintendo’s Zelda team is making a habit of taking curtain calls lately.  Who can blame them, though?  After years of developing an engine and assets for the first game on a platform, they can turn around and deliver a second entire game in a much shorter period.  This was how Majora’s Mask worked, and Spirit Tracks, the series’ second DS installment, is in the same vein.  No one called Majora groundbreaking like they did Ocarina of Time, and no one will say that about Spirit Tracks either.  It doesn’t mean it’s not fun, though.

Let’s go ahead and get to the new stuff, shall we?  Tracks replaces a ship with a train for no real reason, and Zelda is this game’s new Navi, following Link around to assist and generally pester him.  Of course, she has no body, so she’s a bit more useful in puzzle-solving, as she can do things Link can’t.

This is very much a sequel, so the controls, graphics and game progression are almost identical to Phantom Hourglass.  Touch-screen movement has its advocates and detractors, so it’s hard to say much else about it. 

The bosses and puzzle solving elements in Tracks are very well-conceived, and the NPCs in the game have a lot more personality than your usual Hyrule citizens.  Generally, the attention has been placed on this stuff, because the engine was there.  It’s a recipe for success, and fans will appreciate the level of detail in the world.

Of course, the game isn’t perfect, and the titular Spirit Tracks are partially to blame.  Riding around in a train is incredibly tedious, even when attacks and interchanges try to make them interesting.  Portable games are supposed to get you through boring rides between places, not cause more of them.  Also, the multiplayer mode is very tacked-on, and since Four Swords, nothing has been able to achieve that level of fun.

It’s simple: if you enjoy Zelda games, get Spirit Tracks.  If you hate them, don’t.  If you’re on the fence, this is one of the good ones.  Of course, come to think of it, they’re all good ones.

Pros: More Zelda!  You know you wanted it.

Cons: Nothing groundbreaking. 


EA Sports games are iterative.  We really should be used to that fact, but every year we’re teased with the addition of new features and enhanced controls.  Sometimes these changes are refreshing, as with this year’s NCAA Football 10 and its online team builder.  With this year’s college hoops installment, the emphasis was on the new motion offense.  It’s interesting, but the implementation is shaky.

The ability to trigger teammates making moves to get open is useful in theory.  The problem with team sports games has always been that your teammates don’t put any effort into it.  The problem is in how EA made it work.  You can only trigger the motion once all team members have made it past half court.  You can’t choose who moves, and when the indicators light up to tell you to pass, it’s often too late, and the teammate gets the ball out of scoring position.  Ultimately, it’s just as effective to pass as you could in previous versions.  

The only other noticeable addition is a second type of presentation.  EA has gotten the rights to CBS Sports, so it added a broadcast team and set of graphics, primarily for the NCAA Tournament, as that’s covered by the network.  It’s nice,  but it’s not worth buying another game for.

Besides that, it’s what you’re used to.  Exhibitions, a dynasty mode, and…well, that’s it, actually.

If you need a college basketball game, this is solid.  But so’s last year’s game, and since the game doesn’t include rosters, you wouldn’t be missing much.  ’09 is incredibly cheap at this point.  If you’re on the fence (and that’s typically when you read reviews), there’s nothing here to push you over. 

Pros: Solid, polished game

Cons: It’s polished because they’ve released it a few times already

Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter is the next in a unique series from an up-and-coming studio. It’s the first sequel made by 5th Cell, so it was interesting to see how they would reconcile their history of original games with making a sequel. 

The Next Chapter’s story is similar to the original, with Wilfre trying to destroy the world of the Raposa. This time though, he is draining the color from the world. To stop him, you’ll have to draw your hero and then platform your way to victory.

Of course, the biggest feature of The Next Chapter is still drawing your own hero and drawing various other parts of the world. If you are a good artist, then you’ll enjoy having your creations populating the overworld and watching your masterpiece of a hero travel through the levels. If you aren’t, well, then I hope you enjoy watching grotesque caricatures of animals travel around the overworld. I fit into the latter category, and none of the things I drew looked anything like what they were supposed to look like. Luckily, you’ll often have the option of just using a model if you aren’t a good artist.

The actual gameplay is fairly standard for a side-scrolling game; you’ll beat enemies, jump across platforms, and collect coins and paint until you finish the level. The graphics all have a hand-drawn look to them and that style matches really well with the entire tone of this series. The music is catchy, though none of it is overwhelmingly good.

This is a worthwhile sequel to the original. It is well-made and an enjoyable platforming game. If you enjoyed the original or the SpongeBob edition, you’ll enjoy The Next Chapter. If you didn’t enjoy it, then there’s no reason to consider this one either.

ESRB: E for Mild Cartoon Violence-if you can watch cartoons, you can play this game.

Plays Like: Previous Drawn to Life games

Pros: Can draw many things in the game

Cons: Have to draw many things in the game