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• Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers

developed & published by Square-Enix/2009.12.26
1 player/Nintendo Wii

Like the other games in the Crystal Chronicles line-up, The Crystal Bearers is an action-oriented spin-off to the popular Final Fantasy role-playing games.  This one is a bit of a deviation from the previous chapters, because the story is given more attention, and it’s strictly single player.  You play as a human Crystal Bearer, mutant outcasts that are generally untrusted because of their magical powers.  The story takes a few hours to get going, but once it does it’s pretty good and develops the existing Crystal Chronicles lore.

And because this is Square-Enix’s first (and only) top-tier title on the Wii so far (following the bizarre reboot of the Chocobo’s Dungeon series), the designers have tried to make use of its unique controller to create a new type of experience.  Some of it works, some of it doesn’t, but at least they tried to deliver something fresh.

Game Play

You play as Layle, who has the Jedi-like power to grab and pick up objects and enemies and toss them around.  You can target characters, monsters, and props by moving a cursor around the screen with the Wii remote.  Once you’ve targeted something, you flick the remote to grab it and pull it towards you.  Instead of fighting with weapons, Layle can simply pick up an enemy and toss them into another to cause damage.  You can also pick up objects in the environment and use them as projectile weapons.  It’s pretty simple and the physics aren’t anywhere near as interesting as those in something like Half-Life 2 (which has a similar mechanic in the gravity gun), but it does make excellent use of the Wii remote.

Every area shifts from a peaceful exploration mode to a monster-infested battle mode roughly every five minutes.  This actually balances things out ok, because you don’t always want to have to deal with monsters.  You can just run passed them if you want to, but wiping them all out is the main way to increase your energy meter.  The time limit can definitely be frustrating if you have only one enemy left to kill and you run out of time.  Monsters will also leave behind materials which can be used to make accessories which upgrade your stats, including the reach of your telepathic powers.

To keep things interesting, the game throws a number of events your way which play out like little mini-games, and they’re pretty fun for the most part.  In the game’s introduction, for example, you shoot down swarms of flying monsters like a shooting gallery, followed by a sequence where you have to steer an airship as it careens through a canyon.

Drawbacks

One of the main annoyances of the game is its camera, which requires near constant babysitting to keep it pointed in the right direction.  You control it with the directional pad on the Wii remote, while player movement is done using the analog stick on the nunchuk.  It will probably take some time to adjust to it, since most Wii owners are accustomed to Nintendo’s titles which don’t have this problem.  Another slight annoyance is the lack of any sort of mini-map, which would make it easier for players to navigate the environment (fortunately the settings never get that complicated).

Presentation

As expected, this is easily one of the better looking Wii titles and features some nice visual effects rarely seen on the console.  Most of the story is presented using the in-game graphics and there’s good camera direction to heighten the drama in important scenes.  Of course, the Wii isn’t exactly a graphical powerhouse but the textures are noticeably more detailed than they would be on the GameCube or PlayStation 2.

You can tell that a lot of time and effort went into designing the many settings, which are filled with nice touches and intricate architectural design details.  The characters are a bit on the cartoony side, which I am fine with, but their faces aren’t quite as expressive as their counterparts in the Kingdom Hearts series, for example.  And some of the designs are a bit ugly (intentionally so, it would seem).  Unlike many role-playing games, the voice acting isn’t annoying.  The music is also high quality, as one would expect from a Square-Enix title.

Conclusion

The Crystal Bearers is a short game by Square-Enix standards, clocking in at around 12 hours for a standard play through.  That’s probably a good thing, because it’s about all the game play mechanics can withstand.  The combat isn’t particularly interesting, having very little strategic depth, and there aren’t any puzzles, leaving the player with little to do besides move from point A to B to progress the story.  The story is better than expected, though, and does a good job of propelling you to the next destination.

On one hand I want to say the game is fundamentally mediocre, but on the other I have to applaud Square-Enix for taking so many risks with it.  They used the Wii’s unique controller to create a new game experience that may not always work, but is still enjoyable and puts a new spin on ideas that are too often regurgitated ad nauseam.  It seems as though Square-Enix sort of sent this one to die at retail, though, releasing it on December 26th (well after the Christmas rush has ended), and professional game critics were pretty harsh on it.

Quick Run Down

PROs:

  • Takes advantage of the Wii remote’s unique functions
  • Excellent production values
  • Good story, expands the Crystal Chronicles’ lore
  • Fresh concept

CONs:

  • Battle system is repetitive; lacks strategic depth
  • Few (if any) real puzzles
  • Camera must be adjusted constantly
  • No mini-map to help guide the player

One Sentence Review: A fast-paced action-adventure game that tells a good story but is let down by a weak battle system.
One Word Review: Decent.

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