Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers
The magic is gone. It vanished over a thousand years ago, when the Yuke Tribe lost the war and was wiped off the face of the planet. With no one around to cast spells or summon monsters, technology took center stage. Civilization has progressed from a bunch of warring factions into bustling cities and decadent kingdoms. Swords are nothing more than relics; even the lowliest of soldiers comes packing a rifle. Even the chocobos, those iconic beasts of the Final Fantasy universe, are outpaced by airships, trains, and hovercraft. It’s impressive, considering the humble origins of the Crystal Chronicles series. But this age of enlightenment comes with a price: No one knows about magic. They’ve completely forgotten its importance. In fact, it’s illegal. Everyone thinks it’s an abomination, an evil the likes of which nothing else can be compared. The Crystal Bearers – the few born with magical abilities – are seen as freaks of nature and shunned accordingly.
It’s little wonder why Layle is so jaded. Despite being a Bearer, he’s already established himself as a heroic mercenary…but no one trusts him. Not his employers, let alone the people he saves. Even his only friend expresses his disdain and contempt for him at every opportunity. Everyone judges him not on his character, but on their fear of the magic he wields. Though it could have provided an interesting look at stereotyping and discrimination, the plot devolves into something far more generic. Layle gets wrapped up in a conspiracy that not only jeopardizes the kingdom, but might usher in a new era of magic as well. The story had potential, but it’s ridiculously clichéd and predictable. It’s mainly due to the characters being utterly one-dimensional. Everyone in the game, from the dark and imposing antagonist to the independent female lead, fulfills their roles with little development. It makes for fast pacing, but little else. You’ll figure out the plot twists long before they happen, and be left dissatisfied with a rather cheesy ending.
The adventure itself isn’t much better. It’s not so much of an epic, kingdom-saving quest as it is a glorified series of mini-games. It’s a cycle of traveling to a location, completing some kind of challenge, and triggering a cutscene to learn your next destination. Rinse and repeat enough times, and you’ll have the story finished in about eight hours. Some of the mini-games – piloting the Alexis airship and the fate of the Selkie Tribe come to mind – are woven well into the progression of the story. Others seem to be tacked on just for the sake having something to do with the motion controls. You can’t just walk up to a princess; you have to waltz through a crowded ballroom by moving the WiiMote to onscreen cues. Nor can you progress things until you’ve helped the heroine win an inane beach party contest for absolutely no reason (aside from fan-service) whatsoever. That kind of stuff sticks out like a sore thumb; if the game has to revolve around mini-games, at least try to make them relevant.
The combat makes a decent effort. Layle’s Crystal Bearer abilities give him telekinesis, which allow him to pick up random objects and throw them across the battlefield. That comes in handy, given the amount of enemies that’ll appear. If you dawdle anywhere between towns long enough, the skies will blacken and a mob of trolls, flans, and other generic Final Fantasy monsters will infest the area. Since you don’t have any conventional weaponry, you’ll have to nab whatever’s around – benches, rocks, even other enemies – and use them as projectiles. You just point the WiiMote’s onscreen reticule to a desired target, press a button to haul it up, use the controller to highlight the nearest victim, and do a throwing motion. It’s a simple, but badly flawed process. The battles take place in real-time, which means you’re constantly having to change Layle’s position, retarget the reticule, and adjust the camera. Not to mention that the game occasionally misreads your movements, which can lead to you tossing your weapon harmlessly in the wrong direction or locking onto the wrong thing. This makes a potentially fun concept needlessly tedious. Combative telekinesis is a great idea, but it’s awkwardly implemented.
The most surprising thing is how little effort went into developing Layle’s powers. His only method of attack is picking up and throwing stuff. That’s it. No force fields, no manipulating the air around him, nothing aside from a little trick he uses for only one battle. That’s pretty sad, considering he can go all Force Unleashed in the cutscenes. Couldn’t they have at least given him the ability to hold more than one object at once? It doesn’t really matter, given the ease of the game. Aside from the story battles, you can literally walk away from any fight. You should, too; there’s no incentive to battle. Oh sure, you get money, wannabe trophy achievements, and materials to create your equipment…but you’ll never need them. The AI is pathetic; it’s entirely possible to beat the game without dying. There are only a handful of boss battles, and only one of them is remotely challenging. It’s really disappointing, considering all the creative ways Layle’s powers could have been used.
That goes for the dungeons, too. Or rather, the lack thereof. You’ll explore the forgotten halls of an ancient temple, brave an icy cave, and fight your way into a floating prison. Unfortunately, these segments are ridiculously short and uninspired. The paths are linear and nearly devoid of any kind of puzzle or obstacle. The extent of the exploration involves using Layle’s powers to swing across bottomless pits (he’ll just float back up to the ledge if you screw up) and more straightforward platforming segments. The kid has telekinesis; you’d think the designers would’ve come up with something better than that. Longer, too; getting through most of the areas shouldn’t take you more than ten minutes. Instead, you’ll be doing a lot of backtracking on the overworld. The kingdom is small and interconnected via different paths and train stations. The problem is the map isn’t detailed enough to give you decent bearings; it just highlights your general area without giving a layout of routes between destinations. Until you’ve memorized enough of the map, you might spend an extra hour or two wandering in the wrong direction. It gets better once you gain access to the chocobo riding, but even that has a downside: Your trusty steed will disappear once you get off. Since you can’t open treasure chests without dismounting, you run the risk of getting stranded in the middle of nowhere all for the sake of some spare cash. It’s the closest thing the game has to overworld exploration, and it punishes you for doing so.
As you’re grumpily stomping back to the nearest chocobo spawning area, you can at least take solace in the beautiful scenery. The Crystal Bearers takes place in a world ruled by technology, and it shows. You’ll see it the first time you walk into the main train station; the bustling mobs of citizens, the glowing lights, and the flickering television screens. Whenever you travel in the subway hovercraft, a quick glance through the windows offers a glimpse of a sprawling city. The best parts are in the countryside, though. The Selkie Tribe’s base might be nothing more than a small pirate ship, but the sunset ambience and upbeat music make up for it. The high point of the graphics comes with a mountain pass, where you wander through a forest of reddened trees and watch the leaves drift slowly down around you. It’s just a shame that these areas weren’t fleshed out; the game’s longevity would have benefited from more areas to explore and paths to uncover. The only entertaining aspect is how you can mess with the NPCs. Tossing guards and furniture around is fun, especially when you see how the other characters react. If anything, mugging Moogles is a guilty pleasure.
It’s not enough, though. Nowhere near enough. The Crystal Bearers reeks of wasted potential. The plot has a few interesting themes, but plays it safe with a predictable but well-paced save-the-kingdom story. The game would have been far more engaging had it focused more on the combat as opposed to the tacky mini-games for the WiiMote. The combat itself is unreliable; with inconsistent controls and awkward camera, battles becomes a tedious affair. It’s not like you’ll need to fight anyway. The difficulty level is almost non-existent, AI is laughable, and there’s little creativity involved with the development of Layle’s powers or the places he explores. Not to mention the headache-inducing backtracking you’ll have to endure. It’s sad, considering how gorgeous some of parts of this game are. Layle might have the best powers of any Final Fantasy protagonist, but it means nothing when the rest of the game does poorly.