Review: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers

FFCCTCB Box Art.jpg Don’t be fooled by the Final Fantasy branding of Square Enix’s recent Wii title Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers. Save for lavish production values and certain franchise commonalities like moogles, chocobos, crystals and angsty teens, The Crystal Bearers is a drastically different type of Final Fantasy experience than any other game in the franchise before it. Hell, except for the four races – Yuke, Clavat, Lilty and Selkie – it has very little in common with even the Crystal Chronicles spin-off series it is apparently supposed to be a part of.

That’s not necessarily a terrible thing, though…in theory. In fact, spin-offs can be a very good thing when done right, especially spin-offs to huge franchises that typically don’t do anything wildly different from game to game (like Final Fantasy) — I’ve personally enjoyed previous Square Enix spin-offs like Dirge of Cerberus and Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors, and both are MUCH different from their respective core franchises. The Crystal Bearers certainly is different from the Final Fantasy norm, but is it successful at being different?

To put it bluntly, The Crystal Bearers embodies everything that I despise about the way far too many developers approach making games for the Wii. It’s a game that takes a known franchise in a familiar genre and turns it on its head in the name of pandering to more of a casual audience by dumbing down all forms of player interaction and stapling on simplistic motion control gimmicks.

It sure doesn’t help that the story and characters attached to the game are also completely vapid – and unfortunately The Crystal Bearers is very much a story-driven experience! There is an interesting racial conflict at the heart of the narrative, but this part of the story never gets a chance to fully develop because it’s buried under tired clichés, atrocious writing and voice acting, and annoying characters. Seriously, the hero of the game, Layle, is perhaps the most unlikable game hero I’ve ever seen, with his cocky attitude, dull personality and absurdly effeminate attire – he’s such a prick he gives all other angsty teen JRPG heroes before him a bad name!

Contrary to what you’re probably led to believe by the words Final Fantasy in the title, The Crystal Bearers is in no way an RPG, not even in the slightest sense. Instead, the game is a 3D action/adventure title with a physics-based combat system, light exploration elements and a variety of mini-game-type “Playable Events,” such as an on-rails skydiving shooter segment, various airship/chocobo/chariot chase sequences, a stealth mission aboard a train, and so on.

Around message boards and whatnot I’ve seen this game drawing comparisons to The Legend of Zelda, and while I can see a similarity or two, putting The Crystal Bearers in the same sentence with Zelda is heresy. A closer comparison, in my opinion, can be drawn to another Square Enix game: the 2007 PS2 title, Dawn of Mana – though, to be honest, even Dawn of Mana was better than this.

The Crystal Bearers doesn’t feature any melee combat whatsoever, but that difference aside, it uses a similar method of attack. Layle is a crystal bearer and his power is the ability to manipulate gravity. Therefore, all gameplay interactions – flipping switches, opening doors, attacking enemies, lifting and throwing objects, etc. – are controlled by pointing at the screen with the Wii Remote, locking onto your desired target by holding down the B trigger and then flicking the remote.

For combat in particular, grabbing enemies and tossing them to and fro like ragdolls controls fairly well and can be a lot of fun, and if you take the time to experiment you can find clever ways to combine certain items and enemies to create special attacks. But ultimately the combat is ruined by three things.

First, the camera is a pain in the butt, requiring your constant supervision in order to maintain a clear view of the environment.

Second, the game world runs on a timed cycle of light and dark phases. During the light phase, the land is populated with filler NPCs who serve absolutely no purpose I’d say about 90% of the time. But when the world shifts into the dark phase, a miasma stream opens up summoning in all sorts of nasty critters to come out and play. The thing is, you have to kill every creature in the area to be able to close the miasma stream and collect your special prize (usually an item that increases your health capacity or a rare crafting material), but if you fail to do so before the light phase kicks back in you then have to wait for the dark phase to begin again and start all over from scratch. What makes it all the more frustrating is that you are never provided any way of knowing when the cycle is about to change.

Third, a lack of challenge renders combat pretty much pointless. Except for a few mandatory boss fights, you don’t have to bother fighting anything in order to progress through the game – just keep on running and you can easily avoid enemy confrontation in most areas. Yes, closing off miasma streams does build your health bar, which in turn makes the aforementioned boss scenarios less stressful. But as a whole the game is very easy, so unless you are a completionist, fighting around is basically a waste of time.

One positive The Crystal Bearers has going for it is its beauty. As is to be expected of a Square Enix production, the graphics are wonderfully detailed and the game world has a fetching style that draws you in and makes you want to explore it. To my eyes, the art style is like a combination of the medieval European vibe of Final Fantasy XII’s Ivalice and the more whimsical artistic stylings of the universe portrayed in previous Crystal Chronicles games, and, except for some odd character designs, it is an aesthetic fusion that I thoroughly enjoyed.

But good looks can only carry a game so far, and unfortunately The Crystal Bearers is, simply put, a boring, lifeless game. It has some interesting design ideas behind it and does offer a few fleeting moments of fun, but in the end it’s too guided for its own good, and, despite its lovely appearance, the game world just feels so hollow.

If you were wondering why Square Enix snuck this game onto store shelves the day after Christmas, I think I just gave you the answer!

SkipIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Enticing visual design
+ Flinging enemies around has its entertaining moments
+ Some of the Playable Events are fun diversions

Cons:
– Boring storyline
– Lousy writing and voice acting
– Forgettable characters – Layle is such a prick!
– Timed world cycle is annoying
– Combat is pretty much pointless
– Game world feels empty and spiritless

Game Info:
Platform: Wii
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: 12/26/09
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-2
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!