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Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles - The Crystal Bearers (Wii) artwork

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles - The Crystal Bearers (Wii) review

"The biggest flaw facing those who give The Crystal Bearers a chance is the way that the game requires so much tedious backtracking. Though the world that you'll explore throughout your adventure is beautiful, it's relatively small. That should mean that you almost never get lost, but it turns out that the available map is a lot like a blond airhead: fun to look at but useless in a jam. With that being the case, you'll need to rely on signposts that pepper the various roadways."

Before you buy Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles - The Crystal Bearers, you should know that it's nothing like a typical Final Fantasy game. Move along if that's what you were hoping to find. Another thing that you should probably know, unfortunately, is that even those who are willing to consider the game on its own terms--as an action and adventure title with fantasy elements and a few nods to franchise tradition--are in for occasional or even frequent disappointment. The game isn't bad, necessarily, but its faults have an unwelcome tendency to obscure its triumphs.

Weighing in on the positive side are the game's breathtaking visuals, its satisfying plot and some surprisingly fun twists on familiar design. The glowing superlatives can wait, though, because some of the more persistent flaws really could leave you wishing for consistency. They're worth exploring first.

The biggest flaw facing those who give The Crystal Bearers a chance is the way that the game requires so much tedious backtracking. Though the world that you'll explore throughout your adventure is beautiful, it's relatively small. That should mean that you almost never get lost, but it turns out that the available map is a lot like a blond airhead: fun to look at but useless in a jam. With that being the case, you'll need to rely on signposts that pepper the various roadways. If those steer you wrong, you can also fall back on the advice of a floating, sprite-like character named Stiltzkin who seems to exist for no reason other than to tell you where you're supposed to go next and how you can get there. His advice is often welcome, but first you have to find him.

Unless you've procured a speedy chocobo (which flees the minute you dismount to investigate a treasure chest or even to read a crucial signpost), you'll spend most of your time backtracking slowly and on foot. This means unwelcome combat. One minute, you'll be enjoying jaunty background music. The next, you'll suddenly find yourself surrounded by enemies as menacing clouds roil overhead and any NPCs in the vicinity disappear.

Though the game's combat system attempts to be unique and interesting, it's unwelcome when you just want to reach the next location (or when you wish to return to where you were a few minutes ago because you've finally realized that you spent the last 10 minutes headed in the wrong direction). Fortunately, only three or four of the battles featured in the entire game are compulsory. The bulk of them are completely optional. You can run from any common goons that you like and there's no obvious penalty for doing so until you reach the very final boss and you find yourself struggling to survive without taking too much damage. Even that potential obstacle can be overcome if you come to grips with the complicated control scheme, however.

Most battles begin as you find an appropriate foe and target him with your Wii Remote. Once you do that, you must continue to focus on that unfortunate adversary as an on-screen circle forms. When the circle solidifies, you can then grab your victim and shake him to cause damage, or you can lift him overhead before either throwing him or putting his offensive skills to your own use. It's important that you become familiar with the options that each enemy affords you, since you typically need to defeat your opponents in a hurry. They'll disappear if you dally, along with any potential rewards. Such time constraints force you to constantly reevaluate your approach. If you're fighting some hearty flan enemies, for instance, tugging them apart and smashing their smaller components against rocks and trees to end the fight won't work well. Instead, you should find a fire-breathing buddy and use him to toast the gelatinous flans.

It would be easier to enjoy the unique experience that such confrontations provide if not for one irritating guest: the wretched in-game camera system. Since the analog stick is dedicated to character movement and your Wii Remote movement is meant to target foes, that developers mapped camera rotation to the d-pad. Most gamers are likely to find the whole process extremely uncomfortable unless they have the slender and lengthy fingers of a pianist. Those with shorter fingers--chubby game critics and children in particular--will have to grip the Wii Remote in an unfamiliar fashion just to reach the buttons that need to be pressed. That's especially true when fights on rough terrain somehow bump the camera so that it must be readjusted, or when dealing with airborne foes who fly rapidly around overhead in an effort to elude capture.

Thankfully, that's the end of the game design crimes that The Crystal Bearers commits. Everything else fares much better. Many players are likely to spend most of 15 hours--some of them due to being lost, admittedly--exploring a world more beautiful than perhaps any other that they've ever seen while gaming on Wii. Roaring waterfalls, beautiful gardens, coastal cliffs and even bustling cityscapes have seldom looked so beautiful or inviting. There's artistic direction here that puts even high-definition projects to shame. You may find yourself pausing simply to soak in the beauty unfolding around you. Witness dying leaves drifting downward from crimson, auburn and yellow trees. View the town square with peaked roofs passing beneath as you ride a shuttle car on cables high over the capital city. Nearly every locale features some spectacle, with barely a blurry texture or paper-thin backdrop in sight.

Character models received similar artistic care, a fact that's easily appreciated because it allows one to enjoy a story that proves genuinely interesting despite its familiar themes. The pace is brisk enough that there's almost always something interesting going down, plus protagonist Layle is one of the most likable heroes that has yet graced a Square-Enix game. The resourceful crystal bearer has a sense of adventure and style without being full of himself or whiny, all qualities that make him the perfect character to propel the narrative. Not only that, but he's surrounded by plucky and daring heroines and friends, a villain that the player grows to genuinely despise and even some interesting mythology to tie everything together in an entertaining fashion. The substantial amount of voice work also helps, since the actors generally inject their lines with just the right amount of emotion or playfulness, as each given situation warrants.

The Crystal Bearers also features some mini-games that contribute to the plot and are even quite enjoyable. In the game's opening moments, you'll find yourself jetting through the sky and blasting down dragons. Later, you'll surf along a raging river, dance your way across a crowded ballroom, sneak along a train to evade bumbling guards and even help one of your bikini-clad friends as she competes for the right to call a beach resort her turf. Your performance in each new situation is rated, a fact that will likely challenge you to perform your best as you work to obtain one of more than 300 medals available over the course of the game. Gathering all of them is a mammoth undertaking, but the unique modes are a joy to experience even if you're not letting your competitive side shine through. When you tire of the backtracking, the sloppy camera work and the awkward combat, it's nice to know that something new and exciting is probably lurking around that next corner to reward you for your patience.

Of course, The Crystal Bearers has enough faults that many gamers could have difficulty appreciating its strengths. The developers score points for presenting players with a beautiful world to explore and they also deserve credit for some of the unique steps they took to keep things interesting. They just messed up a little more often than they really should have. Those gamers who take a chance with a weekend rental should still find a lot to love, but a full-price purchase is less easily recommended.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (February 01, 2010)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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randxian posted February 04, 2010:

but it turns out that the available map is a lot like a blond airhead: fun to look at but useless in a jam.


So about combat, do you mean to say combat is simply grabbing enemies, shaking them, and stealing their abilities ala Mega Man to use against other foes? Does your character not have any innate spells or weapons of his own?

That worries me, because it sounds eerily similar to another Squeenix game worthless pile of dogshit called Dawn of Mana, in which you are supposed to cause panic in monsters by causing rockslides, knocking over structures, etc. However, the controls are so shitty, meaning it's impossible to line up a good shot to get the right effect.
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honestgamer posted February 04, 2010:

You grab enemies and then can either shake them to inflict minor damage to them, or you can continue to carry them overhead for a limited amount of time and use any special attacks they have... or you can then throw them at hard obstacles to inflict damage on them. All enemies have a life bar. It's not as bad as Dawn of Mana by any stretch, but it does limit combat once you realize that the best way to succeed is to just find the most powerful guy around that you can lift, then heft him overhead and use his powers to take care of the other guys in the nearby vicinity. Fortunately, there aren't many fights in the game.

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