Square Enix has had plenty of time to experiment with the Final Fantasy franchise. Spin-offs, re-imaginings, and tactical games have been explored at great lengths, and now, in the form of The Crystal Bearers, we’re offered something completely different.
Crystal Bearers places you in the shoes of Layle, a hotshot telekinetic sorcerer of sorts, whom harnesses the intense power of said crystals. For your everyday anime fan, this actually sounds like a pretty cool story, but does it prove to be more than your typical fare?
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers takes a short departure from the formulatic JRPG formula, instead, taking on on the identity of a pure adventure game, similar to the the recent Gamecube and Wii Legend of Zelda iterations. Like many Eastern projects, the world is wacky, mysterious, and over-the-top.
You’ll find bikini-clad women everywhere, along with some of the strangest creatures with high pitched voices you’ll ever find in a video game; unsurprisingly most of those creatures aren’t particularly fond of crystal bearers like yourself, up to the point of extreme prejudice.
That basic principle of crystal bearer hatred really sets up the rest of the game. Layle is charged with protecting a giant airship and the powerful crystal shards it contains. After an unknown enemy attacks the ship and lifts the crystals, Layle blames himself, and engages in a cycle of self-depreciating, cavalier behavior, while attempting to uncover the identity of the assailant.
While the story is serviceable, the gameplay department takes a big hit, and, to be blunt, Crystal Bearers‘ controls are easily the worst part of the game. Movement is controlled by the nunchuk’s analog, but the IR pointer is also required for any interaction whatsoever (including combat). So, that means that every time you want to talk to someone, attack an enemy, or interact with an object, you have to “find it” and whip your wrist around. As previously mentioned, Layle uses his rather cool-looking telekinetic powers to utilize a psychic “whip” of sorts, and manipulate objects and enemies for fun and profit.
It seems like a cool concept, but you’ll inevitably become bored of the inaccurate “point, grab enemy, whip, repeat” formula. The camera is also extremely unresponsive, and, to make matters worse, you have to take your fingers off the main input keys and use the d-pad to constantly fix it. Anyone familiar with a Wiimote will immediately groan and yearn for an alternate scheme.
Hardcore action fans will be sorely disappointed, but some gamers will most likely find some fun to be had in the limited sandbox world. Imagine a Final Fantasy game that has more extraneous, goofy activities to do than actual epic encounters: well, that’s pretty much what you’re getting with Crystal Bearers. In fact, the game shares more in common with off the wall titles such as No More Heroes than an actual Final Fantasy game. It almost feels like Way of the Samurai 3, the way that the extra and main missions kind of just blend together – which isn’t really a bad thing given that this isn’t a main series title by any means, it just lacks the polish of a typical Final Fantasy title.
The best part of the game is easily the on-rails lightgun sections, which send you free-falling through the air, fighting demons with a giant gun. Impossible to lose, these sections really just give you the opportunity to let loose with Layle’s true power, without the shackles of a shoddy “whip and repeat” combat system. I honestly wish there were more fun activities like Chocobo Racing and Freefalling (that I truly did enjoy), but instead you’ll get a lot of shallow games, such as “bikini gladiators”, double waggle ballroom dancing, and a very un-fun waggle-stealth game.
As a result of the focus on the hit-or-miss mini-games, the entire game feels like one entropic misadventure. Additionally, the dialogue itself is either poorly translated, or just poorly written. A lot of characters in the game speak in broken sentences, and the voice acting is equally poor. A few of the characters sound annoying to the point of madness, and this is coming from a huge anime fan, fine tuned to withstanding low quality English dub tracks.
There’s also a bunch of poor design choices that detract from the overall fun factor of the game. For instance, you’ll feel like chucking the controller when you get off your Chocobo mount for one second to pick up a chest, only to have it run off immediately. The map system is also pretty poor, giving you only a general sense of the part of the world you’re in, with no proper names of cities or locations of objectives.
Crystal Bearers took me around 17 hours to complete, and, if you’re aiming for 100% completion, you can bump that up to 25 hours. If you were so inclined, Crystal Bearers has a really cool screenshot snapshot option, in the same vein as Shenmue II, that lets you take a picture at any time. There’s also a small multiplayer component, but it isn’t really a selling point.
The game also has it’s own achievement system, complete with 330 tasks for you to complete. While some of them are simple things like “craft ‘x’ item for the first time”, you’ll find a bunch of interesting ones, such as whipping and combining certain monsters together. If achievements are your thing, you might get some added enjoyment out of it.
All in all, Crystal Bearers was an extremely mixed bag, and I’m not sure what target group would truly enjoy it. The exaggerated anime style is too alienating for most of the older generation; hardcore Final Fantasy fans wouldn’t enjoy the over-simplified gameplay, and fans of the original Crystal Chronicles on the Gamecube are sure to be disappointed with the lack of the classic hack-and-slash formula. If an over-the-top mini-game RPG sounds like fun, then maybe you should give it a try, but this one is truly hard to recommend.
There's nothing really unique about The Crystal Bearers. The translation and camera are also poor.
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Crystal Bearers attempts some pretty neat things, but ultimately dragging an IR pointer around isn't fun.
The voice work is a train wreck, and the soundtrack doesn't really have an identity.
The game clocks in at around 25 hours at 100% completion, which is kind of nifty, but whether or not you want to actually finish everything is another story.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers ends up taking it's place on the figurative shelf of failed experiments. It deviates too far from the classic adventure genre (in a negative way), and piles on some extra problems.