I almost gave up playing Crystal Bearers several times before I eventually beat the last boss.
Despite its full title, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers (Wii) is not a Japanese role playing game nor a party-based action RPG like the first Crystal Chronicles. Crystal Bearers tosses out all of that pedigree by being a strictly single-player third person adventure game, while keeping a leftover skeleton of RPG elements and pointless minigames. Oh, and they kept the really long cut scenes.
You play Layle, a Clavat mercenary who is way too cool and detached for his apparent 14 years of age. Layle’s a crystal bearer, as you can tell from the white stain on his cheek, his telekinetic ability, and the fact that everyone calls him a crystal bearer like it’s some racial epithet. Race is an important theme in the world of Crystal Bearers, where there is always conflict between the four races. The Lilty are currently in charge, despite their onion shape, with the mischievous Selkie reduced to slightly criminal status and the peaceful Clavat operating as peasants. The last race, the magical Yuke, were wiped out in the Great War, or were they? The opening cutscene introduces a clockwork-looking Yuke and the importance of the crystal shards which have been powering all of the technological wonders of Lilty empire, including such classic anachronisms as guns, trains, airships, and cameras. The technology isn’t exactly steampunk, and not magic either, but some grey area in between. It’s crystals.
Layle’s crystal bearer ability is telekinesis, and this is the core mechanic of the game. Layle doesn’t carry a weapon or beat monsters up, he locks onto them with his telekinesis and whips them around. The Wii remote gives you a neat blue cursor which you point at your enemies and hold B to lock on. The whipping is done by swinging the Wii remote. You can do that with pretty much any object in the game, which can be great fun in cities, but it gets old quickly when you are fighting monsters. By throwing “Awards” at you, the designers try to tell you that there are certain combinations of manipulating the monsters to take them out quicker, but I was never given the chance to figure them out. That’s because in any open area, you have only a short amount of time before a bell sounds and all of the monsters go away, replaced by happy-go-lucky citizens. If they were just going to disappear, then what was the point of the monsters being there at all?
Fighting was really easy to pick up, but the sense of danger was non-existent for a seasoned gamer; I don’t think I died until I had played for five hours. The difficulty ramped up quickly from there, however, and it took me a while to figure out why. The only way to gain a bigger life bar is to defeat all of the monsters in an area and shut down the “miasma stream.” But because of the damn time limit, I was never gaining any life. The designers created a catch-22. By trying to create an accessible game, they actually made it more difficult.
Where Crystal Bearers shines is during boss battles, where the basic mechanic is usually altered by the environment or the story. There is no time limit and you really have to figure out a strategy in order to beat them. The last boss took me 1.5 hours, keeping me up till 3am, and although it was frustrating as hell because I had no life (see above), it was definitely fun. Unfortunately, there are only 3 bosses in the game.
A lot of Crystal Bearers feels utterly meaningless. The opening sequence is a ten minute cutscene with two minigames sandwiched in there. The first one, where Layle is shooting flying dragons while in freefall, is definitely fun, but the only indication that you have accomplished anything is the score displayed at the top of the screen. A score without a leaderboard? Am I supposed to care enough to compare these scores manually? The next sequence has you piloting a huge airship through a canyon. Sounds exciting, right? Well, it is, until you realize that there is absolutely no penalty for running the ship into the walls. You might as well put the controller down and watch it as if it were just part of the cutscene.
The economy of Crystal Bearers is also unnecessary; there’s nothing really worth buying. There are treasure chests everywhere with various amounts of ugly-looking gil in them, and there are Moogle shopowners all over, but you can only buy and equip 3 slots of equipment. There is also a “crafting” mechanic, where you collect materials and you can combine them at workshops to create items. You can put the time into it if you want, but it felt like an afterthought to me instead of a well-designed economy.
For a game with RPG roots, you’d think that Crystal Bearers would have adequate UI elements like a map and a decent quest system. Nope, the map provided is basically useless and there is no way to tell which cardinal direction you are facing. I spent far too much time trying to figure out where I was supposed to be going. The screen was also unnecessarily busy. The text scrawl at the bottom of the screen offers helpful information, but after a while it feels like you’re watching CNN.
Crystal Bearers has been in development since at least 2005, when it was announced at E3 that year. It’s hard to believe that this game took 4 years to make. The designers spread the game pretty thin over a bunch of different genres and tried to make it more accessible by throwing in a hodge-podge of minigames and activities. The resulting game is such a mess of different content, that it makes me wonder if Crystal Bearers would have been better off if it tried to do one thing really well.
Bottom Line: Crystal Bearers uses the Wii remote succesfully and its story is interesting enough, but there are so many after-thoughts and badly designed elements that the only emotion it makes you feel is frustration.
Recommendation: Unless you’re a hardcore FF or Wii fan, this game will only make you mad.
Greg Tito never found riding chocobos all that fun.