Final Fantasy CC: The Crystal Bearers Review
Final Fantasy. For most gamers, these two words probably conjure up thoughts of sweeping, war-torn realms, legendary heroes, near-perpetual narrative gravitas and other really heavy stuff. As the series has grown-up and evolved (along with Square itself) everything from the series’ stories to the battle systems have similarly matured and changed, with each tale upping the ante on just how grandiose an FF game can be.
But even the biggest, baddest, and (arguably) most influential JRPG series needs a break every once in a while, right?
This is pretty much where the latest in the Crystal Chronicles series, The Crystal Bearers comes in. It’s light-hearted fare compared to most of its stern-faced core cousins, or even some of the other FFCC spin-offs. It’s reminiscent of a lot of some of Square’s fluffier older-school fare, in fact—for someone that’s been following the company for a long time, you’ll see shades of Brave Fencer Musashi and Threads of Fate (as well as other FF titles like FF X-2 and, to some degree, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance) pop up here. After a four and a half year development cycle, this may not have be what some FF fans were necessarily expecting out of their first true attempt at Final Fantasy on the Wii, but is it a detriment to the game?
Well, as long as you haven’t been waiting out the last four and a half years as fervently as you’ve probably been with FF XIII, no. But you should know that the game isn’t really an FF game in the truest sense of the word. FFCC has always played with a different set of rules, most notably sacrificing some of Square’s slow-to-unravel storytelling for a more gameplay-oriented multiplayer approach. Crystal Bearers is not only designed around a single-player experience, but feels little like an RPG of any kind. Layle, one of the titular crystal bearers, can’t grind for levels, nor does he get much in the way of new equipment. He doesn’t use traditional armor or weapons at all, in fact, instead utilizing his ability as a crystal bearer to manipulate objects in the world around him a la Isaac’s telekinesis ability in Dead Space. Combat is thusly made up of using said powers to either hurl objects at enemies, hurl enemies at objects or hurl enemies at enemies, all handled with wiimote gestures. Don’t panic—the motion controls aren’t bad. Accessory equipping can improve your statistics when in battle, but the simplicity fits well with the streamlined design. Of course, if this were a 50 or even a 30 hour game, I might feel a little bit differently, but Crystal Bearers producer Akitoshi Kawazu (aka the SaGa guy) said he wanted your first playthrough of the game to last about ten hours, and it does (though there’s over 300 in-game “achievements” you can fill out your time with, many of which I don’t have a damn clue how to even attempt).
The rest of the game generally distances Crystal Bearers from other FF titles, too. Although you might mistake the game for a new Kingdom Hearts at a glance (Layle even looks a bit like Roxas), everything he does is mostly contextualized. Something resembling platforming is included, but it's only possible when there’s a jump prompt on the screen, for example. The linear element this brings to the exploration of the game world lends Crystal Bearers an adventure-y sense. There are also a lot of motion-based mini-games, from steering an airship in the game’s opening moments to ballroom dancing. These help to break up the monotony that can come with endlessly traversing a world map again and again. There’s no doubt that Square built the game from the ground up as a Wii-exclusive, but it’s definitely a different kind of FF experience.
Call it Final Fantasy on Vacation, like if the gang all took a break from beating the crap out of each other in Dissidia to do something a little less grave or strenuous. Even when the plot gets serious—and being an FF game, of course it does—it isn’t necessarily presented with the same overwhelming gravity usually associated with most things Final Fantasy. Particularly in the first hour or three, character interactions and dialogue can be goofy or downright silly. Walking down the street you may see an NPC freak out in a comic way, or have to evade a series of barrels (which may or may not have someone riding on one) that’s inexplicably rolling down a staircase toward you. Feel free to toss whatever or whoever you want around as well, since, well, you can. Even the battle music is non-traditional, and makes me wonder if Kawazu developed a Dukes of Hazzard addiction while he was in the midst of making this. It’s little touches like these that give Crystal Bearers its own quirky charm, unlike the intentionally cheesy Charlie’s Angels vibe in FF X-2. I have to say, as much as I love the more weighty fare of core FF games, this is kind of refreshing.
Still, a lot of Crystal Bearers at least feels like Final Fantasy even if it doesn't necessarily play like it. The four tribes that populate the FFCC world are all present (although the Yukes have been wiped out since the great crystal war of whenever). You’ll see chocobos and moogles and other familiar faces like tonberries and cactuars. The world resembles a cross between the old school charm of FF IX and FF XII’s imperialism. And of course, there’s crystals, airships, and Cid.
It may not be the huge, serious undertaking we’ve generally come to expect from most Square games, but Crystal Bearers is still an entertaining and worthwhile investment (it’s also one of the prettiest Wii games yet), particularly for the more casual FF fan. Save it for a rainy afternoon when you don’t have much to do. At least it shows that FF XII wasn’t just a fluke, and that the man responsible for the SaGa series is not in fact completely out of his mind.