Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles - The Crystal Bearers (Wii) - Review by Chris
Originally announced as one of the very first titles to be coming to the then codenamed Nintendo Revolution, the development of the next instalment in the Crystal Chronicles saga has been anything but simplistic with both talk and evidence of a trouble development cycle which has resulted in many reboots. With the game now officially complete and out in stores for gamers to now get their hands on, all that's left to determine is whether or not the exacerbated cycle of even getting the game ready for market was worth it. Does a completely new style of play make The Crystal Bearers a standout title or should gamers hold off for a more traditional role playing fare?
The original Crystal Chronicles title on the Gamecube took a more action oriented slant on the role playing genre seen in the Final Fantasy franchise and coupled it with a story involving your character leaving his town yearly in a caravan to acquire crystal essence to protect his town from a mystical and dangerous miasma that was consuming the land. While the focus on a more action oriented game stays, the story has changed and tried to tap into similar grounds already run by the likes of the mainline Final Fantasy titles.
The story places you in the boots of a Clavat names Layle, a mercenary who has extraordinary telekinetic powers because he is a crystal bearer, a group of people who bear the mark of a crystal on their faces and are endowed with its powers. When a airship which Layle is guarding comes under attack from a mysterious member of the Yuke tribe, a tribe of people long thought to have been eradicated from the world, and having piloted the ship to ground safely after the crystal essence running the reactors is stolen, Layle sets out in chase of his adversary with the authorities hot on his and a Selkie named Belle's tail, with both being blamed for causing the airship to adopt an emergency landing. The plot quickly starts to unravel and through confrontations with the Yuke, a plot involving the resurrection of the crystal shards in the three kingdoms and the ruining of the Royal Family and the Crystal Bearers comes to the forefront and places you at the head of the action in the hope of preventing any catastrophe from occurring. It's a simple enough story but because of how condensed the gameplay is, it always remains at the forefront of the gameplay for the entire runtime and compels you to play on to find the outcome.
Whereas before you would set out from your town and select a dungeon or town on a world map, The Crystal Bearers provides a large open world for you to interact with, with the dungeons having disappeared in their true sense and having been replaced with more open world battles and a stronger focus on puzzles in the dungeons that do rear their heads. And interacting with the world is something you will do because the game employs an entirely new gameplay mechanic that, taking the game further from its role playing routes and bringing it more in line with action adventure style games like the Zelda franchise, encourages you to be creative with the environment and its items especially when it comes to battles.
With a lessened focus on role playing, the new battle system retains its action roots but shines a greater focus on them while at the same time providing a more accessible form of gameplay to suit the Wii, something which may disappoint those who were hoping for something a little deeper. Making use of Layle's telekinetic abilities, you'll be able to pick up and throw enemies and items around the battle field in the hope of whittling down their health bars and defeating them. It's a very interesting concept to use and makes for a more enjoyable experience outside of battles than in because you have slightly more freedom and the puzzles make better use of the powers. In battle, after the first couple of enemies have been disposed of, you'll have seen everything the battle system has to offer as there is little delineation from the standard to provide anything deep. There are no traditional weapons or traditional magical powers, like those seen in the previous Crystal Chronicle games, and as a result, the battles can become monotonous due to a lack of variety. It isn't helped further by the fact many of the battles out in the field are time bound and should you fail to defeat the monster before the time is up, you'll have to come back later to start it all over again.
The main quest line isn't of any great length, with it being possible to complete it fully in around 10 hours which is exceptionally short by Square Enix's standards. It's a much more condensed experience as a result but at times, it does have some saving graces through some truly memorable gameplay moments but it seems to all be over too quickly. There are a handful of side missions that you can take on but many of these can be completed without heading far off of the necessary path and so while they do add something to the longevity of the game, it isn't much. Some mini-games and a achievement style Medal system add a little extra longevity but again, many of these are playable or attainable play simply following the main quest line. There is an inclusion of 2 player co-op at certain points but it isn't as fleshed out as the multiplayer options in the previous titles but they do make things a little bit more interesting. In the end, the game has some nice ideas but some further extrapolation on them and lengthening of the main quest would have benefitted the game greatly.
Due to the entirely new and unique gameplay mechanics, the only way to play the game is by way of the Wii-mote and Nunchuk combo and the basics work well enough but there are larger underlying problems. Movement through the environments is easy enough, although the camera can at times be an issue especially in some of the bigger battles, and the basics of using your power are handled well through use of the B button. It's when it comes to actually using your Bearer powers to throw objects or enemies around, it can be a little frustrating. As previously mentioned, the game doesn't so much as give you a hand in learning the controls rather letting you fumble your way through while occasionally giving on screen hints. The motions needed to be used to make use of your power aren't implemented well enough, at times being both overly and under sensitive meaning you'll either accidentally throw something before you've got your enemy in sight or attempt to throw in a specific direction only for the controller to recognise it as another. It is definitely a game which could have benefitted from the MotionPlus add-on here as this would have alleviated any issues with aiming. Even with these issues, you'll learn to work around them in order to progress but it's definitely something which should have been sorted and refined before even seeing release.
Another area of the game where it is changed from the original is in the visuals. Environments are no longer sectioned into smaller areas you select on a map. A new, larger and more seamlessly integrated overworld awaits and you have the ability to traverse the entirety just like the many sandbox style games that punctuate the shelves of stores these days, with it being filled with well designed items for manipulating, people to interact with and buildings and shops to explore. All of this is presented in real time with there being virtually no loading of the graphics when transitioning to a new area. And even with so much being presented, everything is presented in extremely high detail and has its own physics. These make for a very good looking game although do result in some severe frame rate dips on occasion. Character models are similarly of a high standard, with high resolution textures and natural animation patterns across all forms of beings. The only slight issue is that the lip synchronisation is noticeably off but it is only a slight issue in an altogether beautifully designed game. Water and lighting effects are also of a very high standard, with water splashing onto the screen at times and the lighting, with its use of particle effects and bloom, looking realistically placed.
If you've played the original then you'll know that the soundtrack isn't in the same vain as the music in the mainline Final Fantasy story. Yet even here, the music foregoes the foundations set out before it in favour of something which doesn't really feel like Final Fantasy canon at all. That's not to say it's bad, as the mixture of rock, folk and pop tracks, to name but a few present genres, create an easy atmosphere to get lost in with soothing melodies carrying you through many of the towns and countryside while more upbeat tracks convey the immediacy of the combat in the field perfectly. The game also includes masses of voice work for the many main characters and none playable characters, with it still being able to induce cringes now and again but overall being of a very high standard.
With so long in development, it's no wonder that the game doesn't quite manage to come together as well as it should have done. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers brings some interesting gameplay mechanics and a new open world environment to the fold but a lack of variety and an all too often feeling of lifelessness in the environment leaves the game feeling a shadow of its former self. The new ideas are clearly things that could become great inclusions to the series but with little fleshing out here and a more drastic move away from the already slight action RPG genre, people will ultimately be disappointed with what has taken Square Enix so long to produce. It is still an engrossing and enjoyable title but with bigger and better role playing games on the horizon, this won't hold your attention for long.
Pro: Large, seamless open world with literally no loads, presentation is of a particularly high standard, gameplay is an interesting mish-mash of concepts
Con: Main quest is very short, controls can at times be frustrating, frame rate issues dog the game at times, lacks variety in the way of gameplay
Final score: 7.4
|Genre:||Action / RPG|
|Developer:||Game Designers Studio|