Magical but dangerous, powerful but unpredictable - this is how the people of the Liltian Kingdom see Crystal Bearers, the last members of humanity that can master arcane arts. Most people are just cautious and curious about their powers, but many higher-ranking officials in the government are afraid of the abilities they possess. As one of the last Crystal Bearers in the kingdom, the young Clavat mercenary Layle quickly becomes the center of a world-ending genocidal war.
Release Date: 11/12/09 (JP); 12/26/09 (NA); 02/05/10 (PAL)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
ESRB Rating: T
Before I get too far into this review, let me make one thing clear: I appreciate a Final Fantasy title that throws off some of the dusty old RPG trappings that make up the core series. The Crystal Chronicles series itself has always been a hugely different experience than, say, FFVIII or X. That's part of the reason that this game in particular manages to get away with so many horrible, glaring flaws; on top of that, it's quickly become one of my favorite games on the system. Where gameplay fails from time to time, raw quirkiness can often prevail.
As the opening sequence plays and introduces you to the cast, one thing becomes very clear: you are a jerk. Layle, the Crystal Bearer hired to protect the Lilty airship Alexis, is a champion kneebiter. His general lack of care for everything and everyone just bleeds through with every single bored line. Fortunately, his character is saved by one redeeming trait: simple badassery.
The airship is naturally attacked midflight by hundreds of flying monsters, too many for Layle's partner Keiss to handle. Just as Keiss' recon plane is about to ram into one of the creatures, the monster explodes in a shower of light and feathers - Layle is standing on top of the plane, holding a gatling gun longer than he is tall. Throwing the gun into the open air, he slaps his goggles on and leaps into a freefall. It's at this point that the cutscene seamlessly turns into a minigame. Using Layle's telekinesis powers, you can grapple the gun out of the sky and use it to begin blasting monsters as you fall towards the Alexis.
SAY HELLO TO MY LIL' FRIEND
Landing on the airship's open deck, Layle meets his contractor, Lilty High Commander Jegran, and a stowaway Selkie photographer named Belle. A "hostile" Yuke sorceress Amidatelion (aka Goldenrod) appears and steals the airship's crystal shards, thus robbing the craft of its power. The crystal idol she traps the shards' energy in is left behind during her escape, leaving Layle alone to use his Crystal Bearer manipulation over gravity to power and pilot the airship into a crash-landing (another mid-cutscene minigame) through a national monument - "I'm about to put on the brakes!" - and straight into the middle of the Lilty capital city.
It's moments like this where the game truly shines. Nearly all of the minigames throughout (and there are a few) are integrated into either the gameplay or the cutscenes that play sporadically, meaning you always have to keep your hands on the controls. It's rarely a touch-and-go experience like other games' Quick Time Events, but it's a good idea to stay on your toes. You'll end up doing anything from water skiing to fishing to dragging sheep out of UFO portals to leading young Selkie, Clavat and Lilty beauties through a massive dance hall.
Selkies salsa, Lilties waltz, and Clavats are too poor to attend in formal wear. God I love this game.
Layle's quest quickly spirals out of control once the Alexis crashes. It becomes obvious very quickly that your reputation is a bit more infamous than most. Most people either fear or avoid you as your powers are illegal in the Lilty Kingdom. Other clans may be more easygoing around a Crystal Bearer, but you'll notice that very few people treat you cordially if they happen to witness you flinging objects around with your TK magic. Too bad for them that using Layle's power is so much fun. Nearly anything (and anyone) can be snagged, carried, or hurled into walls. You'll never actually touch anything in the game with your hands; it's all done via telekinetic zipline. This is especially fun during battle. Even though your Wii may disagree with the actions you're trying to relate, picking up and beating enemies with each other is immensely satisfying. Just don't be surprised when you motion with your arm to drag a bomb towards you and accidentally hurl it into a crowd of innocent passersby.
Battle is pretty simple, but once you take the time to experiment you'll find that there's a lot you can do. Different enemies can be used as weapons in different ways; for instance, tear the bones from a skeleton and you can throw them to attract the attention of the rabid wolves that would otherwise attack you. Is a monster summoning meteors to crush you? Snare them from their craters and hurl them right back. It's a gimmick that never really gets old.
Layle carries water, hoping that he might finally defeat the Kwisatz Haderach.
The game's aesthetics are nothing to sneeze at, either. This title's graphics are superior to nearly every game I've seen on the Wii to date. It's often impossible to tell the difference between the cutscenes and the in-game engine, which is what makes the quick switches between movie to minigame so impressive. Lighting effects are dazzling, especially when fighting bosses that throw fire at you and cause anything combustible you might try to hide behind explode. I honestly thought (more than once) that I had traded my Wii in for an Xbox or PS3. Some of the desert environments are a little dry (sorry), but the forests, rivers and skies are all gorgeous.
Crystal Bearers' music is also top-notch. You might recognize a track or two from other Final Fantasy titles, but most of the soundtrack is original and blends a fantastic mess of jazz, hip-hop, techno, and classical scores to make a Final Fantasy experience wholly enjoyable. The only gripe I have with the sound is Layle's voice actor. He sounds a little slow, as if he took Layle's constant apathy and applied it to his own brain. The other actors and actresses do a fantastic job, though, particularly Amidatelion.
It feels good beating the tar out of this guy. Seriously, his voice is so annoying.
Of all the Final Fantasy titles I've tried my hand at - and there have been a few - there aren't many that feel as fresh or as mindlessly fun as this one. That's not to say the game is without its problems. For instance, the telekinesis is a little buggy. Most of the time your wild swings of the Wiimote will do what you're attempting to command on-screen...but when things go wrong, they go wrong. The issue of battles being timed (enemies appear only for a few minutes at a time, forcing you to defeat all of them quickly in order to win a life upgrade) is also annoying. With the freedom to mess with monsters however I want, I'd like to have some time to enjoy it. Finally, since either boot or Chocobo will be your basic forms of transportation across the entire world, a world map would be pretty cool. Instead you get a static picture of the continent that shows no landmarks, no paths, and is next to useless in navigation.
Despite its problems, I had a lot of fun with Crystal Bearers. The battles are hilarious, the minigames fantastic, and the story, while pretty transparent, wasn't half bad. I'd recommend it to anybody tired of the slower members of the FF family.