I'll say this about the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles franchise, Square Enix isn't afraid to radically change them up from game to game. If it wasn't for the package telling me that The Crystal Bearers was part of the series, I would have never guessed that this had anything to do with last year's Echoes of Time or the original GameCube release from 2004. The difference is jarring and not completely successful. Yet, at the same time I can't help but feel like the veteran role-playing game makers at Square Enix are finally on to something fresh and original.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers is more than an obnoxiously long name for a video game; it's also the adventure of a young man with special powers and his search for a bunch of mysterious crystal shards. You play Layle, a crystal bearer for hire that, surprise surprise, gets himself mixed up in power struggle that could spell the end of his world. Being a crystal bearer means that Layle is able to use an unconventional type of magic, a Force-like telekinesis that allows him to battle monsters, keep people from falling to their death, stop flying objects in mid air, climb tall areas, and much, much more.
Unfortunately for our hero, nobody seems to like him. He seems to think that it's his special powers making the non-crystal bearers a little jealous, but I have my own theory. I suspect that Layle is just an arrogant ego-maniac who is generally unlikeable. The good news is that he meets and equally unlikeable female character named Belle, a typical "hot girl" who spends much of her time flirting and stealing. These two belong together ... they just don't know it yet.
The Crystal Bearers isn't like most Final Fantasy games. This is not one of those traditional role-playing games where you go around the world battling random enemies, buying swords and leveling up your group of characters. Instead this is a decidedly more linear affair, one where you play as one character without the aid of any weaponry. That's right, this game forgoes the usual sword and shield combat we're so used to seeing in this series. Instead you use the power of telekinesis to battle baddies, find hidden treasure, open gates and, well, just about everything else.
The game's combat takes place in large, wide-open areas full of objects you can pick up. The idea is that you can use your Force-like power to use the surrounding debris to take out large groups of enemies. When you're not throwing boulders, you can also pick up and toss the bad guys around the levels. At first this isn't all that impressive, but before long you'll realize that every enemy reacts to your powers a little differently. For example, some enemies can be combined with other characters to create a large bowling ball that you can toss around the world taking out anything in their path. Another enemy will explode when you throw it your enemies. There's even one type of enemy that will turn into a traditional throwing spear, causing serious damage to anything that it hits.
As I experimented with the game's unique combat mechanic, I was impressed that Square Enix was trying something new. This is a company that has perfected the traditional turn-based battle, so learning a whole new play style was exciting and kept me playing long after I grew tired of the characters and story. Unfortunately there are some serious problems associated with this unique combat mechanic. For one thing, after you've picked up an enemy, it's extremely hard to aim your throw just right. Sometimes this isn't a problem, but the further you get into the game the more you'll notice the game's lack of lock-on aiming. I was also disappointed with the lack of depth associated with the combat system, while I love the idea of using the enemies against each other, I really wish there was more I could do with the Wii's motion control. As it is you're pretty limited with your attacks, which ultimately means that after a few hours of playing you'll dread getting into yet another annoying battle.
Believe it or not, The Crystal Bearers manages to find something even worse than annoying random battles. Instead of being attacked by a bunch of characters out of the blue, this game has a strange day/night cycle that effects when the enemies will be out and about. Some of the missions will require you to defeat a certain amount of these bad guys and rid the field of the dark presence, so you'll find yourself constantly waiting around for all of the enemies to come back out. This is made even worse when you realize that you won't be able to kill all of the enemies in one go and you'll have to wait around for the next time the day turns to night. When you're not battling these characters there isn't much to do, so too much of my time was spent just waiting for something to happen.
And did I mention that the camera battles you every step of the way? For a game whose sole gameplay mechanic is based around tossing stuff at your enemies, the camera is woefully ill-equipped to handle this relatively simple task. You can control the camera at any time by using the D-Pad on the Wii remote, but that's uncomfortable in the middle of battle. Even as I neared the games closing moments, I was still fighting the camera.
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