Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers

Hello, Space Monkees!

Remember that needlessly long Dissidia epic I did last week?  Remember how that game was a Final Fantasy title?  Well, this is absolutely nothing like that!  Which is absolutely perfect for me, since I really don't want to be talking about that game anymore!

So if you're waiting for that Part 11, I'd be on your toes, since it may or may not happen.  I'm not sure myself.  Sorry.  Instead I'll be commenting on a game that I personally have been looking forward to for quite some time now, "Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles:  The Crystal Bearers".

What?  Don't tell me I'm the only one who cares about this game?  This is like the Final Fantasy that time forgot.  Are you all really that interested in the Japanese release of "Final Fantasy XIII" to ignore one that's on your own shores?  Well, you enjoy your Doki Doki Japanese-only game, for now I'll be playing this.

Anyway, let's give some backstory here to explain this bizarrely long title.  Final Fantasy is a strange kind of series.  In fact, I don't even know if you can call it a "series".  Its more of a brand name really.  Each game has pretty much nothing to do with the last one.  There's even a debate over what it means to be a "true Final Fantasy game".  I'm not going to get into the subject, but personally I believe its the Chocobosy.  And whether or not your game will be counted in the main series is based entirely on whether or not Square Enix feels like it.  "Final Fantasy XIII" is actually something like the thirtieth game to come out with the words "Final Fantasy" in the title.  Within the Final Fantasy series itself, there are a few real series out there, like the "Final Fantasy VII" games, which all feature the same characters and the same general plot.  Crystal Chronicles is a series based entire on Nintendo systems, all of which take place on the same world just in different places in time with completely different characters and completely different gameplay.

"Crystal Bearers" is the latest game in that series, both in the real-world sense in that it came out just two weeks ago (the official release date was a lie) and that it comes thousands of years after the other Crystal Chronicles games.  Unlike most Final Fantasy games, this is not really an RPG.  Its much more action-adventure oriented, and is completely free of any sort of numbers at all.  You can equip accessories, and those raise the strength of your combat abilities, but that's it.  Instead of a party, you follow a single character:  the magically powered Layle, who is a Crystal Bearer.   The free-roaming kind of gameplay immediately made me think of "Final Fantasy XII", and anything that reminds me of "Final Fantasy XII" definitely has my vote.

In this stage of Crystal Chronicles one of the four major races, the Lilties have become the dominate power, and have outlawed all magic.  The only people with magic powers anymore those with shards of Crystals embedded in their skin, called Crystal Bearers.  Back during "the Great War", the Lilties destroyed a rival tribe, the mechanical creatures called the Yuke.  The main plot of this game is to determine what is behind the mysterious attack of a modern Yuke with the Crystal Bearer power to warp time and space to summon monsters.  There are a few twists along the way, and plenty of fully-fledged characters to interact with.  This is no Dissidia right here - this time Square Enix has written something that actually goes someplace.

Layle, our hero, is much better than the usual Final Fantasy hero fair.  Instead of sitting around finding himself during the journey, Layle is far more confident and cocky.  He jumps straight into the action, relishing the adventure of it all.  His main power is a command of "the Force":  Layle can telekinetically grab objects and throw them around.  Instead of weapons, you'll have to grab whatever junk is on the ground to fight enemies.  Of course, Layle also uses his Force powers on himself, using it in platforming parts and as a dash move to dodge enemy attacks.  The real meat of the game is using the Force to figure out how you can affect the environment around you:  be it turning a floating explosive enemy into a land mine or giving balloons to little kids.  This is a game that rewards exploration and curiosity.  Its really unlike anything else I've ever played.

However, it isn't all combat.  Much like a Legend of Zelda game, you'll be spending quite a bit of time playing minigames outside the main battle system.  One minute you could shooting down dragons in the sky, and the next moment you'll be helping bikini-clad girls win an ass-bumping contest (yeah, an ass-bumping contest).  Very few of these minigames are particularly hard, but they are usually a great deal of fun.  For example, "Crystal Bearers" has managed what I thought was impossible:  it actually has a fun stealth minigame!

Your crystal powers extend beyond the battlefield, so even while walking through town you can grab pretty much anything that isn't nailed down and throw it at anyone.  So you can throw people off their Chocobos and steal them to ride around on, or you can mug Moogles for a few pieces of coin.  Its a weird kind of world, you can throw people around without them really seeming to care.  In fact, you can only talk to people running minigames or the helpful direction Moogle Stiltzkin, who is still traveling the world even after leaving "Final Fantasy IX".  Instead you run through towns filled with all sorts of baby talk and various other grunts.  It is nice and rewarding to make them happy sometimes though.  There's tons to discover throughout the world.  I like changing the channel on the big TV in the capital city, personally.

Some of the more negative reviews of the game have claimed that its all fluff, and has no real challenge.  that mght be true of the minigames, but the boss battles are actually quite challenging.  And I've had my own share of troubles against the regular enemies, I can tell you that right now.  The controls do take a bit of time getting used to - it is all too easy for you to just throw your object away instead of holding it at first.  Also the camera has something of an usual system:  you use the D-pad on the Wii-mote to move the shot.  So your thumb needs to rest further up the Wii-mote, it should not be resting on the A-button, which is used only for special things like opening chests and talking to people.

Of course, as much fun as this game can be at times, there are a few major faults that really bug me.  For some reason, Square Enix has completely made an ass out of the navigation system here.  On your minimap, you can only get little red dots showing where enemies are; you don't get any kind of an outline of the boundaries.  The worst problem in navigation is that the game does not have any kind of map.  You do get a little picture showing what the world looks like in your menu, but you can't use it to find out where anything is.  So if you're trying to find Bridge Town, you have to rely entirely on luck and Stiltzkin.  I cannot imagine what they were thinking when they refused to add a real map.  Combat is made a lot more annoying than it needs to be by having it come in cycles.  Every five minutes or so enemies will appear in certain locations, and then five minutes later they'll leave.  In order for you to really accomplish anything you need to kill every enemy and close a sky portal that comes straight out of "Twilight Princess".  Sometimes I'll just have a single monkey left to defeat, and then the portal will close on me.  Darn it all!  Another major complaint I have is that early on there are no less than three opportunities where there should have been a boss fight, and instead the game plays a little cutscene instead.  There's no reason for these segments not to be playable, I don't know what happened.  Luckily the later boss fights make up for this.

The game also seems to be lacking in polish in certain places.  Like when Layle walks a tightrope, his feet move on it like he's running on flat ground.  He's flying over the tightrope.  The least they could have done is thrown in a little blue whirr under his feat to make him seem like he's using the Force to walk.  Also the camera gets a little crazy at times, sometimes shifting over for a split second over to something else.  The voice acting is a little hit or miss too.  Otherwise they've managed to create a very living and breathing world for you and Layle to explore.

What is definitely one of the better parts of this adventure is the music.  All Final Fantasy games have great music, and "Crystal Bearers" is certainly no exception.  The soundtrack jumps wildly to all sorts of genres and styles.  In one area it could be an upbeat western theme, and in another you'll hear what can only be described as "extreme bagpipes". When the music needs to be epic, its epic.  When it needs to be haunting and mysterious, it throws some nice harmony arias your way.  If I must complain about something, it would be the Chocobo Theme, its one of the worst remixes of the entire series.  Sorry about that.

So ultimately I have to give "Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles:  The Crystal Bearers" a recommendation from what I've seen so far.  I'm only about a third of the way through the game -I think- and so far its been quite a bit of fun.  Unless something incredibly stupid happens (unlike Nintendo, Square Enix cannot be trusted to not drop some bullshit on you in the eleventh hour) this has been a very good addition to my video gaming experience.  Despite the generally negative reviews, I have to say I've been liking this game.

5 comments:

  1. All FFs doesn't have great music, FFX-2's Music sucked, and so did FFIII's, but most of them does.

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  2. I disagree, FFIII had excellent music: great overworld theme, battle theme, main theme, boss theme, and an especially good final boss theme. If I needed to pick out a single Final Fantasy for least inspired soundtrack, it would have to be Crisis Core, as the main battle theme just gave me a headache after awhile.

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  3. Dawn of Mana had the same problem with the map. Of course, the worst thing about that game was the leveling system.

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  4. Drake (DrakemasterDrake)January 2, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    I personally disliked the previous Crystal Chronicles games. What were your feelings about those, and is this one better than it? I was thinking about buying it for my brother for his birthday; is it worth the forty dollar price tag?

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  5. I've never played any of the other Crystal Chronicles games, and I really don't plan to. They're all more focused on a multiplayer feel, and the only multiplayer games I like to play are ones where you throw Pikachu off the side of the stage with Star Fox.

    As for an economic consideration, I don't know. I beat the game only one day after writing this review (ten hours). There are still some things I want to do, but I doubt it would really be as filling as a typical Final Fantasy.

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