Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers
Crystal Bearers is slick and polished but it somehow comes off feeling like a half-finished product
I initially considered opening up this review by likening Crystal Bearers to a roller-coaster ride in that it's full of ups and downs. But after careful consideration, I've decided that the metaphor applies in a very different way: playing it is the video game equivalent of a theme park attraction whose first big drop is exciting but then peters out with a handful of rickety, ill-designed bumps before it lurches towards an unsatisfying end.
- It has its moments, telekinesis powers are interesting
- Inconsistent and riddled with annoying tendencies
Like "Abracadabera" and "Open Sesame", the words Final Fantasy have a sense of power to them. For gamers, uttering them is like invoking a magic spell, one which promises to open doorways into fantastical worlds full of heroes and monsters. Unfortunately, magic spells can sometimes misfire, and fantasy worlds are oftentimes full of horrors best left unseen. Crystal Bearers carries the Final Fantasy moniker but it doesn't have the same magic that gives the franchise its power.
And yes, the game does start off with a bang: the first playable sequence consists of a skydiving segment where Layle, the main protagonist, freefalls while shooting down a horde of flying demon birds attacking an airship. From there comes a cinematic battle on the ship bridge, flying the damaged ship to safety through dangerous ravines, and a crash-landing at the gate of a bustling city. Sounds great so far, right? Unfortunately, the excitement starts to flatline fairly fast.
The world you explore is indeed interesting, but it proves to be very difficult to navigate. Maps are not provided for any of the environments you explore, and oftentimes remembering which area connects to what or even where the exits are located (or how to reach them, in some cases) proves to be an exercise in frustration. The sole "world map" and current objective indicator the game provides you with is rather unhelpful and at one point, I was stuck simply because I couldn't figure out where I needed to go -- there were no markers, pointers, or hints of any type to send me on my way.
This wasn't my only frustration, either. Enemy horde encounters (save for boss fights) are timed but if the timer runs out before you've killed off every foe -- something you will want to do as it earns Layle more hit points -- you'll have to sit and wait several minutes before they appear again. Making matters worse is the effect they have on the actual landscape: At one point I was unable to proceed because a cave's entrance was blocked off by enemies who were rampaging around inside. I could do nothing but wait until their timer ran out so I could enter the cave. I also hated that there were mandatory mini-games sprinkled throughout the game; some of them are excruciatingly bad, and oftentimes the instructions and goals are incredibly vague, leading to additional aggravation. And finally, there's the issue of the game's length. Just as I reached what I thought was the halfway point, the game's conclusion suddenly made an appearance. The final boss revealed itself, I fought it and just like that, it was over. Admittedly, the final boss battle is awesome, but the abruptness with which it arrives robs it of any sense of build up. All told, I spent sixteen hours playing Crystal Bears -- four of which was spent lost and in sidequests -- making this a less than epic title that doesn't live up to the Final Fantasy name.
Crystal Bearers is slick and polished but it somehow comes off feeling like a half-finished product. For every beautiful environment or clever twist on combat, there's a bad design decision that severely hampers its impact. It's particularly disappointing given that fact that this game has been simmering at Square-Enix for over four years now -- almost as long a development cycle as some recent instalments in the main Final Fantasy series. Sorry to say, Wii owners, but if you're looking an epic Final Fantasy masterpiece, you're going to have to wait for Square Enix to release something else.
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