Presumably, there is a design doc at Square Enix that defines what defines a Crystal Chronicles game. A character called Cid, cactuars, marlboros, flans, chocobos, airships, trains and magical jewelery are all borrowed from the main series. What makes a Crystal Chronicles game seems to be an obsession with talking about crystals, carrying things above your head, real time combat and a world populated by four different races. What I didn’t know until I hit the Final Fantasy Wiki is that all of the Crystal Chronicles games are set in the same universe but thousands of years apart. Which is nice and explains the obsession with crystals.
In my little world at least, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles titles are always released with little in the way of fanfare, especially when compared to the main series of games, and often received a mixed reception. Even the Final Fantasy fans that I know don’t pay them much heed. It’s funny what a subtitle (or two) can do. I’ve only ever played the GameCube game and the DS Ring of Fates but I have a lot of love for them. The original Crystal Chronicles on the GameCube is now infamous for the expensive requirements needed for a full four player experience. Each player needed their own GBA and GBA-GC link cable and by extension a small mountain of batteries. For a small time I managed to corral two other players into playing this game and it was an absolute gem that was the source of a lot of laughter and sometimes sweat. The same is true of FF:CC:Ring of Fates except the demands for co-op experience only required extra DSes and copies of the game. The experience was much the same, still enjoyable and an approach to co-op play that Dragon Quest IX has clearly taken and run with. Because I haven’t finished either aforementioned game I didn’t pick up Echoes of Time and the scandalous DLC nonsense for My Life as a Dark Lord and My Life as a King prevented me from having a go at these. I remembered seeing the very early footage of Crystal Bearers when the Wii was announced but then for one reason or another the game dropped off my radar altogether.
It was watching the Nintendo Channel Wii Play campaign ads that prompted me to add it to my theoretical arm’s length ‘wishlist’ and last weekend I was fortunate enough to spot a relatively cheap new English language copy for sale in lands-a-foreign. Which explains the review here.
With very few expectations of any kind I was really pleasantly surprised by this game. My stalkers will note that I should really be eating my words because the week before I bought this I was whinging about how I will never finish an RPG in my life in my apology to Dragon Quest IX. I’m still sticking to this. Like those heavyweights RPGamers said in their 2/10 review for the game ‘This game is a mini-game collection masquerading as an epic adventure‘. Well I don’t know about mini-game collection but there isn’t four days worth of pissing around with statistics in between dungeons, which is what I think they mean by epic adventure. Yes, it is on the easy side. Yes, there isn’t much leveling to be done. Yes, there’s no teleporting back to town to sell all those rusty swords you picked up in the last five minutes. There’s no classes to speak of and sometimes your character can jump. This is not recognisable as an RPG and this is why I like, maybe, love this game.
First off, as you see from the screenshots throughout this post (and from this b-roll of filth) it is a pretty game. We don’t even use the word pretty very much to describe games but from the title screen it is just lovely. You can appreciate the prettiness especially well too because, for no other reason at any time you can pop into first person. Even better, you can take screenshots. Anywhere. There are only a handful of games that let you do this (Animal Crossing, Super Smash Brother Brawl and My Pokemon Ranch) but in the Crystal Bearers it really is seamless. In a cutscene, take a snapshot. Perving on the Selkie female sidekick, take a snapshot. Appreciating a beautiful vista in first person, snapshot. On a train, snapshot. Not only does this make reviewing this games a helluva lot easier but if you’re weird like me, you like to have an SD card full of
various upskirt shots virtual postcards. It’s this kind of feature that I consider ‘next gen’. More of this please games. More of this.
Second off, as you might be able to see from the screenshots, you can buy emblems for the back of your jacket. Items and money that occasionally drop from enemies or can be found in treasure chests can be used to create rings, earrings and belts which give you slight boosts in the range of your superpower or your ‘luck’. Alternatively, if you are a big ol’ gay like me you can invest them all in unlocking emblems for the back of your jacket. You can only ever use one emblem at a time. My two favourite ones are ones with sexy ladies on them. One of my favourite bits is when you go to the beach. Layle takes off his jacket but he still has the emblem on his T-shirt.
You play as Layle through the game who, unusually for a Final Fantasy protagonist is quite mouthy and a bit of a badass. Unusually for a game and doubly unusually for an RPG, the story isn’t complete gubbins all the way through. I haven’t played it all the way through yet but apparently it gets a bit fetch questy towards the end. I’m about 8 hours in and the game is still throwing new areas at me that are conveniently linked to older areas. Part of me wants to bemoan that the map is next to useless but then part of me really likes that if I want to go somewhere I have to walk or take a chocobo to get there. What is the point in sprawling environments if you see them once and then teleport through them later on. Basically, Layle is a crystal bearer who has the power to chuck stuff around like he can use the force or something. Imagine the love child of Nero from Devil May Cry 4 and one of the little dudes from Rodland and you’re about there. You can use the force to chuck objects at people, chuck people at people, chuck objects at monsters, monsters at monsters, monsters at objects…. you get the idea and that’s it. That’s your only power that will see you through the first battle all the way to the final one. Very simply, you can beat enemies by chucking other enemies or scenery at them or just by chucking them around. Unimaginatives insert your complaints about waggle controls here but they work just fine. Even then you can often employ some SHOCK HORROR real time skill to beat baddies quicker. Take for example, Final Fantasy staple enemies, Iron Giants. These appear in the game as huge sleeping machines which can be woken by spinning a giant gear on their back or by firing the electricity from a stunned Coeurl at one. The lumbering machine knight things then stomp about trying to splat you with one hit from their gigantic swords. They can be beaten by chucking stuff at them, chucking enemies at them or by closing their visor just as they are about to fire off a big eye laser. Little touches like that make for every encounter to be slightly different with an emphasis on playing around to see what you can do.
Weirdly, the game has achievements. Well an achievement system called ‘medals’. As with all achievements, the best ones make you appreciate the game more or draw your eye to things you may have missed. Highlights are medals for finding characters who have found their way from other Crystal Chronicles games, general messing around, and medals for experimenting with enemies like the Iron Giant I mentioned above. Lowlights are the medals awarded for collecting rare drops, medals that start off as bronze and change to silver and gold upon repetition and medals for progressing the story mode. When you unlock a new medal on the medal board, you are given hints for what you have to do for all adjacent medals. It’s quite a good system that doesn’t turn medal collecting into grinding but doesn’t leave you guessing as to how to collect those missing ones. Importantly, it is all optional, which goes for probably 80% of the game. At the 8 hour mark there’s no pressure to beat 20 of these or 40 of these to trigger the next story scene. The only reason you might spend half an hour trying to scale a big hill or fighting a mob of baddies is purely because you want to and this (have I laboured the point enough?) suits me down to the ground. I love Okami but every time I load it up I end up trying to get back into progression which is handed out bit by bit. With Crystal Bearers it really doesn’t matter.