Final Fantasy is a big name. A huge name. The series has spanned 13 iterations in the core and dozens of spin-offs, and has become, for many people, the quintessential RPG series. Some might argue that the formula has become stale, but none can deny Square's commitment to excellence, with each game's release being a massive event celebrated throughout the industry. The same can't be said for all of the games to carry the name, however, as some of the spin-off series have felt stale since their inception. One example is Crystal Chronicles, which has always felt like Square's half-hearted attempt at appeasing Nintendo fans without committing to a "real" Final Fantasy title. Over the years, the side series has yet to really find itself performing at a level that might be compared to the core, something that Square hopes to fix with the release of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Crystal Bearers.
As the name suggests, this new iteration of Final Fantasy focuses on crystal bearers, a rare group of individuals with the power of telekinesis. One such bearer, Layle, serves as the protagonist, hunting a member of the Yuke tribe with a story that starts off fairly small, but eventually rolls into an appropriately Final Fantasy sized endeavor. It makes this transition well, without ever feeling convoluted or overzealous. In the past, games in the series can find themselves trying too hard to be epic - a problem that doesn't befall this game in the least. It could be thanks to the protagonist, who, when compared to typical FF characters, is fairly down to earth. Without any massive complex keeping him emotionally unstable, Layle is instantly propelled above most of the belly-shirt wearing heroes of Square's traditional series. Then again, the Crystal Chronicles is anything but traditional, and the Crystal Chronicles branding has given the developer the ability to experiment from time to time, dabbling in multiplayer or, in this case, a full-blown action game.
That's right, Crystal Bearers sheds away almost all RPG elements in favor of a more adventure driven campaign. There are still some lingering elements that might make fans of the genre feel at home, and Layle needs to wander around a town talking to strangers from time to time, but, for the most part, the release is one of Square's largest departures from tradition to date. Being a crystal bearer, Layle's unique ability has him picking up and tossing objects at enemies instead of standing around and selecting attacks. Be it in scripted, large plot battles or minor skirmishes, the combat is certainly ambitious, and feels amazingly fresh. Sadly, fresh doesn't always mean good, and Square continues the precedent they started with Dirge of Cerberus of being somewhat incapable of creating an action game. It's not that it's bad, per say, just that it's not very good, and combat in such a title needs to be, at a minimum, good. At times, the basic action elements can be fairly fun, but throwing random debris at enemies, especially with the game's lackluster controls, can be dull. Not difficult, not complicated, just dull.
Luckily, this doesn't condemn the game entirely. Other elements, such as occasional platforming and action sequences, stand high above the sloppy combat. This helps keep the combat from ever growing too annoying, and helps justify continuing the the ten to twelve hour long game. Yes, ten to twelve hours, you read that correctly. The length makes Crystal Bearers one of, if not the shortest game in the series, spin-off or not, though the compact story suits the style well, and if it were any longer the issues might become more troublesome.Either way, the length is only an issue for anyone expecting to find a run-of-the-mill Final Fantasy, and there is plenty more than the length keeping that from being true. As far as action games go, twelve hours is right in line with just about every other game in the genre.
Not all issues are as easily forgiven. The wonky combat and poor camera are matched with wonky voice acting and a poor script. These problems feel strange amongst the otherwise stellar graphical presentation. Crystal Bearers looks good, especially for a Wii game, with clean visuals that can stand toe-to-toe with just about anything on the console. Cinematics are consistently entertaining, and the interesting character design of the series is continued well in this iteration. Expect crazy looking opponents, slick looking heroes, and everything in-between. Even with the poor voice acting, there are some touching moments and likable characters that are worth paying attention to, even if the best moments of the game are soon forgotten.
Square had an obvious goal in mind when it came to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Crystal Bearers, and the game suffers from a number of issues that can be chalked up more to poor execution than poor planning. The combat is great... in theory, it just struggles due to a poor camera and uninteresting battles. Other problems with the game feel the same way, always outreaching their abilities as a studio when it comes to the genre. Even so, there's some fun to be had with this charming title, it's just not the game it should have been, nor the game it had to be in order to prove that the Crystal Chronicles series is more than a younger brother of Final Fantasy. It's a fun game, an interesting game, it's just not an incredible game, and with the amount of good games on the market, there might not be time to be a crystal bearer. Not now, at least.