[Here’s a guest review by srkelley of the Infendo Forums!]
Inconsistent. This word describes this game perfectly. The game starts off on a high note with excellent pacing and varied gameplay. Music will play with your ears and the sense of adventure and accomplishment will push anyone forward. The backdrop of the world is that when an ancient race called the Yukes disappeared, it caused people to randomly be born and bear a crystal someplace on their body. The people that bear these crystals are the only people capable of using magic in the game, which forms the basis of racism and prejudice against crystal bearers. If it wasn’t for the name “Final Fantasy” and the lore of the story, it would be very easy to forget that this game is an action rpg. It plays more like a highly experimental action game.
When a gamer think of rpg’s, they may think about a classic flow of the genre that has the player grinding enemies in battles, experience a story event, wander, rinse and repeat. The flow of the Crystal Bearers is slightly different from this example. It adopts a pacing structure similar to the “Tales of” series. The game and the story are constantly progressing forward and not experiencing “filler” moments, moments in a game that do little to progress the plot or to maintain interest in the main story. Many actions normally reserved to a cut scene or normally represented poorly in the genre are a true delight. Scene’s like the often showed off Wahoo jump or the lesser known of dragon fight helps to keep the interest invested in this beautifully animated adventure.
The graphics and art direction are one of the few consistent parts of the game. None of the world or its’ people look like they don’t belong. A few valleys or hallways may be a bit dull, but it all works as a cohesive whole. The protagonist and main hero of the game, Layle, exhibits movements that are believably real. While it wouldn’t cause a person to forget that they’re playing a video game, it brings a level of quality and fluidity in animation that many Wii games lack. Shadows and light will move realistically across Layle as he runs through the world. Clothing will often move or sway as people are forced to move with the powers of a Crystal Bearer. Every object and character has a real shadow which blankets the player like an incomplete patchwork quilt. It’s well developed to the point that lit and unlit area’s appear in appropriate places and that the shadows aren’t heavy. Some places like a forest will have darker shadowing then the middle of a city. If only the story was as complete as the technology this game uses
The lore and the history present in the Crystal Bearers reeks only of potential. The source material is great, the actual story is cliched to death and makes everything suffer because of it. Essentially the four races present in the game, Lilty, Yuke, Clavat, and Selkie; each have a crystal that protects and guides each race. One hundred years before the game takes place the Yukes crystal is destroyed, taking with it their race and culture. The central government present in the game is frightened by the appearance of a Yuke since not only are they a race whom everyone assumed to be dead, but they were the ones responsible for it. The Yuke is attacking things that the average folk of the world do not care for and is stealing objects that only matter to royal families and “the law”. The tale quickly escalates into a world changing event. This story has been done before, and in this game the journey is much more important than the tale that it’s a part of.
Cities are relatively small, but still give off a grand scope, the junk town is a great example of this. It has real borders that any town would have, but the player is only exposed to the areas that they need to run through. NPC’s will either love you, hate you, or ignore you right off the bat. Besides a few small noises, you’ll mainly be speaking with moogle’s and receiving letters from them that has been sent by random people you helped. If an npc or a character isn’t speaking in a cut scene, they’re not even giving you the luxury of pointless chatter outside of it. The supporting cast seems to be inspired by the most blatant and cheesy anime archetypes in the world. Their dialogue is uninspired and all emotions are usually melodramatic or non-existent based upon facial features, body language and voice acting. It’s as if Keanu Reeve’s took care of every bit of acting in this game.
Mini-games, or what I’d prefer be called “events” are the greatest part of what makes the game charming and frustrating. One moment you may be fighting wyverns in mid-air, the next will have you sneaking across a train. All of the silent acting, things that dealt with situation based comedy or implied meanings are what give the game life. They’re mainly present in events and help to build on the true backbone of the Crystal Bearers. But as implied earlier, events can sometimes be horribly frustrating. Arguably one of the worst ones in game is helping a girl cheat to win a butt bouncing/wrestling/sumo contest. It’s dull and frustrating. Girls in bikini’s fighting with their butts was somehow made to be dull and frustrationg. That is an achievement.
Achievements are featured for some of the most mediocre actions like obtaining common items. A few of them are well thought out and fun to collect. They’re usually based upon different types of monster interactions. Battles are the most disappointing part of the game. Since our Crystal Bearer of choice has gravity based powers, it’s all about picking up monsters and throwing them. That’s basically it. You’ll point at the monsters with the cursor, shake it to a side to knock them over, then shake it upwards to grab them. Monsters can be thrown into walls, the ground, each other, and objects. You can also pick up the objects and throw them, but other than that it’s something that was mostly avoided during the play-through of the game. There are achievements for tossing an enemy head first into the ground and for forcing a pill bug monster to roll up.
Interactions with anything are very limited but still enjoyable. Basically you’ll just grab people with your force powers and knock them around with the same being true for objects. Because slapping things to the side, you can pull them above your head and either throw them or let them go. That’s it. Knocking people around was a pleasant distraction while I was lost, but it grows old pretty quickly. It also causes the npcs to either run from you, become violent, or to become infatuated with the bearers power. I had a great time throwing snowmen at people in Layle’s epic version of a snowball fight.
I don’t like the battles. It would have been great if Square would have spent more of its’ time experimenting with gravity based powers and gone very crazy. Currently it’s best to just grab the monsters then slam them into each other, walls, ceilings and etc. which is rarely satisfying. Second Sight completely beats this game when it comes to psychic/gravity manipulation since it gives the player more control and more options. In this one it’s more so point, keep the cursor steady, then point again. All battle area’s automatically activate by being present. Even after defeating an area the monsters won’t change, they’ll even reappear in the same spots. If you take too long to leave the area (a few of minutes) it starts all over again. It wouldn’t be so bad if combat was fun, but it isn’t. At least running away by battles is achieved by actually running out of the area. There is a bit of a disconnect between the battles and character progression.
Layle has stats, but they’re mainly influenced by accessories. Accessories that aren’t needed. A single real need to upgrade or buy accessories wasn’t met until right before the last boss of the game. There were a few losses playing through, but it was moreso playing badly than having low stats. A game is too easy if a player can just glide through it without a real feeling of challenge or to essentially be able to opt of leveling up for most of the experience and not notice a difference after doing so. Gil, money, is a joke in this game. Gil spent on accessories is a waste of money when you can easily build better items for less, which as system that rewards the luck of the draw over effectively putting thought in how to combine items gained from battle or chests. Even if you buy accessories they’re all overpriced.
Crystal Bearers are those that bear crystals. The world fears and hates these people, at least that’s what the cut scenes tell us. Everything else is inconsistent with that explanation. People will love your powers or be unafraid of you. There’s very little discrimination actually shown in this game. Nothing that couldn’t be explained by general dislike of the protagonist’s personality with a few rare exceptions. Music is a mixed bag since it’s normally nowhere the tone of other Final Fantasy games. Sometime it helps to give the game a weird but welcome cowboy western theme, while at others it conflicts with the environment or current mood. Music is pretty typical in cut scenes when present, but it feels as if it was unfinished. All but two of the cut scenes are shown using the in-game graphics and engine. The cut scenes are also cruel taunts as the show, within the games engine what we would love to do, but cannot. They’re normally short with the exception of a few at the end of the game, but they get to the point and can keep you interested if you ignore the voice acting and plot.
The sound design works, but also incomplete. Footsteps will clank on metal and be silent or mesh a bit on grass. Gravity manipulation has its’ own sounds and in general the sounds used in the game work, but there are very few of them. At one point in the story a train needs to be found, but you can’t hear it. This train should by all rights be pretty noisy. No sound of rushing steam nor any visuals of it. The horns aren’t being used and the tracks are eerily silent. Taking screenshots is the best part of the game. Anything that isn’t a menu or a pre-rendered cut scene can be screen captured. It’s great trying to find funny poses or getting that risque’ shot.
The world is beautiful, but cramped. There are too few towns present and constantly reused. There doesn’t seem to be any real reward for traversing the world other than the random item grabs from chests, and that’s a moot point since they’re not actually needed. You will often be penalized with battles while searching the world and can easily get lost if you do not know the area. The map has fine artwork, but isn’t useful at all. It only tells the name of your current location. There’s no checking routes from place to place, nor an accurate enough drawing for a feature like that to matter.
Many times during gameplay, I simply didn’t know where to go. The characters will make plans in a cut scene to meet someplace and that will be it for all the help given. They speak as if you live in their world of Chocobo’s that can’t wait for their riders to dismount. Now here’s the silver lining of the storm. The game allows signs to be ripped off of posts to guide players to its’ destination. That’s great if you know the route to take, but it’d be a bit like me telling you to go to Chicago from California and expecting you to learn the route via highways on your own with a map that only shows the outline of states. Exploration is linear, but fun in that it usually leads to a new event or cut scene. As far as the actual adventuring goes, everything is point and clicksville. Swinging from chandeliers, jumping among rubble or across gaps only require hitting “A”. There isn’t any positioning, no timing, just hit a when the blue ball appears.
I enjoyed this game for an amount of time equal to the amount it frustrated me. The frustration is provided by all the wrong causes and the game as a whole doesn’t come together well. I enjoyed this niche game more than I disliked it since I can be a masochist. It’s a very short experience that can be shallow and insulting at times with its’ battle system or plot twists. To think I waited four years for this. Eagerly anticipating this game the way I did more worthy titles like Muramasa: The Demon Blade or Dead Space Extraction. As I noted earlier, the game is full of charm, and there is fun to be had. It’s very inconsistent fun because the quality spikes deeply throughout the experience. It feels as if parts of the game were simply clipped. I finished the game with 37 hours on the clock. 24 of which were spent on a pause screen. 3 hours were spent finding out where to go next. And about 2 hours were spent trying to get certain poses or pictures or just plain terrorizing people. I recommend this game to anyone that like to play weird or very off games like I do. If you’re like this, then you must already know that sometimes the game rewards you, other time you reward the game.