Let’s face it, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers didn’t get a very warm reception. With a map that no one knew what to do with, characters who spoke about one word per second in nauseating bouts of pretty awful voice-acting, Crystal Bearers was a disappointment on all fronts to almost everyone.
Except me, it seems.
I for one really enjoyed this game, and have sunk over thirty hours into it. While it perhaps didn’t quite live up to my expectations, I certainly don’t think it deserved the critical pan that most reviewers dished out when it was released. I agree that the map is the most useless thing I’ve ever encountered in my life, but underneath all its flaws I believe there’s a game possibly even more fulfilling that its more widely appreciated GameCube predecessor, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles.
Don’t be sad, Layle. Some people liked your game (just not very many).
Something a lot of critics didn’t like was the game’s battle system. An integral component of any Final Fantasy game, our hero Layle took an unconvential route to Final Fantasy fighting by using his crystal bearer powers to levitate objects and hurl them toward enemies in real-time. There were no magic spells, no fancy, over-sized weapons and no reams of stats. It was an action-adventure game rather than an RPG, and an even more unusual twist to the combat was that monsters only appeared in certain areas for a limited amount of time.
I’ll admit that it does get a bit repetitive, particularly with the easier battle areas. The simple mechanics of flicking the Wii Remote in one direction or another are overused, and more often than not you can just run straight through the hoards of monsters, thereby making the entire system somewhat redundant.
But once you’ve cleared an area a few times, the battles do actually start to become quite tricky. Players need to really think about how they can utilise their environments to their own advantage in order to get the job done quickly enough and collect their reward.
It presents a distinctly different challenge to Crystal Chronicles— and indeed most other Final Fantasy games– which was more about relying on your character’s strengths as opposed to your surroundings (and let’s not forget that you could also run straight past enemies in Crystal Chronicles too). For instance, I’m still struggling to take down a Malboro in the Eastern Wildlands because I can’t figure out for the life of me how to take it down within the allotted time. I’ve come pretty close (which is particularly frustrating when the timer bell starts tolling), but each attempt has missed the mark due to my inefficient battle technique, and I think this emphasis on the player’s actions themselves was rather overlooked upon its release. Sure, the only thing waiting for me is more life I probably don’t really need, but when have Final Fantasy games ever not given you more to do just for the sake of it?
Even inconspicuous parts of the environment, like small buckets of water, can be used to unlock “new reactions”.
This brings me neatly onto my next point: the medal awards. It’s here where the game really shines and keeps me coming back for more. The main story might not have been very long or particularly ground-breaking, but I think the way Crystal Bearers utilised its large open-world map always meant that the best gameplay experiences would come more from exploring each individual area than by simply following the story.
Some of them aren’t very easy to figure out either, and the more obscure achievements require some pretty lateral thinking. Take the “Malboro in Bloom” medal, for example. To unlock this award, you’ve got to open a Malboro’s mouth during the aforementioned Eastern Wildlands Campaign and then throw in “something nutritious,” which turns out to be a milk can. Not the first thing you think of doing when fighting a huge, ravenous monster, is it? There are many more awards like this though, and it’s only through experimentation and testing the game’s limits that some of them can be uncovered.
Crystal Chronicles, on the other hand, didn’t have anything like this. It was a much more straight-forward affair– beat the bad guys, collect the myrrh, move on to the next area, rinse and repeat. There wasn’t any facility to probe deeper into the game’s world because each environment was so disconnected from the next, and I always thought that was a real shame. Any semblance of exploration and delving further into the mystery of the world was solely dictated by the plot, and apart from the occasional random encounter with other passing caravans to break up your journey, you often had no choice but to follow the story and continue doing more of the same.
But Crystal Bearers did away with this rigid level structure and created a seamless continent with beautifully crafted locations, each with their own unique aesthetic and charm. Before Xenoblade Chronicles came along it was by far one of the most impressive and involving open game worlds since Star Fox Adventures.
Red Leaf Station is easily one of the most breathtaking locations in the entire game.
As much as I loved the design and look of each individual area in Crystal Chronicles, it was ultimately lacking in what Crystal Bearers does so well– namely, create a cohesive and engaging world. For example, if you visit the city of Alfitaria in Crystal Chronicles, there’s barely anything to do there. There’s the odd shop, but you can’t step inside any of the houses and there’s only a few dead-end paths to walk through. Its imposing and bustling facade was only skin deep, and nearly every city or town suffered the same lack of substance. Compare that with the Alfitaria of Crystal Bearers and a remarkable transformation has occured. Granted 1000 years (and a whole console cycle) have passed, but it’s now a hub of activity, with places to go, people to see and awards to unlock.
There may have been one too many mini-game style activities for my liking (Belle’s beach revenge, I’m looking at you!) and the ease of using the warp system could be improved, but in the end Crystal Bearers did a much better job at creating an environment players really wanted to explore. I’m not making excuses for the less polished aspects of the game, and I’m not saying that its flaws don’t hamper the overall gameplay experience, but ultimately I think Crystal Bearers deserves a little more praise than it’s received so far.