Glimmers Of Greatness In Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Crystal Bearers

By Ishaan . March 21, 2010 . 5:19pm

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Here’s a little insight into my life. I’m what my friends like to call a "workaholic." Usually, I use the precious few spare hours left in my week to try — keyword, "try" — and play some games.

 

http://www.siliconera.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/fsr.jpg Since I don’t have much free time, naturally, this is reflected in my gaming habits — mainly in that my tolerance for games I personally don’t enjoy is at an all-time low. Now, I want to make it clear I don’t mean this in an I’m-too-elitist-to-enjoy-games-anymore way; rather, I play games to be entertained and to be made to think and to learn from them. Now, I would argue that’s a fairly wide range of possibilities for a game to appeal to me. So, if a game can’t accommodate even a single one of those desires, I feel like it isn’t worth my time. And if something doesn’t seem like it’s worth my time, I drop it at the third sign of trouble, with no remorse whatsoever, because, as I said, I have to be selective.

 

The kind of games that appeal to me are:

 

a) Ridiculously fun b) Constantly "entertaining," even if they aren’t "fun" c) Neither of the above, but do something interesting that grabs my interest anyway.

 

While a) is pretty straightforward, b) is a little more subjective. My idea of "entertaining" usually pertains to an interesting story or interesting characters. I’m very prone to spending hours upon hours chatting with certain equally obsessive friends about differences in character personalities, motives that aren’t expressed clearly within the story and even occasionally trying to figure out what a designer / manga-ka / director was thinking when he or she made a particular design decision. It isn’t unusual at all to wake up at 7AM one morning and find myself debating with someone about whether or not Time Hollow had further untapped potential in how it largely did away with a lot of the stereotypes one would expect to see in a game of its kind.

 

A game could be terrible, design-wise, but as long as it has a decent story or interesting characters, I’ll probably like it anyway. This is why you see me try to spread awareness of visual novels. This is why I adore Mana Khemia 2 and don’t like Shiren the Wanderer. This is why I can’t enjoy, say 70%, of today’s JRPGs, and why, when there is one that I do happen to enjoy, no matter how low-budget or niche, I take it upon myself to push it on the site as hard as I can.

 

This is why I want to talk about Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers.

 

http://www.siliconera.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/cb_e306.jpg While the end product couldn’t have turned out any more different than one initially imagined, Crystal Bearers first debuted in CG form in 2006 during Nintendo’s E3 press conference. At the time, it looked like it would be the successor to the original Crystal Chronicles on Gamecube, both in terms of design and aesthetic. Sure, it was no Final Fantasy XIII — whose own trailer made jaws drop — but it was a follow-up to a very unique game nevertheless. Then, for nearly two years after its initial reveal, nothing. All was quiet.

 

To everyone on the outside, it seemed like producer Akitoshi Kawazu’s team at Square Enix had gone silent to focus on finishing up the game’s development. After all, it had been shown off at E3 to commemorate the launch of the Wii — it couldn’t be far off from release, could it?

 

Unfortunately, that notion couldn’t have been farther from the truth. The truth is, when Crystal Bearers was revealed at E3, actual production of the game had barely commenced. Once production work did begin in earnest, the project spiraled down into development issues that nearly resulted in it being canceled. Whether the reboot into the final design was initiated before or after these troubled times is unknown, but Crystal Bearers spent another good three years in the boiling pot before it was ready for its controversial release at a time when expectations of Square Enix were sky-high.

 

Hey, wait a second. Some of this sounds rather familiar. Oh, that’s right.

 

The difference between that game and this one, however, is that Crystal Bearers is the closest Square Enix have ever gotten to creating a game with a healthy blend of eastern and western design, and it’s criminal that they aren’t pushing it harder. Let’s start from the beginning.

 

When the first real Crystal Bearers trailer was shown off in early 2009, a lot of us were initially taken aback. Bluegrass music? Telekinesis? A complete lack of weapons? Spin-off or not, this game still had "Final Fantasy" in the title…what were Square thinking, showing off this monstrosity?

 

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But then, we watched the trailer again. And again. And again. And each time, it seemed a little bit cooler than the last, until many of us couldn’t help but grin foolishly when Layle jumped off the airship at the end, in pursuit of a bazooka, yelling at the top his lungs, thrilled by the prospect of blowing up giant dragons while plummeting in a free-fall to the ground.

 

There was potential here. The lead character looked badass. His potential love interest was curiously interesting, too. And there wasn’t a hint of CG throughout the entire trailer, which meant this really was how pretty the game would look. As more trailers trickled in throughout the year, Crystal Bearers caught more and more attention — some of it positive for being so bold and daring, but a lot of it negative because…well, it wasn’t Final Fantasy XIII.

 

Sadly, that’s just the way things work within our insatiable demographic. We complain about pretty boys and emo kids and terrible characterization, but when a Square game eschews all of those in favour of trying something different and entertaining, we ignore it.

 

Ridding Itself of Stereotypes

 

To me, the Crystal Bearers trailers all said the same thing: "this is going to be one hell of an entertaining game." And while the end product is far from the best game released in 2009, for everything it does wrong, it does a lot right.

 

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Take Layle and Keiss — the game’s free-for-hire "mercenary" leads — for instance. They’re bold, spontaneous, down-to-earth, both utterly badass and have a fascinating relationship that sometimes feels like it doesn’t require words. They’re the best of friends, but they’ve got their differences and their issues with each other, which is something the game touches upon frequently.

 

Keiss, while bold and intelligent, is an opportunist first and foremost. He desires fame and acceptance, and he’ll do what he needs to, to acquire both. For those unfamiliar with Crystal Chronicles lore, Keiss is part of a race called Selkies, who are essentially considered outlaws and frowned upon in the era during which CB takes place. Part of what Keiss does, it would appear, is in the interest of breaking free of that reputation by getting in the government’s good books, and hopefully, improving relations between Selkies and Lilties (the ruling tribe) as a whole.

 

Layle, on the other hand, is reckless and craves adventure, and never passes up the opportunity to show off and have some fun at the expense of pissing a lot of people off. On the one hand, his behaviour tends to annoy Keiss, who does his best to keep out of trouble and play it straight. On the other, he and Keiss are inseparable because deep down, they’re quite similar. For you see, Layle is part of the Clavat race, which is the equivalent of the downtrodden, agricultural lower-class in this game. To top that, he’s also a "crystal bearer" — beings with a magical crystal imbued in their bodies that give them special powers.

 

Unfortunately, crystal bearers are feared and discriminated against. While it hasn’t been explicitly stated — at least not yet — it’s obvious Layle’s showboating and confidence come from years of dealing with this treatment, to the point where he’s just learnt to ignore it in the same way an adult wouldn’t let everyone else’s opinion bother them.

 

The two work in perfect coordination with each other when it comes to carrying out missions. When separated to handle individual missions, their trust helps them carry out their own responsibilities without worrying about how the other is doing. And yet, somehow, at the end of the day, they manage to be a couple of wise-cracking kids anyway. They’re probably the most interesting characters I’ve seen in a Square Enix game, period.

 

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Then there’s Belle, another member of the Selkie tribe and Layle’s "love interest," so to speak. They start out hating each other’s guts, but each subsequent run in gets increasingly bold and flirtatious, until you’re practically yelling in your head for one to admit they’re interested in the other. Like Layle and Keiss, Belle is as far from brooding and angsty as you could possibly get. She’s sharp, self-centred (although, in a very cute way) and a thief to the bone. Her frequent run-ins with Layle were some of the biggest highlights in the game for me, personally.

 

Every character in the game, in fact, stands out in their own way. The voice-acting is convincing enough to convey their unique personalities, and for those of us out of our adolescent years and wanting characters we can reasonably believe in and relate to, Crystal Bearers has a few. Most importantly, it doesn’t try to resort to tragedy or death or temporary amnesia to achieve this, and while it’s a lively game, it’s not without its emotional moments.

 

Then there’s the actual gameplay experience itself. We’ve already done an extensive playtest of how the game plays, but there are a few points that weren’t mentioned in Spencer’s write-up that I’d very much like to address.

 

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A Combination of East-meets-West Design

 

As I mentioned earlier, Crystal Bearers is probably the first time in recent memory Square have successfully blended eastern and western game design without sacrificing any of the "quirkiness" you’d expect from a game out of Japan. The environments are open for exploration, and while they can certainly feel rather empty (in terms of a variety of things to do) at times, there’s enough experimentation within the combat and the realization of the world to make me glad this isn’t yet another strictly linear turn-based RPG.

 

Something in particular that stands out is the in-game "news feed," which is a horizontal bar of scrolling text that always displays at the bottom of the screen. The news feed gives you information about the area you’re in, events taking place, and sometimes offers in-game tips pertinent to your current quest. It’s a simple feature, but it goes a long way toward making the world feel more alive, and makes you feel like you’re part of it. It fits the feel of the game, and best of all, you don’t have to switch into a menu to access it — it’s always running and constantly feeding you information, should you want to read it. I felt it was an incredibly forward-thinking feature with a lot of potential.

 

The presentation of characters and events, too, is very unlike your traditional Japanese game. Crystal Bearers isn’t afraid to take risks with its characters and to flesh out potentially interesting circumstances for fear of not being accepted by its Japanese audience. And you know what, I’ll come out and say it: while I love the man’s eye for detail and unmatched ability at Square to design a fun game, I’m glad this one isn’t drawn by Tetsuya Nomura. The art style is a real sight for sore eyes.

 

Constantly Entertaining

 

For better or worse, another thing Final Fantasy XIII and Crystal Bearers have in common is that they don’t really ever pause to give you a break. In both games, the story is relentless and keeps you moving. While in FFXIII, this is largely due to its linear structure, in CB, it’s because, despite the large open-world, there really isn’t all that much to do. It’s a lot like Twilight Princess in that regard, really, and it’s the game’s biggest flaw.

 

However, when it comes to the main quest, CB is chock-full of minigames and events and regular battles and exciting story sequences, and its greatest strength is that it never lets up, mixing each of these at regular intervals to keep things feeling alive. You’ll find yourself coming out of one big event into yet another of the game’s brilliantly choreographed cutscenes time and time again, should you choose to pursue the story. I love that you’re never allowed to feel like it’s wasting your time.

 

I said earlier that I tend to have a low tolerance for games that fail to be entertaining. Fortunately, while Crystal Bearers — just like FFXIII — doesn’t live up to the gargantuan expectations of a modern-day Final Fantasy game, it’s a fascinating and extremely entertaining experiment, considering it was developed internally at Square Enix. While I know this is wishful thinking, I hope, someday, the higher-ups at Square realize that Kawazu and his Crystal Chronicles team are exactly the kind of talent they need to tap into, if they want to tear themselves away from their tendency to recycle their own ideas and actually learn from western game design.

 

The problem is, Square’s loyal fanbase is doing everything it can to send them the exact opposite message by lapping up everything the "bishie-squad" churns out and ignoring their more daring ventures, all the while complaining about how the company refuses to meet modern standards.



  • http://denpanosekai.blogspot.com denpanosekai

    How were sales on this baby? Seems like it took forever to come out.

    • Artavasdus

      In Japan it was one of the worst selling FF ever, just a little above the Wii port of Echoes of Time. In the USA it underperformed, but I don’t think we have complete sales data. Overall, it was a flop, especially counting the japanese marketing SE did to push the game (do you remember the Bon Jovi advertising?).

      • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

        Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if sales in the U.S. were half decent. It’s got the Final Fantasy brand attached to it and it’s on a very mainstream system. Stuff with a strong brand usually tends to be noticed.

        • Artavasdus

          Unfortunately the only piece of info I have regarding american sales was the first NPD data who had FF CB at 40k in the USA, but since this total accounts only for the first four days of sales (the game was released on the 26th of december) it could be better than it looks. That said, following NPD entries didn’t report any update regarding its sales or its position in the top chart, and so the consensus is that it was a flop, even if it probably outsold the japanese release.

          In Europe it wasn’t even reported in the UK charts after its release in february, and this sadly can only be seen as a failure.

          That said, the FF spin offs on Wii have all performed badly, except maybe for Chcocobo (though that one sports the FF name only in its western releases, being originally part of the Fushigi no Dungeon series) despite the franchise’s popularity and the Wii’s vast userbase.

          I think it’s a shame since FF CB had many interesting ideas and was in many ways a fresh experience, even if it had its fair share of problems (personally I found the action too monotonous at times, the plot was too short and didn’t live up to its full potential and the mute npcs made the cities less lively than they could have been) I still can’t understand all the hate it received on many boards and sites.

        • thebanditking

          Final Fantasy or not there was not a lot of buzz for this one and we all know how 3rd party software sells on Wii. Unless this was Final Fantasy: ExcerciZ Carnival! it had its work cut out for it.

  • http://www.Painted-Pixels.com PaintedPixels

    re: denpanosekai
    I believe GoNintendo reported that the sales were, sadly, quite poor.

  • Guest

    “The problem is, Square’s loyal fanbase is doing everything it can to send them the exact opposite message by lapping up everything the “bishie-squad” churns out and ignoring their more daring ventures, all the while complaining about how the company refuses to meet modern standards.”

    This may be true to some extent, but I get the feeling that people are also ignoring it because the game itself is terrible.

    • Vino21

      That’s the case with me anyway… I gave this game a very fair shot, as I do with all the others.

      And there ya have it…this game is god-awful. :(

    • thebanditking

      Im sorry but its not fans who didnt give the game a fair shake. The main series of Final Fantasy are fantastic, but the Crystal Chronicles series was never anything to write home about, its a shame the FF9 team is wasted on this.

  • kupomogli

    Anyone get a “I’m a rich stuck up douchebag” vibe from the main character? That’s the first thing I thought when looking at the game. Anyways. I only own one Wii game and don’t own a Wii, so that’s the reason I haven’t picked this game up, but more than likely wouldn’t. Last FF I was interested in was FF12 and that was sort of a disappointment.

    • tmoss

      I played it. He wasn’t rich or stuck up. I’d say poor and pompous. But douchebag is right on the money.

  • badmoogle

    Hmm,i think we have a different definition of the term “badass”,Ishaan.
    From all the videos and trailers i’ve seen the main character looks like a pompous hillbilly to me.
    And no i don’t consider Cloud or Squall as “badass” either.;)

    Still the open-world aspects,the beautiful art direction of the environments and the light-hearted story that doesn’t take itself too seriously sound very tempting.
    Also i agree that the newsfeed feature sounds like a great idea and i can imagine it makes the world feel more alive.
    Too bad the majority of NPC’s are lifeless mutes.:/

    • thebanditking

      Sephiroth is a “bad ass”. Squall and Cloud, while not bad ass are cool characters. This kid? Not so much.

  • Vino (Tim N)

    Every new game from Square Enix brings something new to the table. Theres usually something that people like or dislike. But this sounds interesting, and I like trying everything, so I might give this game a try.
    I jump games and don’t usually finish them, so maybe playing this for a bit might be fun.

  • Plethora22

    I think I’m getting old… I got this game with great excitement and lost interest fairly quickly. I couldn’t even tell you why, I agree with most everything said here I just found that after a little while the inclination to continue playing just left me. Of course, I did make the purchase, and from SE’s point of view that’s all that matters I suppose.

  • Justinzero

    I enjoyed this a few months ago, and I hope we get a sequel. The only improvements I want added would be a standard attack, and a better map.

    Anyone here think the game had quite a few similarities with Dawn of Mana?

    • Artavasdus

      Yeah, in many ways CB was DoM with a motion control system. I would like to know if the ideas behind DoM directly affected CB’s development.

    • Pesmerga00

      Glad I’m not the only one who thought of Dawn of Mana.

  • Mazen

    I loved this game the main character was great but the others were so so, it was a great game.

  • http://twitter.com/Xuiz enorka miho

    I kinda like this game… I am attracted to it.. but i feel it really is under appreciated cuz the characters are kinda fun.. but … as many as people do own a wii.. many out there do not own it as well..So if they were to sell it on ps3 or xbox i guess it will not flop that badly.. I am sure it will a series that make people remember.. i guess SE do make bad choices..

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1472407455 Charles Lupula

    I have not played it, but my ex has, and she was telling me she hated it. “I can’t believe they’d do that to Final Fantasy.” I explained it was a spin-off title and showed her the trailer for XIII on my PS3 and she got happy again.

    • http://twitter.com/mrchan Kelvin Chan

      If she knows enough about the FF franchise to have preconceptions of what it should look like (i.e. something that FFCCCB did not look like in her eyes), how can she not know the difference between a spinoff and the flagship series?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1472407455 Charles Lupula

        Because she’s been out of the loop since she and I lived together. I was the last guy she lived with who played games extensively and she loves playing (there are few things hotter than dating a fetish model who will spend 8 hours a day playing Suikoden III), but not enough to buy herself a system. She came back to New York to visit and the people she’s staying with have a Wii, which is the first thing she’s played in years.

  • Hraesvelgr

    People don’t like it when Square Enix does something different. Look at Final Fantasy XII or XIII. Hell, look at Front Mission Evolved, a game in a series most people in the US didn’t seem to care about, but when it becomes an Armored Core clone, people come out complaining.

    • thebanditking

      People hammering XII or XIII just because the games are different is narrow minded. That being said your comment included Front Mission, and I actually agree with the complaints. Front Mission is a long running RPG series (as Im sure your aware) but the anger over the series shift comes not from S-E trying something new but rather S-E shoehoring a known brand into the currently popular “action shooter” genre. Not to mention handing it off to a western developer who (so far) has show little respect to the series roots.

      That being said, I will bet that Front Mission Evolved will actually end up being bad enough to warrant all the complaints (much like Crystal Bearers).

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1472407455 Charles Lupula

      I didn’t dislike XII because it was different. I disliked it because it was awful.

  • thebanditking

    Rented it, and didn’t like it. I don’t know what to tell you Ishaan. I thought the story was silly, the characters uninteresting, and the voice work hovered between decent and terrible. I really did not like the battle system nor all the “throwing” of enemies and items. I also despise the timer they give you for each encounter, nothing sucks more the watching a monster die 2 seconds AFTER the timer is up and having to restart. No thanks.

  • TyeTheCzar

    This game looks too interesting to NOT try out. I’m more interested in this strange beast than FFXIII.

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