With the Crystal Chronicles series, Square-Enix has deviated from its core RPG roots in favour of more accessible gameplay. The third title in the series, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Crystal Bearers, is further proof of the RPG veteran's need to experiment, with a much firmer emphasis placed on action and adventure. Taking place some 1000 years after the events of the original GameCube game, things have changed quite dramatically. Swords have been replaced by guns, the magic wielding Yuke Tribe has been driven to extinction, and alchemy has been outlawed by the Liltian Kingdom. Only a select few are born with magical powers, and are known as the Crystal Bearers.
Enter Layle; a floppy haired and strangely attired young man who just so happens to wield powerful telekinetic magic. Born with a crystal shard in his body, the titular Crystal Bearer is shunned by society and forced to pick up a job as a mercenary where his powers are hired out to anybody with enough gil. The opening scenes see Layle guarding a luxury airship, where his skills are quickly required after the thought-to-be-extinct Yuke Tribe launches an attack. Grabbing a large gun, Layle throws himself overboard, where the player, Wii Remote and Nunchuck in hand, must shoot down the winged hostiles while skydiving through the air.
It's a high octane start to the game, and in true Final Fantasy fashion the story that unfolds is well crafted and suitably epic, if a little generic. Pursuing a Yuke known as Goldenrod, Layle finds himself at the centre of a conspiracy where the life and death of all four races hang in the balance. The world in which this all takes place compliments the narrative perfectly, and is unquestionably one of the game's finest assets. From the steam punk inspired towns of the Clavat race to the golden sands of Costa Faguita, the Crystal Chronicles universe has never looked so beautiful. The marriage of plot and game world is consummated by an equally impressive soundtrack, with the catchy, fantastical influences of Hidenori Iwasaki (Final Fantasy XI, Vagrant Story) coming through strong.
Even after the impressive opening, the game refuses to loosen its grip on your attention for one second. One minute you're piloting an airship through a treacherous gorge, the next you're taking out enemies in a frantic on-rails Chocobo pursuit, and not long after that you're surfing through the rapids of an underground cave. Crystal Bearers offers plenty of diversity to its moment to moment gameplay, but sadly there are fundamental flaws lurking in the gaps between these refreshing set-pieces.
Chances are if you're not talking, exploring or throwing NPCs off bridges, you'll be fighting. The combat system is quite unlike anything the Final Fantasy series has thrown up before; there's no turn based command giving, no spells or summons, hell, there aren't even any weapons. Crystal Bearers builds its combat system exclusively around Layle's ability to throw enemies around the screen like unwanted toys. By pointing the Wii-mote at the screen and then pressing and holding the B button, Layle will grab hold of an enemy with a burst of blue magic. From here, a quick shake will send it flying across the screen, or a sharp pull up will raise the enemy above Layle's head, where it can be used as a projectile against another foe.
The whole thing feels awkward at first, as you never actually make contact with the enemy. There are no clashes of swords or little white numbers popping up to let you know how much damage you're doing. This lack of connection gives combat a bland feel to it, and the limited options available to Layle make the whole affair tiresome. A sub-par camera makes targeting enemies an issue too, as well as down-right ruining the frequent platform aspects of the game. Ultimately, combat is a chore, which in a game that relies so heavily upon it, is a crying shame.