You know, sometimes it can be really hard living with telekinetic powers. For one thing, everyone tends to treat you like a freak: people don't invite you to parties as they're worried that you'll get drunkenly belligerent and make their head explode, like that bit in Scanners. Still, it's certainly a gift that has its advantages. If you're watching TV and can't find the remote, you can change the channel via your little grey cells. And when a ferret steals something important from you, you can levitate the little bugger and smash his brains out against a wall.
If you were playing any other game series, you might be surprised to find yourself molesting a rodent with your mental prowess - but this is the Crystal Chronicles series, an offshoot of the Final Fantasy franchise. Round here, you come to expect such oddness. As a follow-up to 2003's well-received Gamecube action RPG, Crystal Bearers seems to be packed with all the familiar FF ingredients: eccentric characters, a world filled with deformed-yet-cute races, and an epic, apocalyptic storyline. After an initial announcement at E3 in 2005, Square Enix promptly fell silent and refused to talk about the project - leading many gamers to assume it had been canned. As it turns out, the game is alive and well- and since the Wii is hardly overflowing with top-quality RPGs, we're hoping it'll be worth the wait.
Crystal Bearers actually takes place roughly 1000 years after its Gamecube-based predecessor. As you'd might expect, things have changed quite a bit: one of the world's four main races, the magic-focused Yukes, have all but disappeared after a long war with the Lilties - a nation of feudal midgets. These stunty chaps have all but completely banned the use of magic, with the exception of a few chosen warriors, known as Crystal Bearers. Naturally, you play one of these lucky few - a blond haired hero by the name of Layle, with a magical stone embedded in his cheek.
At the start of the story, Layle has been assigned to guard a giant Liltian airship known as the Alexis. This is supposed to be a fairly straightforward assignment, and when we first find Layle he's actually asleep in the cockpit of his escort aircraft. This slumber is short-lived, however, and he's soon woken by his partner - a red-headed Selkie named Keiss. A massive group of winged monsters suddenly appear out of nowhere, so Layle takes them on in bravado fashion: he hurls an enormous gun out into the air, then dives out after it and battles the monsters as he falls. Gravity based street-death is no fear for this young chap, as he can more or less flying using his telekinetic powers.
This fight proves to be your first interaction in the game. Layle's movement is handled automatically, while you use the remote to aim and gun down the flying beasties assaulting the Alexis. It's a simple enough introduction to the action, but it works well as a set piece to get the ball rolling - and importantly, it establishes Layle as a bit of a badass. The winged demons go down without too much hassle, but it's just the start of our hero's problems: almost as soon as the fight is over, a mysterious gold-armoured Yuke appears aboard the Alexis. This new threat, who goes by the name of Amidatelion, promptly steals the crystals which power the ship.
Layle confronts Goldilocks and engages him in a duel - sadly this fight plays out via cutscene. The thief is ultimately driven away, and he loses a crystal fragment as he flees, but unfortunately the Alexis is left in critical condition. Layle's commanding officer, a big man named Commander Jegran, orders the bearer to depart the ship and to leave the passengers to their doom - but our hero has other ideas. He takes control of the ship and steers it through a tight canyon to an area where it can safely crash-land. During this section the player controls the Alexis by leaning left and right with the Remote and Nunchuk in each hand, attempting to guide the craft away from the canyon's steep walls - although it's all but impossible to avoid a few collisions. As you ricochet off the stony walls you'll listen to the terrified reactions of a Selkie photographer called Belle; her role in the opening scenes is fairly minor, but she's an important character and may well be some form of love interest for Layle.
Luckily, you can't actually fail this flying section; i'm not sure, but I'm guessing the same might be true of the initial sky battle. You do get a score for your performance in the monster fight, but to a large extent the action is just there for the fun of it. These two episodes are clearly designed to add a bit of spice to the opening section moments of the story, but apparently they also set the tone for the wider game, which will frequently segue into similar minigames. It's only when Layle arrives at the Liltian capital city that you begin to get a feel for the "normal" gameplay. Here you move about using the Nunchuk stick, while the D-pad is used to manually shift the camera angle as it follows Layle.
Meanwhile the Remote used to guide a cursor around the screen. Hovering over an object and hitting A will let you interact, while the B trigger allows you to harness Layle's mental powers. Just target the object you want to grab, hold the button and shake the controller. One early puzzle finds you using this method to fix a large clock, if you want to you can run amok - knocking over pedestrians and causing total chaos. Before long you run into the nerdy princess Althea - another potential love interst (i'm guessing) and the owner of the aforementioned ferret. The troublesome rodent steals the crystal you acquired from Amidatelion, leading to an anarchic chase through the city's busy shopping area. NPCs display their emotional state with little icons over their heads, so you know exactly how they feel when you accidentally pick them up and shake them about - and since the ferret is a slippery little git, this will probably happen quite a bit before you finaly get your shiny rock back. It's a nice little slapstick moment, and it also sets one of the overriding themes of the games - namely people's mistrust of magic-users, and the discrimination that Layle suffers as a result.
There's obviously only so much you can glean from a game of this size on the basis of the opening half hour or so, but it's certainly safe to say that Crystal Bearers has had a lot of effort put into it. The voice acting is of a very high standard, and it looks pretty good too: there's plenty of detail to the game world, and while the models do tend to look a bit jagged around the edges, there's plenty of charm to the art style: the game bears a more exaggerated, caricature-like look than most of the past Final Fantasy games, and yet it's relation to that series is still very evident. The real questions hover over how it will play - and for that we'll need to sample more than just a pair of minigames. For now, the combination of physics and telekinesis seems to be a good foundation for mischief - and since the final game is out early next year, it won't be long before we can form a more rounded impression.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers will be released on Wii on February 5.