So, I thought I'd give my try at the latest Final Fantasy installment, FFCC: The Crystal Bearers. I approached the game with a lot of skepticism. If you know me, you'll know I'm not too big of a fan of Square Enix, especially Final Fantasy the grand over ratings people give purely because of their fanboy ways. I was also approaching the game with a crop of reviews out there, giving it pretty average or mediocre reviews, which I've read myself. But personally, the game grabbed my interest enough to throw it on my brand-spankin' new external hard drive (yay Christmas!) and give it a run. And what can I say, reviewers are wrong, this game is actually pretty fun. Most Square games get pretty good reviews, so I was kinda puzzled on why this one didn't. After some thought, I figured it out. First off, Square Enix sucks a lot of video game reviewer cock, meaning they'll shove gift baskets and "exclusive news" to professional reviewers left and right. I'm guessing Square didn't do that this time. I mean, FFXIII already sold like, I don't know, a bazillion copies in Japan, not to mention that FF fanboys would buy this game regardless of reviews. And surprisingly, there's a lot of FF fanboys here in the States (and a lot more in Japan). Second, the game is called Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers. So when you see "Crystal Chronicles" in a FF game, you expect a Crystal Chronicles experience. Multiplayer, lots of ARPG aspects, you know the deal. The Crystal Bearers really abandons those concepts for a more casual, approachable game that is much more comparable to the likes of Zelda than its Crystal Chronicles predecessors. I myself haven't played the previous Crystal Chronicles games so I didn't approach the game expecting those things. Third, the game had four and a half years of development. Yeah, that long. A lot of reviewers were expecting it to be "OMG 4 YEARS DEVELOPMENT IT'LL BE AMAZING BEST GAME EVER!" It's not. It's not polished all the way, but just because it isn't the perfect game doesn't mean it deserves a score in contrast to cooking time. If I make myself a dinner in 3 minutes in the ol' nuker that tastes just as good as a 5-hour one, why do I care? That's my dumb little metaphor, if you understood what I meant at all. Well, that's my explanation of the average reviews from the "professional" gaming sites. Anyway, the game focuses on Layle, a "Crystal Bearer". As a Crystal Bearer, he gains magical powers, namely being able to manipulate the environment (think of Sylar from Heroes, if you watch that). So it's sorta a much more refined telekinesis, if you think about it. Anyway, like most futuristic FF games, magic has long since died and been replaced by technology. Airships, trains, guns, you know the deal. Layle is aboard an airship when he gets attacked by a powerful Yuke, a tribe that's long since been wiped out. As Layle safely guides the airship to the ground, he embarks on a quest to find the Yuke. The plot itself isn't bad, it's just not explained all too well. There's not a lot of background in the beginning and things aren't quite explained thoroughly, even later in the game. You won't be thrown off the plot wagon, but it's no smooth ride. If you're really into the Final Fantasy universe you'll probably enjoy it, if not then you'll probably think it's average. As for the organization of menus and stuff, it's simply laid out and easily accessible, as well as looking pretty. The gameplay of The Crystal Bearers is, as I mentioned before, nothing like that of previous CC titles. With that, I'll have to say it's not completely hardcore. There's no grinding and not a whole lot of penalties or huge challenge. That being said, it's not always bad, maybe just unexpected. It's rare a game can really sit comfortably on the border of a hardcore game and a casual game, but this can do that. I'd say it's about on-par with the challenge of Twilight Princess, which had some harder moments but overall wasn't super challenging. I can say, with that, that the game plays out kinda like Zelda games. It's got combat and exploration intertwined. There's also some "mini-game" segments, which can go from shooting down bad guys while falling through the sky to hiding from guards on a train. The combat itself isn't "broken" like some reviewers say. It just takes some getting used to. Layle doesn't carry around swords or shields or staffs. All of the combat is using Layle's Crystal Bearer power. You can pick up things in the environment, from barrels to rocks to fallen enemies, and throw them at bad guys. You can also throw bad guys and attack them. I myself found it pretty fun to throw things in your environment at bad guys, or even just throwing bad guys themselves. The main problem though is that I found the Wii remote to be a little overly sensitive, so it's hard to really pinpoint bad guys. Well, I'm not great with Wiimote pointing anyway, so that could just be the problem. Overall though, the combat is nicely spaced out between the game and works quite well. The exploration parts are pretty good too. You'll be going through nicely laid out environments, using Layle's power to jump over gaps or climb up obstacles. It's a little more exploration intensive than Zelda, and rightly so, since Link doesn't have much in the ways of magical jumping powers or the strength of a Russian gymnast. While this problem is an overarching one, I thought I'd bring it up here, and that's the camera. You'll spend a lot of time adjusting the camera, which is quite annoying, not to mention you'll get absolutely terrible camera angles more times than granted. The first hour or so of gameplay you'll be really fighting with the camera, and after that it'll still be an annoyance, but a manageable one. As for the mini-games, like many review sites have said, they're nicely done. They're well spaced out so the game isn't a minigame collection with some adventure in it, or an adventure game with dumb minigames. They have a nice amount of diversity and really use the Wiimote well. They're also scored, so you'll want to go back and retry them for higher scores. While the game does have it's problems here and there, it's still great fun. The graphics and sound here are, well, alright. Reviewers said the game was beautiful but the combat was terrible. I sorta think the other way around. Well, the game doesn't look terrible by any means. I just wouldn't say it's awesome, mind-blowingly good. Most of the character models and environments are good, but you'll notice an occasional terrible texture or jagged lines. Not to mention what I found really annoying was the lip animations in cutscenes. The words are in sync and all, but the lips just don't move like they should. I found that surprising, since Square is usually quite good with this stuff. As for the sound, it has a nice amount of grand overtures for the peaceful areas, as well as some heavy stuff for combat and action-intensive areas. I liked the mix of the music quite a bit and found it appropriate for the different moods of the game. The voice-over work wasn't bad by any means, just a little cheesy now and then. And I swear, if I hear them say "Crystal Bearer!" one more time I'm going to stab a baby in the face. Overall, I wouldn't really take the numbers of professional reviewers without a grain of salt. I'm an avid Square critic, a Final Fantasy basher, and fanboy hater at heart, and I'm saying this game is good. It has it's problems here and there and maybe it doesn't feel like four years of work, but does that really matter? It's a fun game at heart, and if you set aside all your expectations before you start, you may just feel the way I do. Presentation: The story is is a little bumpy and lacks some context and details, but you'll still get an idea. If you're an avid Final Fantasy fan, you'll probably get the story easily. If not, you won't be thrown off by it, but it'll be a little harder to understand. Menus are nicely laid out and look pretty. 7/10 Graphics: The character models and environments look great... for the most part. You'll notice every now and then a terrible texture or a lot of jagged lines, but if you're a Wii owner, you're pretty accustomed to that. Lip animations could be better. The in-game screenshot option is a nice addition. 7.8/10 Audio: A nice mixture of grand, orchestral overtures and rock-driven action music. The music fits the mood. Voice over work isn't great, but that's mainly due to the slightly corny script. They enjoy calling Layle "Crystal Bearer" a lot, and it annoys the fucking shit out of me. 7.5/10 Gameplay: Nicely segmented action, exploration, and mini-game sequences. A lot of Zelda-esque elements. Combat is nicely done, using the Wiimote to grab and throw the environment at bad guys. Exploration through the pretty landscapes is made better by the addition of Layle's powers. Mini-games are great, and are spaced and paced great throughout the game. Camera is a nuisance and the Wiimote can be a little fussy now and then, but it's not enough to destroy the game by any means. It's not a Crystal Chronicles game by any means, but it's fun as hell. 8.5/10 Lasting Appeal: The adventure is pretty damn long, ranging from 25-30 hours. There's an in-game achievements system, mini-game scores to beat, sidequests to do, things to discover, treasure to be found, so on and so forth. For an action-adventure title like this, there's a lot of play time. 9/10 Overall: 8.2/10 I bet you were expecting a "BOOO 2/10 THIS GAME IS TERRIBLE!" from me, but what do I say?