Endgame: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers

February 9, 2010

I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but yesterday marks the first time I’ve ever beaten a Final Fantasy game.

Granted, that game was Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers. This could be the shortest game ever to wield the Final Fantasy name. The timer on my save game said that I’d played it for just under 14 hours when I beat it, and that was after ample experimentation with the strange-but-fun combat system, a number of side quests, and even a few bouts of getting hopelessly lost. Say what you will about the reliability of forum dwellers, but a few posts over at GameFAQs indicate that the primary narrative can be beaten in under seven hours. Ludicrous as that may seem for a Final Fantasy game, it sounds about right given my own experience.

The brevity of the primary narrative only underscores a suspicion that permeated the first playthrough: The Crystal Bearers is not by any means a game to be beaten; rather, it is a game to be played. The narrative is secondary to the ability to live in the open world drawn up by Square Enix. If you choose not to follow the lure of the sidequests, there are parts of that world that you will never explore. Victory Monument and the Royal Stadium have nothing to do with the game’s narrative, but there are things to do. Why do them? For the “medals”, of course.

Perhaps sensing that there wasn’t a heck of a lot of motivation to run around and do these tasks (the rewards are generally pretty chintzy), Square Enix implemented a “medal system”, which is essentially a huge set of in-game achievements. Pick up an item for the first time, you get a medal. Defeat a group of baddies for the first time, you get a medal. Take out the trash, you get a medal. Win a game of “kickerbaul”, you get a medal. Catch a few fish at a fishing hole, you get a medal. If you manage to do something particularly well (or a whole bunch of times), you can even upgrade your bronze medals for gold ones. Picking up medals unlocks them on a “medal table”, which in turn opens up hints as to how to open more medals. The primary narrative of The Crystal Bearers may only last for seven hours or so, but picking up all of the gold medals in the game could well be a 100+ hour experience.

Is the world of The Crystal Bearers worth all of that revisiting? Well, some of the tasks are pretty entertaining, and I must admit that my own curiosity is piqued as to how best to conquer some of the more challenging telekinetic battles. Still, the utter lack of dialogue amongst the majority of townspeople takes something away from the sense that the world you’re in is a living and breathing one — again, it’s more like a playground with a bunch of toys to play with. Once you play with most of the toys, though, you can’t help but want to go somewhere else.

A couple of notes on the game’s final act (and that’s the closest thing you’re going to get to a SPOILER WARNING): It is yet another example of a game that decides it needs to completely change its play style for the game’s final sequence. Suddenly, our protagonist, Layle, becomes superpowered by the same energy that powers up the final boss, and the entire final sequence is done while, uh, air-surfing on a crystal or something. You’re still playing your telekinetic game of tossing things at other things, but you’re doing it while flying through the air. While the setting seems exciting, this sequence actually removes most of what makes most of the game fun: the puzzle aspect of combat that involves throwing things at other things and making wacky combinations of enemies and enemies, or enemies and inanimate objects. It’s big and epic as it should be, but the gameplay feels stripped down, almost an afterthought to the setpiece.

On the flipside, the ending is appropriately long and satisfying. There’s a happily ever after component, an unsolved mystery component, and a boat to nowhere. The story, as short as it was, was pretty interesting, and it’s nice to see so much attention paid to the dénouement despite the narrative simplicity.

All of that said, it’s also nice to have finally beaten a Final Fantasy game, even if it was a short one. Maybe XIII will be next.


One comment

  1. Nice post! My friend and I had played through the first hour or so of it a while ago. Reading this makes me want to see it through.

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