It's no stretch to say that Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers was a focal point of attention since its introduction before Wii was even known as Wii. Over four years later and after long periods of silence from Square-Enix—silence so severe it led EGM to spread the rumor it had been quietly cancelled—it finally saw release late last year.

Having already waited so very long for the game, Matt wasn't in any particular hurry to get to it—especially considering the divisive reaction it was receiving both in the press and community. Recently, though, he did get to it—and both Cory and he sat down to talk about both the game's myriad disappointments and what still made it worth playing in the end.

Matt: I had high hopes for this title, since I was really pretty thrilled with what they were doing with Ring of Fates. And then when they came out with the reveal, it basically had the best premise ever—a guy who starts the game with superpowers, fighting by throwing shit around. Man, was he cocky, too.

Cory: It's true, the setup for this game was pretty phenomenal, especially the notion of a more personal and character-driven look into a universe I'd become quite fond of over the history of the series.

Matt: And then the reviews came out. I had decided to hold off my day-one purchase based in part on those reviews and your impressions. So it took me a bit to get into it, and I remember the first thing I said to you after I finally got it: "This game is kind of a mess." All sorts of little issues, which I'm sure we'll be getting into here. But, in spite of them all, I was pleased to find that I really did dig the core mechanic, the idea of focusing your power in on something, grabbing it, and tossing it in a direction to accomplish pretty much everything.

Cory: That's part of what initially attracted me, the thought of being able to interact with everything in such a free-form capacity. And it's kind of a philosophy that suffuses the entire game. Whatever the situation calls for is whatever your mechanics become.

In a typical game you might wonder, why is it that every single problem that comes along can be solved with my base set of abilities? In a traditional RPG, for example, why is it that no matter what I need to do, it can be done via a turn-based battle? Crystal Bearers proposes a world where myriad problems indeed require myriad solutions, and you'll find yourself not merely interacting with the world in one general way, but in whatever fashion the plot demands.

It's only a shame that the execution starts to falter here and there. I had no end of hell trying to get vertical Wii Remote flicks to work, which wreaked havoc on my effectiveness in many situations.

Matt: I didn't seem to have any trouble with the motions, myself—once I figured out it was better to throw with B than a motion, at least—but the camera just ticked me off. I guess maybe I have too high a standard from playing one too many Nintendo games, but having to constantly manage it, particularly awkwardly on the d-pad, made me feel like I really wasn't being a very effective crystal bearer. I did try your tip to set it to smooth... but man, I just really didn't like having to do it at all. Particularly when it decided to snap things around on me.

Eventually me and the camera got along okay, though I got a little ill running in circles in one fight in particular... but none of it compared to the constant aggravation of the miasma streams.

Cory: Oh God. For the uninitiated, the issue here is multifaceted. The majority of the enemy encounters in Crystal Bearers work on a toggle, where the area you're in will switch to "combat mode" and spawn a variety of foes from a Miasma Stream that floats high in the air. It's annoying enough to have one of these streams spawn when you're trying to complete some kind of sidequest or interact with various NPCs, as they will all disappear until the battle is complete.

The real annoyance comes from the fact that these encounters are all time-limited. Maybe the thought behind this decision was that casual players (referenced as a target audience by the developers during numerous interviews) could become frustrated by the battles, and merely want to proceed if they fail for too long. So hey, let's just end the encounter after a couple minutes!

What this means, though, is that you're constantly feeling rushed. Defeating every enemy will usually earn you a health upgrade (basically a Heart Container), but this becomes exceedingly difficult to manage when the last enemy just disappears before you can even engage it, requiring you to sit and WAIT for the peaceful phase to complete and the enemies to all respawn.

Matt: Yeah, I don't know what sort of advantage that would convey to a novice player, since he's going to get even more frustrated trying to beat the clock—one I don't think we could even see—than we are, and I kinda doubt he'd be able to learn to deal with the camera in the first place. It's a bizarre decision that cuts off at the knees one of the things that I was actually really looking forward to playing around with: the "reactions," things happening in-battle by throwing something at another. I thought this would be kind of cool to check out, but I always just felt so rushed that I stopped even trying after the first few battles to do anything creative. It was a shame, because I stumbled across a few neat and also funny moments purely by accident.

Cory: I thought they were going to be pretty neat to uncover, and was excited to see a humongous grid in the menus that tracked them all. Super Smash Bros. Brawl had a similar grid that unlocked all sorts of neat things as you worked through it, but I was dismayed to find that filling up the grid in Crystal Bearers doesn't actually accomplish anything whatsoever.

Matt: I think I might have tried anyway, though. If I wasn't too busy being ticked off.

Cory: My understanding is that reactions will actually spawn rarer loot when you defeat the enemy, and better loot helps you forge better equipment. The problem there is that the whole equimpent system is completely useless. You can increase a few stats to a meager extent throughout the game, but since combat is largely all skill based, these enhancements don't actually help you at all. I'd expect to see someone who completely ignores the system to have just as much success throughout the game's encounters as someone who maxes it out. So that... doesn't really keep me interested in reaction-hunting.

Matt: That's true, yeah. There was very little reason to bother with upgrades, apart from maybe making working against that damned clock a little more efficient by making your reaction times better or whatever. I suppose I did appreciate the improved focus time, particularly as I learned to handle the camera better, just because I liked throwing things around so much.

But hey, despite all of the above, it was sure nice to look at, wasn't it? I spotted a low-res texture here or there, sure, but the whole world was really quite gorgeously crafted.

Cory: Crystal Bearers' visuals basically humiliate everyone else who's making games on the Wii.

Matt: Darn good thing that it was pretty to look at, because I kept getting lost with the positively useless "map" that kept assuming I knew exactly how to get to the next point in the story.

Not to mention what direction I was even supposed to go. Yeah, you could pull down a road sign and it would point the way for you even as you carried it, but that is hardly a substitute for an actual compass or minimap or something.

Cory: Okay, I loved those signs, I have to give them credit for that. They absolutely don't make up for that horrid world map, but they made me smile.

Matt: They were cute the first time. I smiled too. Then I was like, "okay, this isn't really any kind of practical substitute for an actual navigation aid."

Cory: It seems to be a trick they try to pull on you in this game. "Hehe look at this, we are so clever! Please ignore our gaping gameplay flaw!"

Matt: (laughs)

Cory: But really, I hate to say this, but it's hard to pull out a part of the game that is just universally good. For everything I thought was good, there's some part of it that ruins it.

Like the sound, for one thing. There were a lot of nice songs, and the voice acting was actually surprisingly passable, but then you're assaulted by bluegrass and the whole aesthetic is shattered. And the lack of classic FFCC remixes is a tragedy. There were like... two of them. I've always loved the tunes in these games, and Crystal Bearers totally misses the boat in that department.

Matt: I wasn't really looking for musical heritage, myself. I thought the soundtrack was pretty good on the whole just taken as it was—nothing grated on me, some of it was nice—yes, even the bluegrass. But I'm going to have to disagree on the VA; while Layle himself was pretty cool and several characters seemed to be voiced pretty well normally, anytime someone said "CRYSTAL BEARER" I just cringed, to say nothing of Belle. I wanted an option to just mute her.

Actually, this is a great idea. All voiced games in the future should come with options to selectively mute characters.

Cory: I actually didn't mind Belle, but maybe that's because I'm pretty well used to your typical English anime dub, and that's the general feel I got from the cast. If I was going to critique it for anything, it was that I seem to recall a lot of the dialog being very stiff. But yeah, the lack of remixes really bummed me out.

Crystal Bearers ignores its heritage in pretty much all regards, really. Sure, it shares a universe with the previous games, but enough time has passed that everything is effectively unrecognizable. I know the developers have a much looser definition of what an FF:CC game should be than you or I might, but if you were a fan of the gameplay that was developed over the original three titles, you may be disturbed to find that literally none of it makes its way into Crystal Bearers.

Matt: I went in okay with that fact, that it would pretty much be totally new, save the appearance of familiar races and of course crystals being involved. I hoped that the neat ideas they kept touting would end up working out really well. But yeah, as you said earlier, nothing really was great without being flawed in some way.

Despite it all, I am actually keeping it and will probably come back to it at some point. I know I sound so down on the whole thing but I liked the story, liked the characters—Layle in particular—and the mechanics were fun, if said fun was often limited by constant frustration of some variety. I get this feeling like they either pulled this one out of the oven too fast, perhaps to try to catch the tail end of the shrinking Wii market... so many neat ideas that just didn't get taken to a satisfying conclusion. Or maybe the team just wasn't competent enough to do it no matter how much time they had. I don't know; I just know I still feel attached to it in a number of ways even while I can fill a review with complaints.

Cory: That's what's weird about it, I have a hard time coming up with purely good things to say, but I'd still say I like the game. There are definitely charming and entertaining bits. I wonder if maybe I was affected by expectations to a degree.

It feels like Crystal Bearers was trying to be a lot of things—a Final Fantasy game, a Zelda game, even a Grand Theft Auto game—but it never really got close enough to those to capture any of their greatness. What we ended up with is kind of a vanilla mishmash that treads the ground between those heavy-hitters, trying to carve out its own niche with a blade that's maybe a little too dull.

I think I remember the director or producer saying he wanted to make more games in the series like this, and I'd love to see if they can really smooth things out and create a compelling experience around this setup. I only hope that, with Crystal Bearers' seemingly dismal sales, they'll be given another chance.