The action at the start of Crystal Bearers is impatient verging on breakneck. As you're hustled through the opening few moments, lead character Layle dives off the massive airship he was guarding before it came under attack, sparking a mid-air section which has you pointing the Remote at various targets on-screen to blast them out of the sky. Then Layle lands back on the airship after a real feat of aerobatics, to be confronted by a furious Yuke called Amidatelion intent on throwing a proper wobbler on the royal ship.
After some fisticuffs, Amidatelion causes the ship to fall towards the ground, at which point go-to man Layle jumps behind the controls to save the day. Breathless stuff and hardly what you'd expect from such a traditionally slow-burning series. Even the traditional scenery chewing cut scenes are missing, with all the story-setting being done as the action unfolds.
After such a lightning start, Crystal Bearers settles down into a more relaxed rhythm, but it never falls back into Final Fantasy routine. In fact the only things Crystal Bearers has in common with previous Crystal Chronicles games are the four races - the Selkie, Clavat, Yuke and Lilty. As far as the broader Final Fantasy universe goes, the lineage reveals itself as a series of trademarks. Androgynous boy-girl characters, hair that could have your eye out, awkwardness between the sexes... you name it, every Final Fantasy stereotype is in here. The refreshing thing is what Layle can do and how he interacts with the world around him.
Telekinesis is Layle's weapon, completely replacing the standard turn-based melee of countless other games. So much in the vicinity can be manipulated by pointing at it and squeezing B that it can easily be turned against enemies. A gauge on screen tells you when you can flick the Remote to hurl something around, so skirmishes become more of a desperate scramble to find something heavy and dangerous to fling at an opponent - usually other snarling enemies do the trick. It's a nice twist on the old formula. If the opening to Crystal Bearers set out its new action-packed stall, the battle system puts the roof on.
A portal called the miasma stream is the means by which enemies burst into the world, so once you've smashed through the initial wave of miscreants you need to hotfoot it over there to seal it up using your powers, otherwise you'll be embroiled in a second battle. For the most part, the game doesn't offer much in the way of guidance, but when you're busy clobbering, a handy radar appears to point out adversaries.
Many other RPGs would do well to have a sneaky glance at Crystal Bearers to see how it has shaken up its own system. Fighting is a mix of just the right amount of control and blind panic, while the only downside is the potential for repetitive strain injury from all the furious waggling.
It carries on as Layle travels. Crystal Bearers is a handsome game with some vast areas to explore. Its sense of scale is much bigger than any previous Crystal Chronicles game, partly to give you room to use those mind over matter abilities. Interesting objects can be shaken or pulled apart to yield money, people can basically be violently mugged with some vicious shaking, even animals can be upset as you bash them up and down. It's funny (though it's probably not supposed to be) and a never ending source of fun.
There is a slight delay between targeting an object or monster and being able to pick it up, which affects the fluidity of the experience, and it's especially annoying if you're surrounded by beasts. There's a slight delay in absorbing the story too, told in numerous cut scenes, and it feels as if Square-Enix's scriptwriters haven't quite kept up with the advances made by the design team. Layle is a member of the Lilty, the race that emerged dominant after a long war, who happens to be fused with a powerful crystal - hence his telekinesis ability. The cut scenes seem to spend a long time not telling us very much, and plotwise it's all a bit of a mess. No matter though. The story might be long-winded, but the gameplay genuinely nudges at Final Fantasy's well established envelope. There's much to see and do, with the standard story being 15 to 20 hours long and an Awards mechanic that takes many more to exhaust.
Crystal Bearers is a rewarding experience for newcomers and those jaded with RPGs alike.
For another verdict read CVG's Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Crystal Bearers review.