Pick your selling point for the next Final Fantasy on Wii: Single-player with a deep story? Sort of is 75 per cent mini-games? Can lift cow and use udders over character's head to shoot enemies? The last big game of the year?
I was introduced to Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers last week, discovering quickly that this was not the kind of Crystal Chronicles game I had expected. It is, you see, a single-player game, the first in a splinter line of Final Fantasy games made for Wii platforms and previously designed for four players.
The Crystal Bearers is different, set 1000 years after Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and putting the player in control of a single hero, a mercenary named Layle. The series' dwarf race, the Lilty Tribe, have risen to power. The mechanical race, the Yuke, have seemingly been wiped out.
I was told by a Square-Enix representative that this game would feel like a "true Final Fantasy" for the Wii. It will have a deep storyline. But it also has real-time combat and was described to me as 75 per cent mini-games.
What I saw and played clarified things. I was shown Lilty running through a farm, getting pulled into a challenge to pluck all of the vegetables from a field before a clock ran out. A scarecrow was the opponent, shooting at Lilty to try to mess him up. So don't think of "mini-games" in terms of a Mario Party, I realised. Think of them is mid-game challenges.
Next, I was shown some combat. Lilty ventured to a dusty desert area and enemies attacked. The game is played with a Wii Remote and Nunchuk. The control stick moves the character. The Remote's pointer is used for telekinesis, to pick up objects and enemies, then toss them. The d-pad on the Remote is used to swivel the camera, the only element of the controls I found hard to handle in the few minutes I played the game.
I was told that conversations with non-player-characters will be less than typical for an FF game. Instead, the interactions the player tries to get are "reactions". You get these from enemies by encountering them. For example, out in that desert area, Lilty fought some dog enemies. Once he had a Reaction associated with them, he could get them to stop fighting, run over and, uh, urinate on him. Other Reactions are equally comical, sending enemies into a daze because they've had their heads knocked off, for example. It's all cartoony, done for laughs.
Also, somehow, some way, you can take a cow, hold it over Lilty's head and shoot enemies with its udders.
I'm a sucker for the absurd in my games, so, as little as I saw of the Crystal Bearers, I was encouraged. It's hard to see it as being a "true" Final Fantasy game, but only a longer play session that presents more of the story can verify that claim.
The game plays swiftly, action-first. It is colourful and has fun visuals, as you can see in these shots. Crystal Bearers may be off some people's radar, but it will indeed be out this year in North America, the day after Christmas, for the Wii.