Trying to understand how games work

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The Wii is mostly remembered as the home of Wii Sports and other such Nintendo projects, but in the late-00s it also served as a home to other sorts of games. Ones that were smaller scale developments that wouldn’t seem out of place on a then recent high-definition console, but were too big to throw on digital storefronts like Xbox Live Arcade or Wiiware. The Wii was huge back in the day, and many developers also wanted to capitalise on that success.

The thing is, many of those games didn’t really manage well with that. The sales charts for the Wii were overwhelmed by Nintendo’s own output. I can remember the time when Mario Kart Wii, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl sat comfortably around the top of the bestelling lists for a long time, but very few non-Nintendo games came up to reach them. There were some great games that only sold enough to be considered “cult classics”.

But as you can see from the title, this article is about Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers, a game that was neither a massive success nor a cult classic. (Leave a comment if you scrolled up to look at the title again, I know I would). The Wii does feel like the right place for this game though. It has a higher production value than the other Crystal Chronicles games, but nowhere near the level of Final Fantasy XIII, another game Square Enix released around the same time in 2009 for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

If anything Crystal Bearers makes me think a lot of the games Square Enix put out on the Playstation 2. The Wii almost felt like a “Playstation 2-2” at times, likely because of its position as the last standard-definition system. It allowed developers to put out games that looked like it came from a console before it (though admittedly a fair amount of those were actually ports of PS2 and Gamecube games). 

But the aspect that made me recall those sorts of games was the cutscene direction. They use dynamic camera movements that brought to my mind Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy XII. Though it felt like something was missing that made the cutscenes in those other games exciting, as they would often use sharp angles and fast camera movements to punctuate particular moments. Crystal Bearers mostly does it to add extra flair to scenes that would be much less interesting otherwise. 

The game does have an interesting premise, where the main character has special powers, but lives in a society where many are scared of people like that. Sadly that’s only something that’s offhandedly mentioned in cutscenes, as very little is done to follow through on that. The hero will often get to use his powers everywhere with no consequence. It’s at its worst during a prison break sequence where most of the guards make no effort to do anything except run around the place.

I also found the acting to be terrible. It felt as though I could hear lines simply being read off of a page.

The visuals in this game are neat, with an earthy, summery colour palette. While prior Crystal Chronicles games built off of the super-deformed mediaeval-fantasy style of Final Fantasy IX, this one goes for an aesthetic with more realistically proportioned characters. It’s not a complete abandonment of the previous games’ visual style, as it does feel like it’s building off of some of the creatively designed characters found they had. This game also takes place in a world where technology has developed to have trains, guns and cameras.

Rather than just make a role-playing game, they opted to make this one an “action-adventure “ game. The approach they’ve taken feels more like an RPG with most of its systems removed and a heavier focus on bespoke minigames. As it’s a Wii game, all of those revolve around awkward motion controls. 

There’s combat too, which involves using slightly less awkward motion controls in order to pick up and throw enemies at each other, which gets repetitive very quickly. It only happens in specific areas and rewards the player with a health upgrade for winning. But that reward only comes the first time an encounter is won, and those encounters repeat often. RPGs often use repeating combat in order to encourage gaining more resources, so to just see encounters show up offering no reward baffled me. I guess there’s materials to be found that can be made into equipment, but they didn’t seem to make a noticeable difference in my abilities so I didn’t spend much time on that.

Another odd thing about Crystal Bearers is that the world feels small. There was a portion of the game where I didn’t know where I needed to go, as the map wasn’t much help. As a result I walked across most of the game’s explorable areas in about half an hour. This wouldn’t be much of an issue in most games, as there’s usually techniques they use to imply that the world is bigger. Maybe there’s a world map where everything is proportioned differently. There could be a transitional screen or animation that could imply some amount of extra travel between two areas. Crystal Bearers uses no such tricks. All places are connected like a continuous space. It may have been a technical challenge to do this, but the end result meant that not much was left to the imagination, especially because of the more realistic aesthetic. Other games with characters and locations that are even smaller feel bigger than this because of their creative use of resources. I just see someone simply walking from one side of the world to the other in a short time.

It also doesn’t help that the game’s camera is a bit fussy and a little too close to the playable character for my liking. That helped contribute to the feeling that this game just has a lack of space to be in. You could argue that it’s one of the few aspects of the game that actually tries to work with the game’s premise. This is a world where the main character is looked down on by many others who live in it and a cramped camera sells the feeling of being unwelcome. But those thematic concerns were just overshadowed by the small mechanical frustrations. It didn’t help that my mind associated it with many other Wii games that had poor camera systems. All other games consoles at the time were already using two analogue sticks, so the Wii remote and Nunchuk only having a single analogue stick resulted in some unusual control schemes.

When people talk about nostalgia for games released in the past, it’s often to do with telling the audience about the rose-tinted glasses they’re wearing while examining something. Playing this game did evoke a sense of nostalgia for me, but not for the game itself, more so for the platform it’s on. It’s certainly gotten me to consider playing some actually decent Wii games.

It’s also been fun to write about a game built for a system that I had much more firsthand experience with. I’ve really enjoyed playing most of what I’ve covered going through Final Fantasy, but especially with the older games, examining them feels archaeological. I’m only somewhat joking but many of these games I wasn’t around for. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers also came out at a time when I started paying more attention to what was going on in videogames. It was that year that I began reading, watching, and listening to more media about games. I had also started this blog at a time when the Wii still had games coming out for it.

Soon I’ll be covering games that I actually played when they were new! I’m looking forward to seeing what that’s like.



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