17 May 2011 | Guardia
The Crystal Method
We control Layle, a young all-American type teenager with telekinesis powers provided to him by crystal power. What is crystal power? It's something that crystal bearers (which there are several of in the game) have within them. It is an innate power that varies from character to character – some can shoot fire, some can crystallize people and objects and so on. Layle's power is quite modest, and by the end of the game we will surely have mastered his limited move set (if the Wii control allows that). The action is real-time, so the 'Final Fantasy' of the title is at best a misleading, at worst a grab at an established name. I suppose the subtitle and sub-subtitle are the qualifiers here, and are surely intended to make a clear distinction from the main series (although why the 'Final Fantasy' lettering outweighs the others is not hard to ascertain).
This title has more in common with Zelda: Twilight Princess than any Final Fantasy title this player has experienced, and although on the surface it may seem like a cheaper, less sophisticated homage, it is soon apparent that the game adds its own flavours and ideas - for better or worse. Although the cut-scenes use the in-game graphical engine (with an applied filter I'm guessing) and seem a little underwhelming, it is the in-game graphics that are the true peak of the artistic merit in this game. Throughout the kingdom we visit many varied, colourful, imaginative and memorable areas. I call them areas because they rarely span beyond the visible horizon, but they are remarkable nonetheless. This is the second game that I have deliberately stopped to admire the scenery more than once (the other title being 'Okami'), and it is no accident that the developers included an in-game screenshot tool. I'm yet to import then into a PC, but I must add that these 'shots look strangely blurred (over compressed?) when viewed in the Photo Channel.
Aside from Layle's lack of flexibility in his attacks, the single method that he does have is pretty satisfying to use. Battles are all set-pieces in that groups of monsters appear in designated areas all at once, signified by an ominous and sudden audible countdown. There's no free roaming baddies whatsoever, and if you want to 'grind' your character for Gil (currency) or items (used for forging accessories) you'll need to find one of these areas and complete it within a given time limit. There may be ten or fifteen goons to dispatch and they're sometimes spread out across a pretty large area. Luckily, the only navigational tool the game provides (a small, on screen radar) is useful for tracking down the straggling foes. The game offers variation in how you defeat enemies by allowing Layle to pick up various items strewn about the battlefield and launching them at enemies. What will a jar of water do to a half-man/half-cactus creature, what will a jar of oil do to a floating, flaming eyeball, and so on? After any of these clumsy battles, it's then a matter of closing the game's portals called 'miasma streams', which are long, thin vertically aligned mini tornado-type deals. Yes, the game is pretty odd.
This game continues the tradition of Final Fantasy's high standard of musical material – the soundtrack in this game is excellently composed and memorable. There have been criticisms that the musical styles do not suit the in-game content (for example, battle music that kicks in some of the areas resembles country n' western rodeo music. As strange as this is at first, the rollicking, slapstick mood it provides is something to remember). Other areas such as the intricately detailed coastal area, encrusted with brightly-coloured shells and corals, are accompanied by a Caribbean style steel drum motif that gives Layle's costume change of shorts and flip-flops a real beach holiday feel that even the most weathered of city-dwellers can't help but feel envious of. On the whole, the soundtrack gives each area an identity that is both complimentary and listenable.
For those looking for a simplified Final Fantasy experience, I can think of no better alternative. Fans of Zelda may find something here also, but do not expect tricky problem solving or multi-levelled, hostile dungeons. Layle's problem solving skills are not yet up to Link's (although his 'hookshot' skills seem to be). Layle cannot level up all that much either, with his base stats being reliant on the equipping of up to three accessory items. Each bit of equipment needs to be fused together with items that can be laughably easy or mind-shatteringly difficult to obtain.
Colourful, bright, surprising and simple are the main gifts this game provides; while getting lost, getting confused and cringing at voice-work are some of the lumps of coal it heaps onto your lap. This player though, admits that after completing the entire game for the first time, held no hesitations in restarting the quest from the beginning. The feeling was that there were still areas, items and 'reactions' (battle achievements) to uncover. As well as some stray miasma streams to seal up. I'm sure they're out there somewhere, but can I get past those detracting elements mentioned above to bother finding them? We'll have to see...