Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers didn't look anything like it does now back when it was announced. Back then it sported a super-deformed art style like the DS titles in the series and promised a multiplayer experience - but clearly the team decided they wanted to do something very different.
When the game re-emerged years later it was as a single player game with an art style not dissimilar to main-line entries in the Final Fantasy series, and gameplay that seems to take an Action RPG approach closer to Fable then Crystal Chronicles - but was it a worthwhile change?
In a word, yes. Past demos and trailers of The Crystal Bearers have left fans and press alike bewildered, showing off everything from a shooting minigame as hero Layle tackles a dragon with a giant minigun to open-world gameplay within a city - the game looked like a mixed bag, a mish-mash of different gameplay elements and some - me included - were worried the game didn't know what it wanted to be.
The TGS demo and recent trailers and screenshots have finally begun to give a true idea of what The Crystal Bearers is about, which is a very traditional Action RPG at the core with other gameplay elements on the edges - a bonus, but never compromising the core Action RPG gameplay.
Lead character Layle is a master of telekinetic magic, able to pick up almost anything in the world around him, be it some fat old lady in town or even the bench she's resting on. Inside combat scenarios, Layle employs his telekinetic powers in a number of clever ways in order to make them offensive or defensive, eschewing the traditional magic attacks and weapons of the Final Fantasy series. In this game, you are the weapon.
While telekinesis may not seem like a strong offensive power to hold, The Crystal Bearers makes the player think about how to turn the power into something damaging. You could rip protective armour off an enemy with your powers and then hurl damaging objects from around the room into the vulnerable gap - or perhaps you'll just pick that enemy up and bash him into something painful - there was a multitude of options for despatching almost every enemy I encounted.
Layle's powers aren't just used for killing, as he can dodge and otherwise aid his physical movements with his power, too. A rolling dodge is made more effective by using your powers alongside it, and swinging from predefined points in the ceiling is enabled by Layle's powers.
This approach is certainly an interesting change for a Final Fantasy game, which is usually laden with menus to browse and loads of attacks to learn. By comparison to FF13's Lightning, Layle is seemingly lacking in skills, but the ones he does have are incredibly effective and fun to use. While you will learn how to use new skills, they all appear to be based around telekinesis.
There's one more thing The Crystal Bearers has - charm - and tons of it. Coming from a team comprised of many of the Final Fantasy IX crew this isn't a huge surprise, but The Crystal Bearers feels whimsical and magical in a way that Final Fantasy XIII does not. While FF13 excites me, The Crystal Bearers manages to stir something within me that these days’ remains dormant unless I boot up an old SNES RPG for another playthrough.
Lead character Layle is a refreshing change for the FF series - not a born leader, reluctant or accidental hero, he's a seasoned, veteran hero and he knows it. He struts around the game world like he owns it and doesn't give a damn that many see him as a criminal.
Graphically it's one of the Wii's prettiest games out there, I can't see it being anything less than good - the real question I'm now asking is if it will manage to be amazing.
There are some aspects we can't see The Crystal Bearers living up to, though - no Wii game is going to impress those who are waiting for XIII and Versus for their graphical kicks and some may find the switch from the more traditional Crystal Chronicles titles to Action RPG hard to swallow - even if it is fun.
In addition to that, Square Enix's claim that the game is 'Open World' feels a little farfetched, especially as director Toshiyuki Itahana described the game narrative as 'tight' Twitter is here - and check out the TGS trailer below.