There are certain things you expect from a Final Fantasy game: a reluctant hero with a devil-may-care attitude, a hot feisty love interest, men who look a bit like girls, and a creepy little-sister character you're not sure you're meant to fancy. Something you don't expect in a Final Fantasy game is chasing a ferret through a shopping centre.
It's quite near the start of The Crystal Bearers, and the chalky-toothed rodent has stolen our hero Layle's magical gem. He wants it back, for some so-far-unexplained reason. In order to do that, I'll have to train the Wiimote's on-screen pointer over the sexually dimorphic predator long enough to fill a circular bar, and once this is done I can use Layle's telekinesis powers to pick the rodent up. Except he got away again. And now Layle's accidentally picked up an innocent bystander and flung him into a wall, sending coins everywhere. What in the name of Moogles is going on?
"We wanted to make a Wii game, but we wanted it to be a non-traditional Final Fantasy game," smiles Akitoshi Kawazu, the game's producer, and Square Enix's senior veepee of software development. "Crystal Chronicles was always an action based-IP, so going back to that world seemed like the perfect fit for a casual gaming audience." Kawazu knows a thing or two about Final Fantasy: he wrote the original Final Fantasy game way back in 1987, and has subsequently made himself a career as the Red Adair of Square, specialising in shepherding games going through "difficult" gestation periods. He was heavily involved in the eventually phenomenal Final Fantasy XII, for example.
It's clear that Crystal Bearers is one such difficult project, because after its announcement in 2005 there was very little information on it for a good few years. The release date was pushed back to 2007, then 2008, then 2009, and now we won't see it till early 2010 in the UK. According to Kawazu, much of that time was spent trying to make it work: "Square Enix hasn't been big on action games traditionally, and we were struggling to convince ourselves that this could be a good game," he says. "Even when we believed it was good, it was a struggle to get other parts of the company to see its merit. So that took a long time. We had to make sure that the game would be very appealing, and that was painstaking."
With this in mind, Crystal Bearers seems remarkably cohesive. Essentially Star Wars: The Force Unleashed but with more chocobos and less crap dialogue, it starts off at the pace of a Michael Bay film, as set-piece after set-piece spools onto the screen. Even the usul, interminably long conversations are conducted while the speakers indulge in showy fighting and jumping through windows. The game opens with Layle and his androgynous friend Keiss acting as bodyguards for the airship Alexis. The ship is soon under attack, and impulsive Layle flings his gun into the air, then dives after it, beginning an aerial shooting gallery section that sees you moving your pointer over dragons to shoot them out of the sky.
After defending the ship, a mysterious Yuke called Amidatelion appears from a portal and fights with Layle. You're also introduced to Belle, a sexy young Selkie photojournalist who'll no doubt cause Layle to blush and rub the back of his neck at some point. Thanks to Amidatelion's destructive actions, the ship begins to fall from the sky, and quick-thinking Layle must pilot it through a canyon. "We wanted Layle to be a character who could face adversity without losing his mind," says Toshiyuki Itahana, the game's director. Using the nunchuk stick to control the ship's sluggish turning proves tricky. After a few horrendous wall scrapes, it seems unlikely that a career as an airship pilot beckons.