Version tested: Wii
What's the difference between a toy and a game, if there is one? Plot? Progression? Structure?
Buggered if I know. Nonetheless I'm going to declare that, for me anyway, this latest FF spin-off falls firmly into the column of toy.
Firstly it's something you play with rather than just play. Despite a well-crafted, palatable storyline and characters (excluding perhaps the awkwardly arch pomp of player character Layle), people who pick up Crystal Bearers and follow the story arc from A to B will be missing the point somewhat.
Layle is the titular Crystal Bearer, a young man imbued with a special power who blah blah blah... He's telekinetic, basically, picking up all and sundry with his mind like David Copperfield turned rogue shoplifter. Zap an object or enemy with a point of the Wii remote and a squeeze of the trigger and Layle encloses his target in a ball of glowing blue mind-juice, ready to be manipulated. Slap the motion controller left or right to throw the target in that direction, downward to slam it against the ground or up to pull it into a hover above your head, ready to be launched.
It's a simple mechanic, but remarkably flexible - in fact it's pretty much the only interaction you'll have with anything in the game world at all. Slap down or spin enemies to knock them over and lift them to throw again and deal more damage. Pick stuff up. Throw it. Repeat.
Simple really - a lightweight action RPG with the traditionally nuanced FF combat replaced by a single mechanic. Kids' game, waggle, haircuts et cetera.
But there's a mischievous subtlety to Crystal Bearers, a sense of exploration and interaction which belies its simplistic exterior and makes it much more interesting. It's all in the interactions, really, the way which objects affect each other and the enemies around them, the totally unsignposted nature of so many of these hidden gems, the fact that you'll receive no tangible rewards for most of them at all - because it's really just for kicks.
Well, that's not quite true. Most of the tricks you pull off will unlock a 'discovery', one of hundreds of medals on a grid in the game's menu. When you get one, those around it on the grid are partially highlighted and a tip on how to achieve them is revealed - usually subtle enough to keep you guessing. Achieve the correct action, combination or set of circumstances and the medal will be awarded.
It's apparently impossible to get every medal first time, and several of the opportunities are once in a playthrough affairs, some being distinctly of the blink-and-you'll-miss-it variety. Unusually, considering Square's penchant for reward-based achievements, these medals aren't accompanied by new items, upgrades or powers - just a little warm feeling and the tinkle of a tiny bell, like you're kicking a morris dancer.
It works though. Somehow it's compelling rather than inane, prompting ludicrous experimentation which always follows the meanest level of logic. I found myself spending a good ten minutes playing with dogs and skeletons, stealing the undead skulls and playing fetch. Mistiming one throw meant the skeleton meted out a little bit of retributive justice, knocking me down. Silver lining: I got another medal when one of the dogs followed up by urinating heavily on my prostrate form.