Ever notice the discrepancy between Final Fantasy's CG cutscenes and the in-game action? Like how one is all blinding explosions, rippling hair and slow-mo acrobatics, and the other is selecting 'attack' from a menu and watching numbers squirt out of a goblin's head? Crystal Bearers rights these wrongs: anything movies can do, gameplay can do better. Isn't crushing a Chocobo pursuit force more fun if you pull the building onto them? And why watch a plummeting aerial gun battle when you could be the plummetee?
Kicking off Crystal Bearers, this freefall is the first of many standout action beats. Unleashing lead with the remote pointer, the wind rips past as an army of pink eagles attack our hero, Layle. Cutscenes deal with the yapping (there's plenty), but when it comes to the punchy, fun bits, control reverts to you. After the aerial target gallery comes ship steering, train escaping, monster fleeing and party infiltrating - each its own fenced-off setpiece, casually tossing around mechanics as far-reaching as rhythm games and Solid Snake-like sneaking.
Sounds a bit, well, bitty? You'd be right to think that. Action scenes are clearly intended as flashy self-contained moments (each is scored individually), and are not indicative of the whole. No, the meat of Crystal Bearers is more Zelda-like in flavour: a sprawling overworld in which an intensely linear story plays out. And we mean linear. Although gifted with immense power (more in a second) and a huge playground, Layle can make it from the start to end in just under ten hours, engaging as few as ten enemies. Let us explain...
Layle is one of the eponymous Crystal Bearers, gifted with telekinesis. If it's not bolted down, you can target it with the remote pointer, lock-on with B (the closer you are, the faster you grab) and manipulate it with flicks. But nowhere, bar a handful of prescribed boss encounters, do Square Enix demand you fight. Enemies roam the plains, but Layle is more than capable of running past (using evasive dodges if things get really hairy) and towards his next cutscene and blockbuster moment. It's entirely possible to finish the game without having equipped a single accessory.
Interviewing the developers this month (page 84), they repeatedly referred to the game as being casual friendly. That's initially hard to see (is there anything geekier than a force push power?) but having now finished the game, we understand: you play as much as you want. All those 'real-time cutscenes'? They're for the people who want a decent yarn at a rollicking pace. For you and us? A whole different game awaits. Perfectly fine in its own right, the story is really just a guided tour of a wider playpen.
Throughout the action you unlock medals for achievements, 300 in total. Our first ten-hour run-through saw us net 65 of them. They're awarded for everything: story moments, minigame performance, uncovering items, killing monsters. The majority lie in hidden reactions - interactions you uncover between Layle and the world. This is Crystal Bearers proper: actually playing at being a Crystal Bearer. When, in some downtime before the finale, Layle says he's going outside to play, you really should take him up on the offer.
Telekinesis is brilliant - a weapon of crass destruction, knocking old biddies to the floor and plucking newspapers from their mitts. Your first hour in the capital city is played out to a sea of angry emoticons. Hey, it's not our fault pulling a train's emergency brakes or lamping a Moogle with a fire extinguisher is fun. Eking reactions from combat is harder.