Oh my god I don't even know where to start with this thing. As I was playing it I went through kind of a gambit of feelings, from "What?" to "I think I get it" to "I TOTALLY GET THIS" and it was just a revelation to me.
Square-Enix tried to make a minigame collection, an open-world RPG, and a sequel to one of their spinoff subseries all at the same time. In 2009. So this Final Fantasy has EVERYTHING they could pack in: A small but still gradually opening world where you can roam around fighting monsters at your leisure. Timed monster fights. The main character uses gravity magic, so you fight by throwing monsters at each other. Chocobo races. Soccer matches. A stealth minigame. A dancing minigame. Platforming. The laziest competitive fishing minigame in the known world. A daring prison escape. Farming. Topiary arrangement. That thing where two girls stand on a floating pool platform and bump their butts together. Rail shooting. An unexpected genre change into basically a space shooter for a final boss.
And when you finish the game, it unlocks the ability to just pick ANY AREA or ANY MINIGAME off a menu and go there any time you want so you can play it for more achievement medals.
Oh yeah there's also a storyline and it is... well, it involves people doing things with crystals for nebulous moral reasons and a big hulking dude who is obviously the end boss brooding around in the background while our snarky hero and his plucky sidekick run around making dorks of themselves, so this too is 150% Final Fantasy.
You can't get more Final Fantasy than nebulous morals, crystals, brooding, and dorks.
It's like... they gave the character artist
for the series free run as a director and he decided "EVERYTHING in this game I'm making will be Final Fantasy... so I will make EVERYTHING I CAN THINK OF Final Fantasy, and all shall love it."
Was he right? Well... yes and no. Yes, this is a Final Fantasy. But no one seemed to like it much, and it kind of killed the Crystal Chronicles sub-series stone dead.
That said, one of my mottos is "It doesn't need to be a GOOD game to be an AWESOME game", and man this was awesome even if it wasn't good. I'd be playing it like "Eh this combat system is kinda bland BUT I JUST GOT A MEDAL FOR THROWING GASOLINE ON A BOMB YEAHHHHH."
I can't say I really ever want to play it again, but... crystal shine on you, Toshiyuki. Whatever else it was, what you made certainly was a Final Fantasy.
Also, if nothing else, I now know from a very-oft repeated catchphrase that SELKIES CAN HANDLE IT SOLO, so I know which race to pick in the other Crystal Chronicles games. Thanks, Crystal Bearers! You were educational!