If you love role-playing games (RPGs), odds are you’re spending your summer evenings going through the outstanding Final Fantasy, released this May. If you’re close to finishing that, or perhaps you’re not a fan of the turn-based combat system, Crystalis absolutely needs to be on your radar. SNK, a third party licensee that is known mostly for bringing arcade ports to the NES, is behind this new adventure. They’ve been working overtime on creating excellent games as of late, with Baseball Stars still being one of my absolute favorite games on the NES (it received a 10/10) so I was excited to give Crystalis a try and it’s definitely a keeper.
If the incredible box art doesn’t pull you in, the original story and intro clip will. Unlike so many fantasy-themed games, this doesn’t take place in medieval times and the goal is not to save the princess. Instead the game takes place in the not-so-distant future year of 1997 where a catastrophic global war decimates planet Earth. 100 years after the event, the planet’s survivors now use magic and have intentionally forgotten science and technology. Your character awakes from a cryogenic sleep with no memory of your name or past. Eventually you learn that a sorcerer named Draygon is attempting to enter a forbidden tower in an attempt to rediscover science and control the world. You ally with another survivor of the 1990s to prevent his rise to power.
The game has a lot more in common with The Legend of Zelda than Final Fantasy, but does many things to combine the greatness of both with an original SNK touch. This is played with a top-down perspective and all of the combat is live-action. There are small towns to visit, most complete with weapon & item shops, inns, and taverns. The writing here is much better than most other similar titles. Many villagers will actually give helpful or interesting information, unlike games like Simon’s Quest or The Adventure of Link. The dialogue is very quick and simply approaching people will trigger the conversation, no ‘Talk or Speak’ button here. This is an enormous interconnected world complete with 11 towns and 10 total areas. Gaining access to new regions requires you to learn new magic, locate special items, or navigate through mutant and monster ridden caves.
Most of the enemies you encounter are mutated animals and blob like creatures. The combat is pretty simple to learn. You have your basic sword attack, and then holding B while standing still charges your sword allowing you to attack from a short distance. You begin with the Wind Sword, but you will eventually find all of the elemental swords, each with their own advantages. Toward the end of the game after you’ve collected all four, you will be able to form the ultimate sword, Crystalis.
There are many items, armor, shields, and spells to purchase and learn throughout your journey. It’s a really wise idea to keep the game’s manual on-hand to reference them. The game can be incredibly difficult, for instance the very first boss killed me about five times. Luckily, this game has a level up system, most similar to Zelda II. If you are overmatched, you just need to grind a little and kill common enemies to raise your level. Doing so increases your health, defense, strength, and magic.
There are often many different directions to go in the overworld, so take your time to explore each way, and listen to the people you talk with for help. Usually you’ll have to solve a dilemma in the town, which will trigger your next goal.
This game is absolutely gorgeous. The characters are large and detailed, and your appearance changes when you equip new armor. The world and characters are all so much more colorful and appealing than those in The Legend of Zelda, which makes sense since this game is much more recent. The areas all have their own distinct feel to them and are full of originality, as you visit mountains, swamps, seas, and pyramids.
The soundtrack is also excellent and there are a ton of different tracks for the different zones. Most of the music is very upbeat and has a chipper tempo, which matches the happier tone of the game. The overworld theme can hold its own against the memorable Dragon Warrior, Zelda, and Final Fantasy tunes. The story and writing is a cut above the competition since there are no meaningless or nonsensical conversations that are commonplace in so many similar titles. I love the atmosphere and the idea of awakening in a very different future.
Crystalis is a fantastic title that shows SNK can compete with other developers like Capcom and Konami. Next to Super Mario Bros. 3 and Ninja Gaiden 2, this might be the best looking game on the Nintendo so far, and the soundtrack is superb as well. The great story and setting help differentiate from the pack. Players who don’t care for the turn-based battles in Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy, but enjoy the Zelda series will surely love the hands-on combat and exploration in Crystalis.
There are only a few small quibbles I have with the game. First, the combat and controls in The Legend of Zelda have a better feel to it and the enemies are more memorable. I still prefer the dungeons in Zelda as well since they are more puzzle-oriented where in Crystalis they are more maze-designed. Lastly, the menu system is fairly clunky thanks in part to the large amount of inventory and magic that you possess. The game is fairly long (thankfully it does feature a battery backup), but not nearly as gigantic as Final Fantasy. A skilled and determined player should be able to conquer this in under eight hours. It took me much longer due to my frequent early deaths. Still, even with these qualms the adventure is well worth taking.
- Graphics - 10/1010/10
- Sound - 8/108/10
- Gameplay - 9/109/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7/107/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
We’re starting to see a merging of genres with Crystalis. It mixes RPG elements with action and adventure gameplay mechanics to create a wonderful synergy of fun! This twist on the traditional fantasy tale is a welcome one and I can’t wait to see what new stories can be told. Hopefully this one’s a huge success so we can see SNK branch out from simply bringing us arcade ports in the future.
Aaron got his NES in 1991 and has loved and collected video games ever since. In addition to gaming, he enjoys Stephen King novels, Twins Baseball, and his cats.