Review by thislevelisclou
Underrated but BETTER than Zelda - just don't play the GBC port!!
OVERVIEW: Crystalis is one of the many overhead-view RPGs for the NES, which garners it many comparisons to the classic Legend of Zelda, but let me tell you - this is no Zelda copy! Crystalis is one of the best games of this type made for the NES, and remains one of my all time favorites. In fact, I can say with no hesitation that Crystalis beats out Zelda in every single aspect. Blasphemous? Read on.
STORY: The story takes place in 1997, and the entire world has been destroyed by war, leaving a simple and dangerous life for the remains of society. At this point, civilization has been reduced to simple villages surrounded by areas full of wild monsters. You, a mysterious man (with purple hair!), arise one day from a giant machine inside a cave. A pathway is blown through the cave walls, and you emerge into this post-apocalyptic world. Yes, yes, we've all heard this basic story, but keep in mind this game is almost two decades old. Characters are built throughout the story and will appear and re-appear as you play through the game. There are a few plot twists, and the game has a special way of giving hints without giving away too much (example - the main plot of the Portoa section of the game).
MUSIC: So you step out into the town, and the music seems pretty typical. It's definetely "RPG town" music. But step out into the first battle field, and here begins the musical magic. This theme is exciting, driving, and just plain AWESOME. It so perfectly paints the picture of a desperate world, an uncertain battle in a big, foreign landscape, and mystery abound. the rest of the music has its ups and downs. Some notables are the final area theme, the Mount Sabre theme, "safe" caves, and more. Boss battle music is energetic, but pretty standard fare for the NES.
SFX: The sound effects in Crystalis aren't bad, and don't hurt the game by any means. The sound of stabbing or firing your sword's power at enemies is pretty neat, and really sounds like something is being run through with a blade. The sound of your character taking damage, a mousy squeak of sorts, could have been better, along with the jumping sound (you won't be jumping too much anyway), which is more of a thump. Think the sound it makes when you hit someones gut in Punch Out. Charging up and firing is kind of cool, as well as the sound of healing magic, of which there are several types. The clanging of invulnerable enemies could have been better, but gets the point across.
GRAPHICS: Here is where the game really shines. The colors of everything are varied and bright, while still retaining a kind of grit that one would expect from a post-apocalyptic world. The character designs are really cool, too. Each area generally has at least one kind of tall, walking enemy, which may or may not launch a projectile at you. Fighting alongside these foes are small jelly type enemies, and sometimes fast flying enemies of varying sizes, which may also fire! More about this in the challenge section. Your character is very unique as far as early videogame heroes go, too. With wild, purple hair, a headband, and a unique sword swinging method (an underhanded swing/stabbing motion), the main character remains my all-time NES favorite. The backgrounds are interesting, and area layouts are generally pretty large and varied. The one exception is the cave design, which can often give the player deja vu throughout the game. Some rooms or areas seem duplicated throughout the game, and it can be easy to wonder if you've gone in a circle or not, even taking into account what enemies are around. Character animations are pretty good, despite a lacking jump animation for your character. Jellies and slimes wobble about, land mammal foes, human enemies, and townspeople meander about smoothly and use handheld weapons or projectiles, flying enemies soar overhead and fire at or smash into you. Explosions are nicely done, and item menus are wonderfully simple and nice to look at. Sprite slowdown can rear its head here and there, but that just goes to show how many enemies are on the screen at once.
GAMEPLAY & CHALLENGE: The gameplay of the NES Crystalis is excellent! Your character walks quick and smooth throughout the giant landscapes and medium-length cave areas. Enemies respawn when their starting positions go offscreen, which makes this pretty-easy game a little bit more challenging. Enemies are pretty varied, and do (and can take!) a bit of damage, but a skilled player should not have any trouble completing most of the game without purchasing ANY extra armor. Money is pretty easy to gather up, and gaining experience isn't too tough.
This is where one of my main gripes about the game comes into play. It seems like the programmers intentionally put a few areas throughout the game where it is exceptionally EASY to gain experience. In fact, a semi-patient gameplayer can achieve the maximum experience level (level 16 at 50,000 exp) before even leaving the second general area of the game (the battle field and related caves outside of Portoa, which is village # 2). There is another, mega-blatant spot near the end of the game. Both of these mentioned areas are small rooms in the game with low-risk-high-exp enemies. Using this simple tactic, the player will also garner enough money to never need any for the rest of the entire game. While not a super-easy game if you play by the rules, you can fly through this game if you take the time to level up early on.
Don't think Crystalis is a simple game though. Many times you will enter an area with no idea of exactly where to go or what to do, and clues can be cryptic at times (although not plotless like the original Zelda). Many times the player will explore several outside areas and caves before really getting a hang on what needs to be done in the town. Finding items, using telepathy, talking to (and using magic on) locals, and freeing captured individuals are just a few of the things you'll have to do to unravel the whole truth.
OVERALL: Overall I have given this game a 9 because it is, with no doubt from me, the number one real time RPG on the NES, and lacks most of the problems some NES RTRPGs suffer from. Gameplay is quick and energized and the challenge is medium, depending on how you play the game. Graphics are interesting, bright, and very unique. The sound and music is average at worst, and spikes into AWESOME at certain points. Environments are pretty varied and large, and everything is connected in a pretty logical manner (once again, take Portoas layout, taking into account the locations of the Castle, the Fortune Tellers Room, and the underground area). The only things I would have changed are the experience and money systems (to make them harder), and possibly made the caves with a bit more variation in the halls and rooms, with possibly some ceramic pieces or scattered rock forms. Despite all of this, each and every RPG fan (real time and otherwise) should play through this gem at least once, and this includes next-gen gamers, who may be accustomed to more straightforward mission objectives in each area. Much like Crusader of Centy on the Genesis, let Crystalis join the horde of underrated-but-classic RTRPGs!
Product Release: Crystalis (US, 07/31/90)
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