Review by Asina1980

Reviewed: 02/20/03 | Updated: 02/20/03

My All-Time Favorite....

In all my years of gaming, I have never come across a game that was better than Crystalis. This beautiful little action/adventure/role-playing gem was released for the mighty Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1990, which was right around the beginning of that system's waning days. The 16-Bit Era was just appearing on the horizon, and many were starting to wonder if perhaps the NES was becoming irrelevant in the face of that burgeoning technology. With the release of Crystalis, however, SNK proved that the good old 8-bit elder statesman of video games was indeed still capable of something impressive.

Crystalis has been compared by many to Zelda, and I must say that such a simplistic description of the game is entirely inadequate and misleading. Sure, at first glance, it might appear as though the two games are somewhat alike -- the overhead views, the long quests involving a great deal of fast-paced swordsmanship, the comparable menu screen layouts, etc....But to say that Crystalis is merely a Legend of Zelda clone is, frankly, an insult to the former.
Crystalis is far more in-depth than Zelda, and utilizes the resources of the NES to a much greater extent. The sheer complexity of this game is astounding, especially when one considers the fact that it was released for an 8-bit system. It has often been my contention that, in view of its length and the number of tasks which one is required to complete in order to beat it, Crystalis could just as well have been produced for the Super Nintendo and, assuming that it was given an obligatory graphical improvement, STILL been considered one of the best games around. Heck, just throw in some cut scenes, and it would even be good enough for the PSX!

Crystalis takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in which mankind is slowly attempting to rebuild civilization after it was all-but destroyed in what-is-referred-to-as ''The Great War''. The few survivors of this epic conflict and the various calamities which it entailed now reject all forms of science and technology, reasoning that such pursuits were the cause of their downfall in the first place. Instead, a new era has dawned, in which ''the ancient arts of magic and sorcery'' have been revived.
In order to prevent the world from once again plunging into darkness and evil, the most capable sorcerers of this primitive society got together and decided to use their magic as a means of keeping the peace. For a while, the strategy worked...until one day an evil magician by the name of Draygon rediscovered the long-abandoned science of flight, and took it upon himself to employ that technology in creating a great fortress in the sky. Now, with such a formidable base from which to launch his operations, Draygon will be able to spread his evil to all parts of the land, and finally impose his rule over the entire world.

The other magicians know that the evil Draygon must be stopped, and so together they create a group of powerful swords -- each with its own distinct magical properties -- with which to defeat the sorcerer and his forces. Now all they need is a warrior who is worthy of receiving them, and who is up to the task of engaging Draygon in a battle to rid the Earth of tyranny once and for all.
Can you guess just who that warrior is???

All right, all right. Let's break it down....

GAMEPLAY: 10
Crystalis begins in the small village of Leaf, where your hero mysteriously awakens to find himself utterly unable to remember any details as to how he got there, what is expected of him, or even what his own name is. That's right -- in Crystalis, your character has no given name, and you are left with the responsibility of choosing one for him (that is, unless you simply want him to be known as ''--'').
Soon enough, however, the hero learns what his objective is to be. I'll spare you the long-winded details and just say that he has been chosen by the wise men to undertake the grim mission of destroying Draygon (obviously).

Anyway, when the game begins, you have at your disposal only one of the mighty swords mentioned earlier: the Sword of Wind. As the game progresses, you will be required to locate and obtain four additional swords: the Swords of Fire, Water, Thunder, and Crystalis. Each one has its own abilities and applications, and one of the fun things about Crystalis is playing around with the various swords to see which works best and where. Also, as you collect various items to power up your swords, you acquire the ability to give each one different characteristics -- for example, the Thunder Sword powered up to level 3 will produce a cool-as-heck lightning and thunder display that pummels all enemies on screen with frightening force.

Your character will travel across vast lands in pursuit of the above described items, and do battle with a wide variety of enemy warriors and wild creatures. The areas in which he will find himself include open fields, maze-like caves, swamps, mountains, oceans, and even poisonous forests. In some cases, specific items must be found before you can enter a given area; in others, you may have to increase your level before going in. In standard RPG fashion, this is done by accumulating experience points (the more creatures you kill, the more experience you get), and collecting the required amount of them isn't always easy. You may find yourself wandering around a particular area for an hour at a time, just trying to increase your level. In Crystalis, you're expected to WORK if you want to win, gosh darn it!

In addition to the wilderness environments I just described, there are also several towns which your character must explore. Sometimes, you may need to visit a specific town just to purchase a new shield or suit of armor in one of the shops (there are many different types of armor and shields to choose from); other times, you may need to consult with one of the locals regarding your current mission. Speaking to the NPC's found roaming around the towns can be an entertaining enterprise in and of itself, as some of them are quite amusing.

Finally, there's the magic. Over the course of the game (and Crystalis is a long one), you will acquire a number of different spells with which to make your struggles a little easier. Using the menu screen, you can choose which spells to assign to which button, and soon you will find yourself relying quite heavily on some of them. Just be careful not to let your MP get too low, though....

Although I haven't even begun to scratch the surface here, I'll spare you any further details on the gameplay. Just let me add that it gets a lot more complex than what I've already described, and there are countless items and treasures that you will need to find throughout your quest on top of the ones previously mentioned.
The game can be quite a challenge, but not hard to the point of frustration, and the control scheme is quite comfortable and easy to learn. The save feature is great, too -- the game has a built-in save option, so you don't have to worry about passwords or any of that nonsense.

STORY: 9
For a NES game, Crystalis has a very engaging and impressive storyline. The basic concept is more-or-less revealed early in the game, but as your adventure continues, you will gradually learn more and more details. The NPC's you must communicate with throughout the game provide a means with which to thicken the plot at appropriate stages in order to keep your interest, and there are also some surprises. Although certain points may occasionally become a little confusing, the overall plot of Crystalis is, without a doubt, as good as it gets on the NES.

SOUND: 10
Crystalis has, by far, my favorite music of any video game. In spite of the NES's obvious audio limitations, the developers of this game still somehow managed to create a soundtrack that brilliantly serves to enhance the emotional atmosphere at every stage of the adventure. Crystalis features wonderfully composed and catchy tunes that perfectly compliment the gameplay.
Oh, and the sound effects are great, too....

GRAPHICS: 7
Although they certainly get the job done, the visuals in this game perhaps could have been just a bit clearer. I hate to complain, but some more detail would have been nice. I suppose that you could say the graphical scheme of Crystalis is decidedly-utilitarian -- nothing looks better than it absolutely HAS to. The character models are fine enough, but don't appear very natural when in motion; the backgrounds are acceptably rendered, but offer no real detail; and the environments are done JUST well enough so that you know what you're supposed to be looking it, but that's it.
Considering the sheer SIZE of this game, though, I'm not sure if they COULD have made the visuals any better....

OVERALL: 10 (*Not an average.)
Like I said before, Crystalis is, in my opinion, the greatest game ever made. It stretches the 8-bit Nintendo to its very limits, resulting in a truly timeless and wonderful gaming experience. Ah, how I wish they'd do a remake of this for one of the newer systems....

Rating: 10

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