Review by urobolusring

Reviewed: 09/13/04

Ahead of its time both in terms of the narrative depth and gameplay innovation

Usually, you have to play old NES rpg's with a grain of salt; after all, their graphics pale in comparison to the PS5's and XBOX 3's and GamePyramid's of today, and for all those people who find the main draw of an RPG to be its story, you've really got to commit some Orwellian doublethink. "This was pretty good for its time."

Then, of course, there are the classics, which transcend their place in the video-game past, and provide--much like old movies--a thrilling experience no matter how far along video games come. Come on, you know the names--The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Super Mario Bros 3.

Crystalis probably rings a bell for RPG lovers of old who owned an NES back in its hayday. Unfortunately, its contribution has gone highly overlooked due to its decidedly off-beat nature and the fact that it was WAY ahead of its time in many aspects.

Let me tell you why:

Graphics: 9/10--for what can be done with the primitive color pallete that the NES provided its programmers, Crystalis is very, very good. It's not going to have you jumping on your feet with amazement, but it will go head-to-head with the last NES installment of Final Fantasy--the third, I believe--and will run circles around the last NES installment of the Dragon Quest series, considered to be the reigning mainstream giants, sans lesser known games like 'Uninvited.'

Characters and monsters will take on shapes very familiar to anime-goers, but the sprites are nicely detailed, the environments fit perfectly with the atmosphere of their respective sections, and the magic is enough to hold its own, but nothing special.

Sound: 9/10--Yes, I know, a 9/10 across all categories is enough to make you suspicious of the scale I'm using to judge this game, but experience it for yourself and you'll see that the music does what it's supposed to, and does it superbly. The melodies are well-crafted so that they don't seem repetitive, and they do a FANTASTIC job of enriching the atmosphere. In true RPG fashion, the music will accentuate the harshness of a dungeon, the comfort of a town or the melancholy of a tragic event. Crystalis' music can match any other NES game, and in most cases surpass it, whether you're playing it for nostalgia's sake or foraying into the video game past you never experienced before.

Gameplay: 9/10--Crystalis plays a lot like Zelda, only it spices up the mix with a variety of weaponry, level-gaining aspects that will please Final Fantasy leveler addicts, and a much larger array of item and magic usage. Throughout the game, you are deemed with numerous swords, and gradually accrue powerups to those swords which will give them new capabilities that will not only let you kill once undefeatable monsters or ease the difficulty of vanquishing a boss, but also let you break down walls, crystallize lakes, and many other actions that will expand the areas of access in the game.

Because story plays a heavier role in Crystalis, many items will also have significant value in terms of the narrative structure--give this item to this man to receive this which will allow you into new area x or let you explore landmark y, etc., etc. It's been done before, but at the time, this was break-through stuff.

Story: 10/10--if nothing else about Crystalis has you shivering with excitement, I guarantee you the story will solve that problem. For a game that came out when it did, Crystalis has a nigh-perfect story. It deals with more serious themes and takes place in a more unique environment than the Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy does, and the plot twists and character development far outdo anything else on the NES, period.

If you want to look at it in more (Relatively) recent terms, you could say that it has a Xenogears-caliber story in terms of tone and complexity (sans the long expositions which might have turned some off of Xenogears), or a Xenosaga-caliber story, though honestly I found Xenosaga to be wanting in that department. Its linearity is a downside, yes, but the sheer originality of the tale and its perfect pace will erase that gripe.

In any case, Crystalis' story still conquers the average RPG of today, and that's saying something. I refuse to expose even one aspect of the story to you, despite the fact that its set in a time period post-apocalypse where the world is in a slow industrialization era (a la Nausicaa).

In conclusion, I would have no qualms about putting Crystalis in the RPG canon right alongside Zelda. Its presentation and gameplay rivets, and its story bests anything I've played on the NES and most of what I've played on the SNES and, honestly, most of the RPG's of today, save for the occasional exception. In my humble opinion, besides the Legend of Zelda, Crystalis is the best RPG the NES has to offer--it is highly recommended to RPG lovers, anime-goers, or anyone that enjoys a good yarn coupled with a nice interactive experience.

But, alas, its name may very well be buried among the monikers of lesser games of its time, due only to its off-the-beaten-track nature.

All you people with emulators or collectors of old RPG relics--play this game from beginning to end; you won't be disappointed.

Rating: 10

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