Platform: Nintendo
Publisher: SNK
Developer: SNK
Genre: Action RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 1990
Japan 04/13/90

Graphics: 92%
Sound: 91%
Gameplay: 90%
Control: 95%
Story: 93%
Overall: 92%
Reviews Grading Scale
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The start of an epic tale.
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Shops in the town.
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The battles are fast-paced and real-time.
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There are a fair amount of puzzles as well.
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Crystalis is yet another game that proves video game characters never needed spiky, blue, or outrageous hair styles to look tough. Back then a tunic, a moustache, or an arm cannon was all characters needed to look intimidating. Our hero in Crystalis is certainly no exception, but he's a bit different than the rest. To be more specific, he's a one hundred year-old boy dressed in spiffy purple armor.

To elaborate a little more, you, the hero, are awaken in a cryogenic chamber to a world of chaos and ruin. What better to do than save the world? In Crystalis you'll do exactly that by wandering from town to town, helping people get back on their feet, slaying various fiends, and all the while collecting four elemental swords. When the four swords are combined to form the blade of Crystalis, you'll be able to take down Draygon, the resident bad guy, and make everyone happy again. Sounds simple enough, right?

As light-hearted and cliché as it sounds, Crystalis has a little more spunk to it than most titles this old. Upon starting the game you'll be treated to a series of cutscenes that serve as a prologue to the tale. In the year 1997 the world underwent a nuclear war that sent Earth's axis haywire. Animals on the earth started to mutate and now an evil emperor, Draygon, rules the planet. Now the world's only hope lies in a hero with a lost memory. As he travels the globe several plot twists will unfurl that reveal to our main character just who he really is and why he was sleeping for a century. Don't expect to learn a whole lot about the rest of the cast, but do expect some great dialogue. Crystalis has a remarkable plot for its age, and you're sure to be satisfied by the end of it all.

Though Crystalis is the first RPG developed by the legendary SNK, it has the same focus on action and speed that the company's renowned shooters and fighting games have. Unlike a lot of NES games, our hero in Crystalis moves quickly and in eight directions, which creates some furious real-time action. Because of this, combat is intuitive and challenging, and it's sure to keep you on your toes. You'll be circling enemies, dodging a variety of attacks, and retaliating with tools from your own arsenal.

The hero's combat abilities come in two main flavors: sword techniques and magic. The five swords of the game - Fire, Thunder, Water, Wind, and finally Crystalis - are your primary instruments of destruction. With each blade you can perform little swipes to take care of the small fry, but you'll need to pull out the big guns for harder monsters and boss fights. Each sword can be powered up to release a different elemental blast, and you'll unlock two additional levels by collecting some power-ups for them. Magic in Crystalis comes in the form of psychic abilities of sorts; healing, teleportation, telepathy, and even flying are a few of the spells present in the game. The spells aren't always a necessity in the heat of battle, so some are a lot of fun to play around with. The Change spell lets you assume one of four available forms, and, depending on the one you're using, the townspeople will have a different reaction when you talk to them. Paralysis is a nifty spell, too, that concentrates your mind waves to freeze both people and enemies.

Aside from its brilliant action, Crystalis merits praise for how good it looks and sounds. On the visual side, environments are lush, sprites are detailed, and the effects and animations all look top-notch. In particular, the gorgeous level three blasts from your sword are sure to catch everyone's eye. It's hard to find much fault in the game graphically, except maybe in the way of palette swapping; it's pretty common in the game, though it's tough to name an RPG of the time that didn't use a swap or two. For audio, the sound quality is what you'd expect on the NES, but the game's quaint little melodies sound pretty pleasing to the ear. The catchy upbeat tunes fit Crystalis's mood to a tee. The overworld theme, for example, is sure to get you in battle spirits, and most of the songs are fairly memorable, as well. The opening theme, specifically, is one that will stay in your head the whole day. Sadly, the sound effects aren't as good as the soundtrack is. There's not a whole lot of them to go around, so most get repetitive in a hurry. At least they all sound fairly appropriate to what's happening on the screen, nothing obnoxious or anything.

It's easy to tell that Crystalis draws a lot of inspiration from Zelda, however, Crystalis does a better job at distinguishing itself from the series than other Zelda clones do. Being able to level up, buy and equip armor and accessories, and use several types of magic helps to make combat complex and involving. Unlike Zelda, Crystalis doesn't offer many challenging puzzles, as the majority of them are usually simple; most revolve around the powers of your sword charges (blowing up walls, making ice bridges, etc.) Others have you running around and looking for event items, which usually have a little side plot to them. Again, none are as complex as those from the legendary action adventure, but they're an enjoyable break from the frantic action.

Crystalis has always been one of my favorite games since I was a kid, yet the game is hardly perfect, I'll admit. It often feels far too reminiscent of a hack n slash, and some additional variation to the battle engine could have fixed that. As well, there are many enemies that are immune to certain swords, so the constant need to switch weapons can get especially tiresome with the clunky menus. The controls overall would have better benefited from a Super Nintendo controller with more buttons. Other minor issues with the collision detection are normal for a game this old.

So, although SNK didn't get it all perfect for their first RPG, it's safe to say that Crystalis does extremely well in most respects. It even broke the ground for further games to come. Action RPG series such as Seiken Densetsu, Star Ocean, and Tales can trace their real-time battle engines back to this masterpiece. And, while the post-apocalyptic plot may seem boring and outdated today, it was quite thrilling back then. To me, Crystalis is just as good, if not better, than Zelda, and I urge you all to see for yourselves.


© 1990 SNK. All rights reserved.

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