Year released: 1990
(Note: This review was originally published in mid-November. However, I had not completed the game at the time; in fact, I had only reached the halfway point of the game. I still haven't completed it yet - although I vow that I will - but in the span of recent playing my take on this game has somewhat changed. Hence, I decided to revise certain sections of this review of which I have changed my opinions.)
In each annual NES Tournament that has been held, the upper eschelon of the brackets have usually been occupied by your standard fare. You've got your Marios, your Zeldas, your Mega Mans, your Castlevanias, and so on. But in the last two years there's been one game that, although it never got a whole lot of fanfare when it was originally released, has developed an almost cult following with the judges; so much so that it has managed to do fairly well these last couple of years.
But enough about Darkwing Duck.
Actually, Crystalis is that game with the loyal fanbase. It's made it into the Final Four for two years in a row. My first experiences with the game had been a while before either event had taken place, and in the wake of Crystalis' successes in the NEST, I felt compelled to give this game another whirl, to see if I had been missing out on what everyone else had told me was a very good game. And this was a game that I really wanted to give a high score to, as well. But even though I did give it a better rating than I had before, I just can't bring myself to put it among the top games of the system.
The plot works like this: On October 1, 1997, a great war descended upon the world, ravaging the population. Those who survived wound up spurning all the technological advances that had gotten them into this mess to begin with, turning instead to the ways of magic. Of course, there's always someone who doesn't want to play by the rules, and in the case of this game, it's a creature by the name of Draygon who finds a way to meld both magic and technology to become supremely powerful. The world's only hope was in the form of an adolescent boy who had been kept in suspended animation, and was considered the greatest magician in the world at the time.
Obviously, there was one huge risk that the people in charge of this game took, and that's putting a concrete date in front of the apocalyptic events. I dunno, I guess I must've slept through that whole war thing. But I'm not going to penalize this game for it - in fact, I admire the guts that were needed to do such a thing. It could've been way too easy to set this game in the year 20XX, thereby eliminating any possibility of us noticing that what was supposed to happen didn't. There are some problems with the storyline, however. First of all, the manual and the game itself don't really jive with each other. For instance, the manual says that our protagonist was only a child, and yet the game makes no mention of his youth. Likewise, the game gives 10/1/97 the ominous title of "THE END DAY" (with all caps for that extra effect, I guess), but the instruction book doesn't even include the date. But those are fairly trifling concerns, especially if you consider how well the plot unfolds during the game. There are a number of recurring characters - both on the good side and evil side - that add some continuity to the game, as well.
On a technical level, things are very utilitarian. The graphics really aren't all that eye-popping, but they do what they're supposed to do. No more, no less. It's the animation, though, that really makes this game very pleasing to the eye. The atomic-orbital-like effect when your sword is charged up was particularly effective. As for the music, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that almost every theme in this game adapts well with its surroundings and sounds very nice. I especially like the boss music and the background music to Mt. Sabre. The bad news is that there are two themes that don't sound very good, but alas they're the two themes you'll be hearing the most. I dunno, the overworld theme just struck as being kinda mundane, while the town music got really, really agitating after a while. However, the worst element of the audio facets is that you don't know if your sword damages the enemy you're fighting (for reasons explained below) unless the sound is turned on. If you want to play a CD instead of listening to the soundtrack, you can waste a lot of time and life energy by not being able to hear the "clink" sound that's made by the sword.
The play control is really where this game could've used a lot of work. I have some real concerns with the way this game handles. First off, I found it awful annoying to have to keep switching from one sword to another, either because a particular enemy is immune to it or to break down an elemental wall. Also, since there are so many things to keep track of, the game stacks commands on the same button. For instance, the B button not only attacks, but also uses your Medical Herb. The A button is also used for multiple purposes. It can be frustrating to think you're about to jump over a poison floor only to be prompted for which town you want to teleport to. What they could've done was, instead of making both Select and Start pause, to give that command to the Start button, and use a menu system for equipment changes and the like. This would've freed up the Select button for magic use, and now you've got everything all squared away. There is minimum recoil in this game, though, so it's not all bad.
Here's the main problem of the game, though: the level-building concept. I used to worry about the fact that the highest level of development your character can reach was 16, but I've gotten past that. Since the experience plateaus increase significantly near the top, it doesn't get in the way of the game as badly as I had feared. What does get in the way, however, is the idea of minimum levels. Put simply, every boss has a minimum level that you must be at, or else your attacks will do no damage, no matter what. This is egregious enough, since it makes no sense (shouldn't you still be able to damage your foes, even if it isn't as powerful?), but the thing that really gets my goat is that it's reserved for bosses and bosses only. It'd be one thing if you walked into a dungeon and none of the enemies were fazed by your weaponry - just exit, build up to the next level and try again - but since you can't run away from a boss, you're essentially stuck if it happens, and left to try the entire dungeon over again.
And honestly, this game isn't as fun as it could be. I mean, I'm about 80% of the way through the game, and I still have yet to really enjoy myself. Obviously, the minimum level debacle throws some frustration into the fray, as I've fallen victim to it twice. I had a reasonably good time up until about the halfway point, when things started to drag a little bit. I'm still going to make an attempt at beating it - mainly to quell the furor of the folks on RR's message board - but I doubt I would do so otherwise. Still, the game does have a few bright spots in the fun department, such as the jousting match against Stom, plus you gotta love that Change spell. : )
And so, there you have it. Crystalis does make a 10-point improvement on its original score. Still, while others like to consider this one of the greatest games of all time, I fail to see the allure.
|Play Control: ||
|Technical Score: 14
|Aesthetic Score: 19
|Overall Score: 79%|