Reviewed on NES
What is it that attracted me to Crystalis? Probably the biggest reason would be the NES having a pretty dry list of RPG games, at least in the west. RPGs only had a cult following here after all, while Platformers and the like were more easily accessible. According to Listal there were a total of 42 RPGs released for the system, which does include the games that did not make it to the west. I’ll believe it straight away, as another list I found had Tetris listed as an RPG and I now want to reconsider life decisions. But the title also sounded interesting, and the Japanese name for the game is God Slayer. What that has to do with the final game I don’t know but count me in, sounds interesting! Finally, the gameplay looked nice so I was convinced: I wanted to try this game out.
Crystalis was released in 1990 for the NES everywhere except Europe as usual, but I’ll spare you the ”whining-about-games-not-getting-to-Europe” talk for today. The game was developed by SNK Corporation, a long running video game hardware and software company. While the story and game in general are completely unique, there are some subtle nods to earlier SNK characters that became part of The King of Fighters series. Nowadays the game has a cult following, but in the early 90’s the game was received decently but mostly overlooked, partially due to the SNES coming out soon. That didn’t stop them from re-releasing the game together with Nintendo on the Gameboy Colour, and only just last year the game was part of the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection released for the Nintendo Switch. Now even the youngsters can experience this game, as the Gameboy Colour ”remake” would be the last time we’d ever see or hear anything from Crystalis.
Crystalis takes place in the post-apocalyptic future year of 2097, one hundred years after a nuclear war happened. I don’t remember it happening but hey, maybe I’ve became amnesiac like the main protagonist. All civilization was reduced quite significantly, and creatures became mutated as a result of the nuclear activity. How the towns are still managing to hold on without being attacked by those mutated creatures is beyond me but eh, post-apocalyptic world logic. The remaining survivors built a floating tower with quite some firepower to avoid another nuclear war from happening. Of course there is always this bad guy who just can’t enjoy peace and uses science combined with magic to control the world with military power. Now it’s up to the recently awakened nameless protagonist to gather the four swords and combine them into the legendary sword Crystalis to bring an end to this evil baddy’s ambitions!
The world of Crystalis looks pretty good for one engulfed in a nuclear war; just kinda messed up that there’s a pyramid right next to an ice mountain, which is close to a swamp but I digress. Logic aside, the world is pretty diverse with interesting themes from the real world. It’s all nicely connected with each other through multiple fields and dungeons. A nitpick I do have with the dungeons however, is that they have a tendency to have looping hallways. There aren’t enough distinct features to dungeons so I tend to get lost easily because of this. It is only a small nitpick though, and probably even one exclusive to me but I had to address it regardless.
The game plays combat-wise like what you would expect from an RPG in the era where The Legend of Zelda just made its grand appearance, but at the same time it does quite a lot of things differently. The swords are your only way of attacking and throughout your journey you will find a total of four, all with different elemental attributes. You can just do the stabby thing with the swords, but the most effective way of using them is by charging them up. After having found all required items, the sword can be charged up to three times with each charge level having a different effect. The first level for example is usually a simple projectile, while the second one is a stronger variant that also has effects on the overworld and finally the last one being an AoE attack that can potentially cover the entire screen! You will be using all swords because enemies can be immune to a specific element. Switching out weapons and finding out the weaknesses is unfortunately a little bit less fun due to the NES’s limitations of only having two buttons, and enemies have no distinct feature that would give you a hint on what element to use.
While the A button is used for sword attacks, the B button is used for.. almost anything else. You’re in possession of a big inventory with two tabs. The first one is for the swords and armour that can be purchased, while the second tab is for miscellaneous stuff, for example healing- and quest items. While the inventory might sound big at first, it will get full quicker than me eating Spaghetti on a Wednesday evening. Fortunately there’s a Pawn Shop in almost every town to take any unnecessary items off your hands in exchange for some nice cash. The inventory is fine and easily navigable, though I would have liked to see a small window to check what an item actually does. There are a lot of items that have weird names like ”Opel Statue” with me having no idea what they do. Same goes for the stats of armour, as some towns can be visited out of order meaning that you’ll be able to get strong armour earlier than others.. though the only indication of it being stronger is the more expensive price. I’m probably asking for too much from a NES game, and it is actually described perfectly in the manual, but I don’t exactly have one. Also, isn’t it funny that the manual has a screenshot of the final boss battle? Good ol’ NES days where developers dabbed on spoilers and people whining about them.
After every specific story point you’ll also gain a new spell to use. They aren’t for use in combat—I mean, you got awesome swords, you don’t need spells for combat—and instead can help you in many different ways. From simple spells such as healing, to a barrier and more. But the most impressive in my eyes for a NES game, is the Telepathy spell which makes you able to communicate at any point with the four wise sages and they actually give you hints on where to go next. Gone are the days of being stuck and asking your classmates on the playground where to go—if someone even had the game. This might not sound all too impressive but trust me; it is. But obviously the other spells are very useful as well, especially Teleport which you can use at any time and brings you to any previously visited town.
I mentioned the enemies being immune to elemental swords earlier which is a small flaw. The monsters themselves are mostly easy to fight or portray their attacks well enough to avoid them and try again. Because it is a NES game you can even take advantage of the console’s limitations and have enemies respawn easily after leaving a screen, or using lingering damage on them and playing around a bit with the screen to have it do more continuous damage than intended. There is only one annoying form of enemy however, and that’s the flying monsters who suddenly out of nowhere speed towards you from outside the view range and there’s little time to react to them, especially since you can only attack forward in a small distance when not using a spell. Defeat enemies for gold and experience, which all do the stuff we’re used to: gold to buy items, and experience to increase both life points and mana.
Crystalis is not too difficult a game, especially if you explore a bit and find items that could be of benefit to you earlier than the game requires you to have it, like the Power Ring. You can save at any town without breaking a sweat, so if you do die you won’t have to repeat too much. Some items like the Warrior Ring are also very good, and only available to those who go out of their way and try to mess around a bit with the Change spell. Following your own ways is rewarded and that is always good. It’s also a decently long game by NES standards, being around ten hours long. There is no post-game to be had but that’s not surprising for this era of games. There is a decent amount of replayability however due to it’s nature as an RPG, allowing for minimum runs or getting items in a different order. Even some of the main upgrades for the swords are missable, so there’s a lot to do out there for speedrunners and people looking for a challenge.
Graphic-wise Crystalis looks really good for an NES game. Everything is very clear and the sprites look good as well. What would have been even better is if the enemy would be coloured after their weakness but that would probably be too big of a demand for the poor ol’ NES. The same applause can be given to the soundtrack, with several memorable pieces that definitely will make me remember this game long after having played it. The Overworld theme is one you’ll hear early in the game and one you’ll heard for a while, but it never gets old.
Crystalis truly is one of the hidden gems from the NES. Not only does it have great gameplay with the different chargable swords, but the non-combat spells are also very useful. Having to switch out swords and discover weaknesses is not always most pleasant, but it’s just a small nitpick and you know what that means: if I have to search for nitpicks, the game is good. The world has many interesting locations and has an interesting story behind it. I would even go as far as to say that this game is ahead of it’s time, not necessarily innovative but definitely helping its genre develop even further. If you are looking for a good, fun NES game to pass the time with, you can’t go wrong with this classic. And with that, here is my final rating for Crystalis:
There are multiple ways to play Crystalis. The original NES copy costs around 30 bucks which isn’t too bad for an NES copy, but if you don’t want to spend too much on it or don’t own a NES, the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection on the Nintendo Switch and soon Playstation 4 are definitely a viable option. There’s also a remake/port on the Gameboy Colour though I can’t give my opinion on it. According to the internet: you win some, you lose some.