Addicting fast-paced action gameplay (which was unique at the time)
Story was simple but good and doesn't distract from gameplay
Detailed graphics that look good
Catchy as hell soundtrack
Controls are easy to learn
Equipping armory and items is a pain at first
Frustrating parts are frustrating
Back in the late 80's, the only RPG's available were all turn-based and had you inputting commands to your troops so they can attack the enemy, heal allies or run like hell (hell, they do it today, but there are twists to the system these days). Meanwhile, if you wanted action and/or adventure with some RPG elements, you looked no further than Zelda. However, towards the end of the 80's and at the start of the 90's, somebody at SNK thought "what if we fused the action elements of Zelda with the RPG elements of Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior" and the others at SNK responded with "that's a bloody good idea, let's do it!" After months (maybe even years) of hard work, Crystalis was formed, and SNK never looked back...
The story of Crystalis goes like this - the world gets destroyed by some evil forces, and the survivors of this destruction reject all science and technology to try and live the simpler life. No doubt that if we lived like this, the Christians will win the religion war, plus it'd suck since we've grown so used to technology, but since technology created the post-apocalyptic atmosphere, sure, why not ditch it all... But anyway, within all this mess, survivors are rebuilding the world.
Fast-forward to when the game actually starts, our hero (who you name) is in some sort of technological chamber in a cave... probably to protect himself from being destroyed... He ends up waking up from his sleep and heads to a rebuilt town nearby. Eventually, he learns that he needs the four elemental swords to get to the fortress in the sky to defeat the evil sorcerer Draygon, who apparently tried to destroy the world. It sounds a bit complex (well, for 1990), but it doesn't distract from the gameplay.
The main thing to do in Crystalis is to explore and either talk to townspeople to learn of what the hell is going on or go out to the field nearby and kill some monsters. Among that, you're exploring dungeons, getting the treasures to help you on your quest. At the end of the dungeon, you have to beat the boss to finish it. Seems simple enough. Actually, it sounds a lot like Zelda, but the main difference between Zelda and Crystalis is that Crystalis has many RPG elements.
At first, you're unarmed! The minute you go out on the field north of town, the enemies will completely destroy you and you can't do anything about it! Thankfully, the game is nice enough to give you your first sword by finding the right house in the town. This is known as the Wind Sword. To equip it, press Select to access an Item menu, then press A on the sword and press Select again. To swipe with your sword, mash B. If you want to fire a blast of wind out of it, hold B, stand still and wait until the "1" at the bottom flashes, then release B. This does a bit more damage, though you might want to prepare beforehand - is the enemy weak to this element? Are they going to kill me before I charge? If they resist the element, switch swords. If they're going to ram into you, just move around and keep holding B (as it stays at the part the blast is charged at until you release B), then when it stops charging, stand still, wait a bit, then FIRE!
Aside from the Wind Sword, you can get Fire Sword, Water Sword and Thunder Sword, each with their elemental strengths and weaknesses (even though the Thunder Sword kicks the crap out of the other swords) found in different dungeons. There is one more sword called the Crystalis, which is a fusion of the four swords, however it's only really used to kill the final boss. Some say it's a tease, I'd say it's good, because it's kind of cheap enough with the Thunder Sword, but the Crystalis...it's bloody powerful, I tell you!
Anyway, out in the field, you walk around, trying to find out what to do... Okay, you should probably know if you actually talked to the townspeople beforehand or just explore and do stuff. Anyway, yeah, the field is basically for exploration, with many enemies to slaughter. They are usually the weaker sort, but if you're having too much trouble with dungeon enemies (who are stronger enemies), this is a good way to get yourself a few level-ups and money.
In dungeons, you walk through a somewhat linear bunch of corridors with some side-paths that hold treasure and more enemies. The enemies this time around are stronger.
In the game, you can level up just like in Final Fantasy. Defeating enough enemies to get enough experience points levels you up. Leveling up increases HP (which is your health - if that goes to 0, you're dead!), MP (which determines how much magic you can use. If you use it all up, you won't be using any magic) and your attack strength (which is basically how much damage you do to enemies). It often takes a bit of time to level up, but to keep up with the fast pace this game has, it's not usually that long away. Your next level up is usually less than 10-15 minutes away really.
Among the default blasts of energy the swords start off with, they also have additional powers. You have to find gems in dungeons or out in the field to power your weapon up, and you must have them equipped to actually use them. Also, if you want to use a high-level charge attack, you must equip the medium-level one too. The low and middleweights are simple attacks that can do some damage from a distance, but the strongest ones do lots of damage in surrounding areas. However, there is a price for using the stronger blasts - some of your MP is taken off you. It's a fair call though, they are quite powerful attacks. Takes a bit longer to charge, but not that much longer (just to keep it fast paced). Nice little twist I might add.
You can also cast magic. The sort of magic you have ranges from HP restoring, to bad-status curing, to shapeshifting, to advice gaining and even to temporary invincibility. Equip a spell and get out of the menu. To use the spell, make sure you have a lot of MP, then press A. Contrary to what you're thinking, it keeps the game fast paced, as it doesn't take like forever to charge up a spell. Most of these spells are defensive anyway. The offensive spells come from the weapons, which I've already covered.
Now, while you're exploring dungeons, you get hit by an enemy and this box saying "YOU ARE POISONED" pops up. That means you have been hit by a status problem. These last until you die, you get to an inn faster than lightning or you heal it with an item or a certain spell (Recover I believe it's called). They do different things, though they all basically kill you. Poison, for example, hurts you until you die or cure it. Petrify doesn't let you attack or use magic and basically leaves you for dead. Paralyze doesn't let you fire blasts out of your sword. Last but certainly not least, Nuper turns you into sludge, and as sludge, you can't attack or use magic. There's a difference between petrify and nuper - Recover cures petrify yet nuper is untouched by it. You need some sort of super item to cure nuper!
But really, the entirety of the game is fast paced. You're cutting up enemies and looking for the time to strike. Is they any time where you get a breather and slow things down? Well, yeah, there are.
I forgot to mention the point of towns, did I? Yes I did. Towns are basically safe havens in this game. You talk to people in them by just walking up to them and they tell you some stuff like "the elder is getting annoyed of the windmill guy sleeping all the time", "have you been to the elder's house" and "I AM ERROR" (okay, maybe not the latter, but it can feel like that sometimes), and some even give you money! Why beg when you can dress up as a hero and get more money!?
Also, you can go to an armory to spend money on equipment like tunics, armor, shields and the like, while you can go to an item shop and buy yourself some herbs (HP healers), antidotes (cures poison status), lime (cures petrification), repun (cures sludge status or 'nuper') and the like which helps you out in the long run provided you have the money. Keep fresh supplies of these items - dying in a dungeon, hell dying anywhere, will have you starting back at the start-up screen. Finally, there are inns, which allows you to restore HP and MP, and it'll only cost some money. Fair call. If you want annoying, try Final Fantasy. You have to pay to save the game there... That annoys me. Here, it makes sense. To save, you just press Select, press Start, press A and select 'yes'. Trust me, you will want to remember this, because you only have one chance. Save before entering dungeons. And don't worry folks, there aren't a million passwords to remember, because the cartridge has a save battery in it (basically, it saves the game in itself, no passwords needed).
Okay, now to discuss the main and only flaw to this game. The menu is a pain to navigate around at first. You think you can just press Start, but no. It's Select! Start just shows your stats (like ATK, DEF, Life, LVL and what armory, weaponry and magic you have equipped). Select is what you want to go to. There are three different screens - two equipment/item screens, and a save/load screen. Press Start to change between the two, and press Select to get out of the menu. This is to be used when you decide to come back after turning off the NES and turning it back on then selecting Continue on the title screen, because it starts you at the beginning anyway. When you start again, open up the menu, press Start and select Load. Load up your saved game and enjoy.
Many people would say that this game is too cheap, and they can't be any further from the truth. The game is hard, but it's also fun and keeps the game moving. It also keeps interest. I don't want to tell you how boring the easy Adventure/Action/RPG games are, especially after playing quite a challenging one like this. Admittedly, bosses can start cheap, but if you have the right equipment, you can breeze through them...or at least have an easier time with the fights, whatever.
With all this talk of swordplay and spellcasting, you'd think that this game is perfect for Adventure/Action/RPG people, right? Yes! Actually, anyone who is interested in this sort of thing at all is welcome to play it. Although the difficulty can prove unforgiving at times, but if you practise and persevere, you can beat the game and have a great time with it!
Break it down now:
A mix of swordplay, spellcasting and some role-playing here and there at a fast pace to make RPG's look cool, edgy and fast, unlike the slugs we had before (ie. Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior). If you don't know what I mean (or couldn't be bothered reading the whole review), just think of this as Kingdom Hearts, but faster and much better.
A bit mixed. The menu controls are a bit confusing and clunky at first, but you'll eventually adjust. The non-menu controls are pretty damn sweet. The movement controls are a little loose, but not too loose (or is it just my d-pad - oh, by the way, the d-pad moves you). Everything else in this department are tight!
Post-apocalyptic settings were a rarity back in the 90's, and the way this is set out is not even seen all that much when put together. The fortress in the sky idea was pretty cool too. It's just nice to see a different story - 5 or so years of 'save the princess' with some twists included gets very tiring.
Holy crap, they are impressive! The amount of detail put into certain parts of areas is quite detailed - 12-bit anybody? However, it's a little inconsistent as some areas don't look "12-bit"...more undetailed and very 8-bit really, but still very pleasing to the eyes and very nice to look at, plus this IS an 8-bit game, however, the inconsistency kind of annoys me. Character models are typical 8-bit 'not too many details but still has some details' sort of models, but at least they don't blend in with the backgrounds. Is it just me, or is the sword-slashing animation a bit choppy? Who knows...
I'll start by saying that the sound effects are usual 8-bit affair, so don't expect too much out of that. What we have here, though, still sounds pretty cool. The soundtrack hosts some of the best that the NES can offer. While it has absolutely nothing on Journey To Silius's soundtrack, Crystalis still has a fun soundtrack that feels adrenaline-pumping, which is suiting to the fast-paced nature of the game. It's also quite catchy and very well done. Better keep those spirits up high, SNK!
There aren't too many sidequests to look forward to in the game, although the main quest is worth coming back to every once in a while. As a whole, it takes quite a while to finish... 8-15 hours, anybody? Even then, it's not about to just sit and collect dust, because it's an enjoyable game to play and replay, though it might not be a good idea to do it over and over again.
I have to admit, the difficulty at times frustrated the hell out of me, but aside from some frustrations, the game is quite enjoyable to play. Plus, when it's not frustrating, it's still hard, but the sort of hard that doesn't frustrate you...more like gives you some fun!
Crystalis is a game that many people praise because not only is it a pioneer (or at least the earliest of its kind), but also because of the execution. It's a game that nobody should pass up. It has a couple of downs, but they're nothing compared to the ups and standstills.
This game gets a 4.5/5.0 for being such a sweet game.