Part Ys and part The Legend of Zelda, Crystalis is a top down action RPG that bests the early Ys titles in the game-play department and runs circles around the original Nintendo Zelda games when it comes to plot.
Think of Crystalis as the game that should have been The Legend of Zelda 2. It takes the basic concepts founded in the original Zelda title and mixes in the quick and frantic combat system of Ys: The Vanished Omens (SMS) and creates an original, addictive, and masterfully designed adventure. For a Nintendo Entertainment System game there is an astonishing amount of NPC interaction and dialogue as well as a fast paced story that keeps you playing just to see what happens next.
You play as an unnamed hero who regains consciousness after being in a cryogenic sleep for a century. You have lost your memory, but you soon discover that you were placed in cryostasis just prior to the onset of a global thermonuclear war. You awaken to a world where due to the war, all technology has been lost and life has reverted back to a savage and medieval state. The world is overrun with monsters and mutants and primitive magic is the only powerful weapon man possesses.
You are guided by four wise men and Mesia, a fellow scientist who was put into cryogenic sleep along side you, as they believe you were prophesied to destroy the evil Draygonia Empire, who is using it’s military to capture a mysterious floating tower which is believed to house an array of weapons built by the early survivors of the thermonuclear war. Those who constructed the tower and its weapon system intended them to be used to prevent any future cataclysms, but it is Emperor Draygon’s intent to use it to dominate the world.
The only way to defeat the Draygonia Empire is to obtain the Swords of Wind, Fire, Water, and Thunder and combine them to defeat Emperor Draygon himself.
The plays from a top down perspective. There is a world map on which you can battle enemies using your swords. You can also enter various towns where you can purchase items, buy armor and items, as well as replenish your HP/MP at inns.
As you progress through the game you acquire magic spells as you accomplish tasks and advance your level. You recieve these spells and abilities from the aforementioned four wise men and various other NPCs. In the tried and true Zelda fashion, frequently you must obtain certain items and magic before you can progress further in the game.
You also obtain elemental swords as well as special power ups for each. The power ups, when equipped, allow you to perform certain attacks when the sword is charged. These power ups include the ability to use the Sword of Fire to melt ice bricks and use the Sword of Water to create water bridges over streams and rivers.
The combat system is basic Zelda-style hack-and-slash, except that the enemies and your character move little faster. When you first start out playing the game it can be difficult to get used to the games not-so-great collision detection, but once you get the hang of it you shouldn’t have any problems at all. The combat system may be repetitive, but it never gets boring thanks in large part to the fast pace of the battles and the excellent story which keeps driving the game forward.
The true star of Crystalis, however is the quality and care in which the story is told. While a majority of Nintendo Entertainment System games relied on their instruction manuals to tell the story, Crystalis plunges you into a mysterious world and than actually explains whats going on. The game includes several welcomed extras, including NPCs that say different things depending on what stage of the game you are at, and there is even a cinematic pre title opening which, although primitive by today’s standards, was something truly spectacular in 1990.
Add on top of that some of the best and brightest graphics on the NES, some the best music to grace any 8-bit game, and a battery back up that allows for two game saves and you have a game that is truly worthy to stand shoulder to shoulder with Dragon Warrior 4, Final Fantasy, and the Zelda games.
If you have never played this game than I recommend that you buy yourself a copy sooner rather than later. A complete copy can still behad for around $25, but be warned that in recent years and especially the last few months the cult status of this truly great action RPG has started to rise, and the price will soon follow.