Developer: Gemdrops Inc
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft and FuRyu
Platforms: PS4, PC (PS4 reviewed)
Code Provided: Yes
Crystar is a bit of an odd duck of a release. It comes from a development studio that has never actually tried its hand in making a full on console game by itself before, is published by a studio relatively unknown in the west except among those into these type of games and featured a very unique premise surrounding crying and emotions. It’s probably not the kind of game you’d expect to ever be released in English but thanks to Spike Chunsoft, Crystar has received a full English localization letting us westerners experience this unique experiment of a game…
And I absolutely love it.
Crystar is a game that epitomizes a lot of the things I love about the games made by these small to medium sized Japanese studios. It’s a game that goes out of its way to push the boat out and try something new with its story and themes, a game that focuses on being a memorable experience more than anything else and something that you can really feel the people at Gemdrops poured their heart and soul into making.
It isn’t a perfect game, but as an experience Crystar is one of the most entertaining, thought provoking and downright emotional experiences I have had in quite a while.
Right out the gate, Crystar lets you know that it’s main focus is going to be around the story and characters. As the first 30 minutes of the game unfold it get the setup rolled out. You play as Rei Hatada, an introverted shut in NEET who wakes up to find herself in an unfamiliar and surreal landscape. There, she meets up with her younger sister Mirai and the two set off in order to try and find a way out.
However, it doesn’t take long for things to go south as Rei and Mirai are separated and Rei is cornered by a monster. In her moment of weakness, she gains the ability to summon her Guardian named Heraclitus which lets her defend herself in this strange world.
Soon, she reunites with Mirai and confronts the person who she believes dragged her into this strange world. However, her new powers overwhelm her and in her uncontrollable state she ends up stabbing Mirai, seemingly killing her.
Distraught at these events, Rei soon meets the demon sisters, Pheles and Mephis who inform her that she is in fact in purgatory. They also inform her that Mirai can in fact be revived if Rei were to collect 7 crystals of “idea” and secure Mirai’s soul which would be floating through purgatory towards the point where it would effectively lose its memories and be reborn into the world. Rei agrees to Pheles and Mephis’s proposal, gaining the ability to freely move in and out of purgatory and sets off on her quest to revive the sister she killed and hopefully, atone for her sins.
As expected from a game with “cry” in the title and a plot premise like that, Crystar involves a lot of tears. If you’re a fan of Visual Novel’s then this kind of plot would very much be described as a “Nakige” which roughly translates as “crying game”. A very fitting genre both considering the title of the game and the person writing the scenario, that being ex Key member Naoki Hisaya mainly known for being the main scenario writer for Kanon, another well known Nakige.
Naoki’s writing style lends itself really well to a game like Crystar with the story having a lot of emotional twists and turns as you work your way through the roughly 30 hour main story. Plot threads are slowly drip fed to you as you meet new characters and slowly learn about the world around you and the pasts shackled to the companions you travel with.
Each major character in Crystar is well written and you really feel for them as you learn their pasts and their reasons for fighting alongside you, a lot of which is delivered through stylized sketchbook flashback sequences and dialogue scenes in dungeons.
As a result of the games effective character writing, it means that when it drives a freight train into your emotions you are going to feel it (and believe me, Crystar does this A LOT). Have a box of tissues on hand for this one because you are going to need it.
Thematically, Crystar is very focused around how we as humans handle sorrow, grief and guilt and the emotional measures we may go through in order to try and keep going as well as the importance of not bottling up your grief and sorrow. If I was to sum it up in a few word’s it would be “It’s ok to cry”. That’s very much a major message of Crystar to the point where crying is even a major part of the gameplay.
Speaking of gameplay, Crystar is an Action Dungeon Crawling RPG. Levels tend to consist of multiple maze like floors with enemies dotted throughout and usually some sort of story event or boss encounter at the end.
It’s a very by the numbers system in all honesty but as a result it means the gameplay is what I’d consider perfectly serviceable. You’ve got a basic light and heavy attack as well as dodging, special attacks and a special meter which in Crystar takes the form of the Tear Gauge.
The Tear Gauge slowly fills up as you deal or take damage or it can be charged by crying inside a dungeon by holding L1. When full you can press L1 to enter a super mode of sorts where you deal more damage and can withstand a decent amount of knockback. Pressing L1 again while in this mode will activate a finisher attack which consumes the rest of the tear gauge. It’s a simple mechanic but also an incredibly useful one especially when it comes to dealing with bosses which tend to soak up damage like several sponges taped together later on in the game.
Crystar has 4 playable characters in total which are unlocked as the game progresses. You start off with just Rei who is a pretty reasonable all rounder character with a decent attack speed and damage output. Later on you meet Kokoro Fudoji who is essentially the games tank character. She deals high damage and can take a beating but her attack speed is rather slow and her range is almost embarrassingly small. Next you meet Sen Megumiba who sort of sits in between Rei and Kokoro. She has a faster attack speed than Rei but less overall attack than both Rei and Kokoro. Despite this she has access to some rather powerful special moves and can also stagger enemies pretty easily which becomes quite useful later on. Finally you meet Nanana who fights using projectile attacks. She is honestly the most situational of the four characters but tends to be quite useful in boss fights.
Dungeons in Crystar tend to be a bit on the basic side and focus a lot on combat with almost every second room having a mob of enemies you can fight. Thankfully the game doesn’t actually force you to fight most of these enemies so you can generally skip past them if you just are replaying a level to get a specific torment or something.
Speaking of Torments, these are essentially Crystar’s equipment system. Throughout dungeons you’ll run into enemies which have a red glow to them. These are known as Revenants and tend to be stronger than most enemies. When beaten however they drop a torment. Torments can then be purified by crying back in Rei’s room (where you can also call your friends, view enemy information, pet Thelema the dog and save your game) and turned into sentiments which can be equipped to your characters. On the flip side, torments will also apply minor stat debuffs to your party when picked up so it can be a bit of a risk vs reward system when it comes to picking them up, especially later on in the game where enemies can become quite resilient.
Graphically, Crystar looks rather stunning. Through effective use of lighting effects and a unique art style Crystar manages to make itself really stand out and will be sure to have you at least taking a few screenshots when you first enter a new area. Meanwhile Riuichi’s character art looks absolutely stunning with each character having a unique look to them as well as some of the most beautiful looking eyes I think I have ever seen in anime style art. This art also transitions extremely well into the third dimension thanks to ntny’s character models which manage to be quite detailed despite some slightly weird mouth movements when characters speak.
Rounding off the presentation we have the soundtrack which is absolutely outstanding. Sakuzyo really nails the atmosphere in Crystar with his unique artcore style of music which blends in beautifully with the environments and will have you making good use of that music menu to listen to some of your favourite tracks again.
Despite all the praise I have for Crystar, it still has some flaws. The difficulty scaling is a bit weird and I found myself dropping down to easy mode at around the halfway point to counteract the fact that most enemies had become gigantic damage sponges, dungeons themselves while pretty to look at are pretty basic in their design and can get old after a while and the lack of enemy variety means that you’ll be seeing a lot of reskins down the line.
However, I’m willing to look past these flaws thanks to the fact that the amount of good stuff in Crystar significantly outweighs the one or two flaws it has. Crystar is very much a game you play for the experience. The story of Rei, Kokoro, Sen and Nanana as they continue through purgatory is one that will have you hooked in until the end and the sheer charm present in the games presentation really makes it stick with you even after you put down the controller at end game.
Playing through Crystar for this review is an experience I think I will remember for a very long time simply because of how much the game captivated me. It’s everything I love about these kind of games and more and I highly recommend picking it up, just remember to keep a box of tissues on hand.
Crystar Releases on August 27th in the US and August 30th elsewhere on PS4 and Steam.
Review code for Crystar was provided by Spike Chunsoft.