“Brilliantly depressing” is how I’d describe CRYSTAR ($59.99), Gemdrops Inc. and FURYU Corporation’s new Action/RPG published by Spike Chunsoft, but let’s not get too far ahead of things.
Rei Hatada and her little sister Mirai are pulled by a strange being into an odd dimension called Purgatory where violent creatures soon appear to attack the two. Rei manages to unleash a hidden power that gives her a powerful weapon and fancy costume, but she accidentally kills her kid sister during one battle. As she cries at losing her sibling, two oddly garbed female demon twins appear and make her an offer she can’t refuse. Become an Executor for the twins and kill enough demons in Purgatory in order to gather enough Idea (tears) to save Mirai’s soul before it descends too deep and gets reborn as a completely different person. You get one guess as to Rei’s decision.
Thus, the downward spiral begins in a game that will hit home hard for some players thanks to its assorted mostly gloomy thematic elements and a story that has a few surprises tucked into its narrative. Thankfully, while a tad (okay, very) downbeat at times, the game is gorgeous to look at. Illustrator RIUICHI’s work was lovingly translated into 3D characters by Character Designer & Modeling Lead ntny and the game also features an outstanding score from composer Sakuzyo that’s worth a listen.
Depression, self-doubt, murder, a school suicide and more get addressed here and while decidedly heavy in tone, the game mostly skillfully juggles these themes although it drops the ball a few times as a few of its different endings play out and leave a few burning questions lingering. It’s also probably going to please the dacryphiliac gamers out there to some extent as Rei’s frequent crying helps her summon a very helpful guardian and also allows her to upgrade weapons and skills as the game progresses. It takes a little while unlock all the game has to offer, so expect to do a lot of quests and side quests (called Ordeals) for the quirky demon twins Mephis and Pheles who really want you to succeed for their own selfish purposes.
Rei will meet and team up with three other gals as the story progresses, but these are relationships where she’s sometimes less than thrilled about her temporary team-ups. Some of these young ladies offer up a bit of humor to the game’s generally glum goings on as Rei’s sole comfort outside of Ordeals is playing with Thelema, her loyal dog who waits for her in her room. You’ll spend a good deal of time post-missions turning Torments into Sentiments and upgrading gear for you and your small crew. While each Ordeal is relatively short, I found it somewhat fun to replay them in order to earn enough Torments to change and upgrade my gear or create new gear for the team. The game doesn’t force you through it at all. It feels made for short bursts of play and even auto-saves at certain points that allow you to optionally replay a map from a certain spot if you think you missed something.
Fortunately all the gals are great at fighting and the game controls quite fluidly. One slight caveat is the feeling of weightlessness to the battles. While dodging, combos and skills are very simple to pull off and you’ll learn new moves as you progress, all the gals control similarly. Amusingly, Rei’s tiny frame dashes around as if she’s Wednesday Addams after half a Red Bull. At 4’9″, she doesn’t look as if she weighs more than 95 pounds and two of the other three gals are shorter or weigh less, as one’s a ghost. For the most part, save for the bosses, you can dispatch those Specters and Revenants with basic moves like knocking them down with an air attack into fast strike combo and maybe a blast or two from a skill to finish the job. It’s entirely up to you to mix things up as you like. I say do so, as yes, the combat can be repetitive if you rely on the simplest moves.
As noted earlier, the game is pretty gorgeous throughout. Richly colored environments and nicely detailed 3D character models for the main protagonists make up for some (intentionally?) drab enemy types and map layouts and I was surprised at how quickly Rei and her allies moved. Of course, Rei’s room is a bit darker (well, save for Thelema’s bright white fur and that huge comforter Rei wakes up under after each Ordeal), but she’s not a totally rustic shut-in, packing some top- shelf Sony headphones (to listen to the soundtrack with) and a slick cell phone her allies and some enemies use to ring her up with news, assignments and other info.
While not without its flaws, I’ll give CRYSTAR a recommend to fans of Acton/RPG experiences and Spike Chunsoft’s other titles. There’s enough story here to hook in that clever crowd and while the combat can be too simple for its own good, it’s actually a great thing to have a game that won’t block your progression because it’s programmed to appeal towards a purely hardcore audience. Hey, if you want it rough, you can crank up the difficulty and leave it cranked. I went through it once on the easiest mode just to get more into the plot my first run, but a second play is in progress Where I’m taking the harder road just to play around with all the moves in that more challenging mode. There’s enough here to merit a sequel provided the game does well, but as usual, we shall see what the future holds, correct?
Score: B (80%)
Review code provided by Spike Chunsoft