What makes someone a human? Is it the presence of a human soul required? Do they need to have a beating heart? Or is there some other, arbitrary measurement? This is a question that plenty of science fiction have already touched upon and Crymachina enters the ring to bring its own story to the table. As a spiritual successor to Crystar, does this game take what it has learned from its predecessor and improve to make an unforgettable experience?
Crymachina opens up with a heavy scene right out of the gate: our protagonist, Leben, is in the hospital dying from a strange disease known as Centrifugal Syndrome. And as the story sets in, she’s not the only one who has suffered from this disease (and is far from the last). From there, we’re taken 2,000 years into the future, where humanity is extinct and a new world known as Eden is being constructed. Leben awakens and is greeted by a Deus ex Machina known as Enoa. After a disastrous war, humanity is gone and all that’s left is Eden, the last hope to reviving the human race.
Like Crystar, Crymachina tackles some heavy topics, such as what makes a human a human and whether a machine is capable of showing human emotion. However, like its predecessor, the end result falls a bit short. The conflicts revolving around the Dei ex Machina was told admirably, while the human characters lagged behind with their characterization.
After you complete stages, you’ll get to participate in Tea Parties, which are the game’s way of getting the player more familiar with the characters and their relationships with each other. The moments are cute, albeit a bit hollow. With plenty of discussions about hobbies, likes, dislikes, and the occasional deeper conversations of the humanity of machines, the connections of these characters feel a bit superficial. This superficial feeling extends to the main story as well, where a lot is explained and then forgotten until it’s relevant down the line.
Crymachina is an action RPG where you can control one of three characters to explore subnetworks within Eden. The dungeons are straight corridors that you guide your character down. Occasionally you will stop to fight against mobs of enemies until you reach the end where a boss awaits a fight. Outside of battles, you’ll learn more about your teammates in Tea Parties, or upgrade their equipment and stats.
The rhythm of combat is very predictable, where you will encounter a couple mobs of enemies before ending the stage fighting a boss character of some kind. There are three total characters that you can use, although you’ll be locked to specific characters in your first run through a level. You have one melee attack, two auxiliary attacks that must recharge after each use, a ranged weapon that truthfully isn’t useful most of the time, and support programs that act as additional abilities. When battling against enemies, you’ll see a light blue circle fill. If it completely fills up, the enemy will enter a weakened state, which allows that enemy to be easily launched. From there, you can launch a finishing blow, which will deal major damage. That tends to be the general flow for battles, although as you progress, it’ll be harder to get an enemy to that point, as that gauge does reset if you don’t follow up on attacks.
Attacking is only half the battle. You’ll need to make use of dodging and countering in Crymachina. Unfortunately, the timing for both doesn’t feel great. Attacks from enemies are typically telegraphed with a bright purple slash, which would normally be an okay indicator to use when attempting to parry. But when attacks in general use other colors in flashy ways right in the area where the purple indicator would appear, you often end up noticing the attack when it’s too late. On top of that, if you lock yourself into a chain of attacks due to button mashing, you’ll end up hitting the dodge button when you have the timing correct, but your character won’t dodge until a second later, thus taking the hit. This normally wouldn’t be an issue, but in Crymachina, taking even a few hits can easily end up with you having to start the battle over again (or the entire stage if you didn’t reach the boss).
Your support programs are some of the most useful abilities that you’ll want to upgrade as you progress through the game. Each ability has a limited time use and once you’ve used it, you can’t use it until you either start the stage over or move on to another stage. There are three different programs that you can make use of: Emergency Repair, Awaken, and Remote Assault. Emergency Repair will heal you for a large amount of HP, Awaken will increase your stats and enable auto-dodge for a limited period of time, and Remote Assault will send a beam attack down on the enemy that will always hit.
With all of the characters, you are able to increase their level using ExP. ExP is shared among all three characters and the only way to gain more is to complete stages. Therefore, unless you want to endlessly grind, you’ll need to pay attention to which characters you’re going to be using in future stages and level those characters up. EGO is another currency that you gain from beating levels that can be used to either upgrade character stats or the support programs. All of your EGO should honestly go into the support programs, as those have more measurable effects in battle than individual stat increases.
You’re also able to swap out auxiliary pieces for each character. You gain new pieces by completing stages and you can mix and match pieces. Personality Data, which can be converted into auxiliary pieces, is also available to purchase. You can equip up to three skills to these pieces, each which has their own abilities. Some skills act as a shield to protect you from enemy attacks, some are ranged attacks, and some are melee attacks. The use case of each of these skills depends on how you prefer to play, and then can all be viable.
Dungeons in Crymachina are straight corridors with little opportunities to explore. Enemies will pop in when you enter open areas, cutting off any method of escaping until all of the enemies are defeated. As you explore and if you’ve taken damage, you will regenerate health (although a minuscule amount that isn’t even worth depending on).
You are able to repeat levels, so if you find that you need to grind, that option is open to you. Along with the required networks, there are subnetworks that you can explore, so long as you input the correct coordinates. These aren’t required to complete the story, but they do offer additional items, experience, and facilities that can improve your characters down the road.
Crymachina’s strong points definitely revolve around the art and music. This time around, the art style is more flashy and glossy with the characters looking almost like porcelain dolls, landing itself as one of the prettiest JRPGS that have come out recently.
Of course, it doesn’t look amazing when the models are in motion on the Nintendo Switch. And during battles, the amount of colors and lights that are going off are distracting. But in cutscenes, the game looks really nice. The character designs are fine, nothing too memorable outside of its general style. But it does set itself apart with the sci-fi elements of the game appearing front and center.
Music and Voice Acting
This time around, Crymachina only offers Japanese voice acting, bringing in a healthy mix of those newer to the scene and those who have made a name for themselves. The entire game is voice acted, from the minor quips that play during dungeon crawling and combat to the cutscenes.
When it comes to the music, Crymachina follows in Crystar’s footsteps by bringing in EDM influences to music. However, this time the music takes on a more futuristic feel, suiting the atmosphere of this game very well. As such, the EDM is a lot more apparent. On top of that, some of the songs feature singing, with the voice sounding similar to Enoa.
Overall, it feels as though Crymachina improved in some areas after the release of Crystar, while stumbling backwards in others. Not having to play through entire portions of the game multiple times is great, as well as the fact that the game didn’t overstay its welcome, with a much shorter run time. However, the storytelling does feel as though it suffers from this as a result. And while the art style and music remain just as good as its predecessor, it’s not enough to really recommend Crymachina without taking a good hard look at what exactly you’re getting into.