Emotions are a powerful thing that often go misunderstood. They can guide us in life or lead us astray if left unchecked. Crystar is a game based around tragedy and how emotions can either drive someone forward or take them down a path of destruction. How much can life throw at someone before they are overwhelmed and crushed?
Crystar opens up with you controlling a butterfly in a strange dimension. There are other butterflies around you, all seeming to be in a state of torment. You’re not quite as tormented as them, although you slowly come across memories of your life showing that you haven’t had quite a great time. Your name, Rei Hatada, eventually comes back to you. Soon after, you regain your body, and your little sister, Mirai Hatada, appears behind you. Neither of you are sure why you’re in this world, but you know that you need to find a way out. Before you’re able to, a large monster appears and destroys the bridge both you and your sister are crossing, taking your sister with it.
With that, Crystar officially kicks off, with Rei on a mission to save her sister. Given that the title of the game is Crystar, you can expect a lot of heavy themes throughout the game. It tackles deaths of all kinds, mentions of abuse, emotional manipulation, and much more in both the main story as well as optional text blurbs that you pick up as you defeat enemies. If heavier themes aren’t quite your thing, Crystar is a game that you will want to sit out.
The overall story for Crystar is quite interesting, although the way it’s told leaves more to be desired. The game dives into the concept of Purgatory, a dimension between life and death where Souls reside before they are thrown into the Cogs of Renewal for the chance of being reborn. The story unfolds in a way that isn’t quite expected, although the anime tropes that tend to linger in these types of games drag down the experience some. Characters are obsessed with Rei simply because she’s cute, while others appear very close right from the get-go. There are also many who have one-track minds, stating their purpose every three sentences.
Crystar is an action RPG with dungeon-crawling aspects where you must transverse the levels of Purgatory to save your sister. The combat is simple to pick up and unfortunately, simple to master with no promise of depth from the start. Intermixed with that are dungeon-crawling portions where you must travel through the levels of Purgatory and moments in your bedroom where you Purify Torments to create new equipment pieces to power up your characters.
All battles in Crystar occur in real time. Enemies will immediately start attacking you the moment you enter their line of sight. You possess both a heavy and light attack that can be used against them, and they can be chained together to form combos. However, the response time between hitting a button and the occurrence of an attack is off by a half second or so, so you’ll need to keep that in mind when attacking foes while also attempting to dodge. You also can’t appear to break your combo to dodge and given the response time difference, this can end up with you taking a lot more hits than anticipated.
The lock-on feature is another portion of combat that is just as clunky to use. You can toggle the lock-on feature at any point, which is nice because if you are constantly adjusting your camera in battle, it will be a bit of an annoyance. Switching which enemy is locked on is set to the camera, so if you turned around in battle and needed to adjust the camera, you may just end up locking on to another enemy in the vicinity.
You will end up with four different characters to use in combat, each with their own battle techniques. Rei will be your normal range sword user who you’ll probably end up using for most, if not all of the game. Kokoro is a single target melee unit, which already makes her tough to use as all enemies in dungeons attack in packs of two or more. Sen is a dual wielding sword user who has higher stats when you first get her. However, the downside with her is that she levels much slower than the other characters. And finally, Nanana is your ranged attacker who has low defense and HP. Speaking honestly, there isn’t much of a reason to deviate away from Rei and occasionally Nanana when facing enemies that like to run away.
Each character has a Guardian that allows them to battle in Purgatory. These Guardians have a use outside of the weapons they provide, however. While battling, they have a chance of countering enemy attacks. They can also block and nullify damage if you’ve taken a fatal blow. Both of these are life savers and much appreciated, especially in the moments when you are surrounded by enemies and constantly taking attacks. There is also a tear gauge that constantly fills up as you attack or take damage. After the gauge is full, you can unleash an ultimate attack. But be careful, because once you choose to unleash that attack, you can’t change your character’s direction. So there may be times where you miss hitting an enemy altogether.
There are special monsters known as Revenants that are stronger than normal and have a pink glow to them along with a dark halo over their heads. These monsters are carrying Torments that you will collect after defeating them. You can carry up to 10 Torments on you at one time and in order to reset your Torment counter, you’ll need to purify them in your room. By crying, or purifying, you can change those Torments into Sentiments, which are equipment that you use in battle.
Nothing bad happens if you are carrying 10 Torments, however, you won’t be able to collect new ones until the old ones are purified. So it is in your best interest to always purify the Torments you get. As you progress, you’ll get better Torments. You can carry one weapon, one clothing piece, and two accessories.
Along with purifying, you can fuse and modify Torments as well. Fusing is basically taking two Torments of the same kind and rank and fusing them together to make a stronger rank. Modifying a Torment is adding additional abilities to your equipment. Both functionalities are fairly straightforward, although you will need specific upgrade items to fuse or modify. These items can be found in dungeons or bought in shops. The drop rate isn’t great as you progress, so purchasing upgrade items in the shop is going to be your only consistent way to obtain these items.
Boss battles operate the exact same as battles against regular monsters. The only difference is that bosses hit much harder and have a larger pool of health. The patterns between bosses are consistent in both phases of battle. For the first portion of the match, bosses will attack you as normal, with attacks that are relatively simple to dodge. However, once you get their health down enough, their attacks will grow more aggressive.
The dungeons in Crystar are nothing to write home about. In fact, they are little more than linear paths with occasional dead ends. There isn’t a reason to cover the entirety of a floor, as the items you find can be purchased in the shop at the beginning of each dungeon. The only reason you would probably want to explore around is if you need to grind for levels or money. Along with the fact that the dungeons are one-dimensional in exploration, they are just as disappointing in appearance. Of course, the dungeons look different between the different levels, but they honestly feel the same. The only difference is the coat of paint given to the background and colors.
Difficulty and Replayability
Crystar is by no means a difficult game. In fact, if you remain consistent in defeating all enemies that you come across up until you reach the first set of credits, you’re pretty much good to go at that point (if you’re playing on easy/normal). There are three difficulties in the game with the difference being how much your attacks deal and how much damage enemy attacks deal. This can be changed at any time, which is a blessing given the tedious nature of battles.
In terms of replayability, Crystar is a linear story with three different endings. How can this be? In order to complete all of the endings, you must play through the last three chapters a total of three separate times. And of course, the first two endings end the story on bleak tones that make you want to see what the true ending is all about. Replaying the same chapters, albeit with minor story changes, is already a tedious action. Add to the fact that the gameplay is mind-numbing stale and you have a good dozen of hours or so spent in irritation or exhaustion just trying to reach the ending.
Crystar’s aesthetics are nice, both with its 3D models and 2D art. One of the pitfalls that anime action games can fall into is the fact that they all tend to look the same. The models for Crystar look different from any models I’ve seen from other games. The animation is a bit awkward though. Running feels a bit stilted, although it is fluid in its own right.
Of course, the actual designs of the characters are standard. Everyone is cute and the boss monsters that we saw were interesting. The regular monsters aren’t as exciting to think about and the fact that the monsters repeat as you progress through Purgatory is a bummer. The only difference between a monster at the beginning parts of Purgatory and one at the end is the color palette.
Music and Voice Acting
Crystar offers both Japanese and English voice acting, both of which are pretty good. You can toggle this option at any point. The entirety of the game is voice acted, from characters giving occasional noises while wandering through the dungeon or in battle to full on cutscenes.
The music is very pretty and fits the melancholic tones of the game. There is an abundance of piano and string pieces to take in, each beautiful in their own right. Don’t think that all of the music is just sad piano music that you’d hear playing the background of a rainy coffee shop. There are also a good handful of faster paced pieces, typically reserved for boss battles. In fact, you’ll be surprised to hear some EDM suddenly enter the scene. Quite a strange addition, and yet, it fits the game very well.
The performance is about what one would expect playing on the Switch. Again, there is a bit of lag between your input and when the action is actually acted out. Along with that, as you progress and see more monsters on screen at one time, you will start to notice a bit of slow down. This is especially the case when using your ultimate moves.
Crystar has a good story premise going, but is bogged down by its tedious gameplay. The combat on its own is fine, but grows tiring as there is no change outside of occasional new skills that you can learn. Add that to the fact that you have to play through the last portion of the game three times in order to view the true ending and you have a game that feels like it was almost set up for failure.
If anime action RPGs are your thing and you don’t mind the monotony that a lot of this particular genre of RPG offers, you’ll find yourself right at home. If you’re looking for a deep gameplay experience to match the interesting story premise, Crystar is not that game.