Nintendo Archive: Crystalis

With the Wii on the way, and its access to hundreds of popular and obscure games from Nintendoâ??s extensive archives, I think now would be a good time to start a feature reviewing some of the lost games of our youth; be they criminally over-looked gems or pieces of garbage so diabolically bad, I really shouldnâ??t be reminding you of them.

SNKâ??s action RPG classic, Crystalis, basically takes everything that made the original Legend of Zelda for the NES so good, and makes it exponentially better. The original Zelda was pretty much the template for the genre, so one would expect the formula to be improved as more and more Action RPGs graced the big grey box. Well, Zelda II: the Adventure of Link was a big let-down to many a Zelda-fan, if mostly due to the side-scrolling point of view. Crystalis is everything the Zelda sequel shouldâ??ve been, and my personal favorite Action RPG made for the NES.

The story is like so: something nasty happened in the year 1987 causing the End of the World. Animals mutated into all forms of deadly creatures and chaos reigned supreme. A giant Pagoda in the Sky was built and shuttled-off to float around for some reason. Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, the survivors rebuilt their villages and environments and adapted to the new world. 100 years later, a purple-haired young lad is awoken from a cryogenic slumber and emerges from the depths of a cave (NES cinematics, gotta love em). He is fabled to rid the world of tyranny and is quickly sent to work waking up sleepy assholes in caves and repairing windmills. The people of the future are lazy bastards.

It starts out as most Action RPGs, you are weaponless and alone in some village and you have to interact with people to get the items you need. You kill cannon-fodder monsters in the overworld levels to earn money and gradually level-up to become more powerful While this is a relatively boring concept now nâ?? days, but back then, holy crap.

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I mentioned Zelda earlier for a reason. One can instantly recognize similarities in the two games that go beyond just the genre. Much like the fangirl-adored Link, your purple-haired hooligan in Crystalis has the ability to charge up energy attacks with his sword and blast them at on-coming enemies. However, the energy-blast mechanics for Crystalis are considerably more maneuverable than in Zelda. By holding down the B-button, you charge the attack (as opposed to Link, who has to have a full life-meter to accomplish the task, and then has no control over it). A power-meter gauges how powerful your blast will be. As the game progresses, you collect â??orbsâ? that increase your energy blastâ??s destructive capabilities. But what I think is the best thing about the energy blast in Crystalis is that once you charge it up you can keep on truckinâ?? around the overworld until you run across a mutant tiger or amorphous blob. Then you can line em up and blow em away. It may not seem like much now, but that extra ounce of freedom and control really went a long way. And to make things even cooler, once youâ??ve charged a blast you get these cool orbiting electrons all around you, kinda like an atom. Very snazzy.

RPG-wise, things are pretty cut and dry, here. You interact with villagers and old men hiding in caves to find out what you need to do next. You investigate items in various stores and figure out how to put them to good use in the proper areas. Again, by todayâ??s standards, this may be nothing spectacular, but from a historical context, this game was light-years ahead of its time.

The graphics are exceptional for an NES RPG. Purple-puss has a smooth, well-rounded design; much more fluid-looking than early NES games and not nearly as blocky. Environments range from sandy to rocky, to grassy. The densely floral areas actually conceal half your body in underbrush, and some baddies as well, adding a nice touch to the detail. You feel like youâ??re walking in the woods and not in a blocky maze. Some enemies are more interesting than others. Thereâ??s the lame-o level-builder losers, like blobs, slugs and tiger-people. But thereâ??s also a few with funny quirks, like rock monsters that rip off their own heads and throw them at you.

The levels are set up in a much smoother fashion than Zelda. The entire overworld is one big playground, not segmented into screens which have to load every time you get across one. Once you accomplish the task in one level you move on to the next. Each level has a different overworld and accompanying village for you to play in. Iâ??ll admit, separating areas into levels sort of detracts from the â??massive worldâ? aspect that Zelda had, but it makes the gameplay so much cleaner.

The save function has also been refined. You can save whenever you wish, rather than having to die in order to save your progress. This made things especially convenient when I was a kid. Due to my ridiculously short attention span, after a level or two I wanted to take a break and do something else. However, having to kill myself in Zelda could either be time-consuming (with 20 heart-containers and a blue tunic, killing yourself could take hours) or embarrassing when friends come over and see on my save screen that Iâ??d died 59 times. Choruses of â??What the Hell, dude? The game isnâ??t THAT hard!â? would echo through-out my youth. But not with Crystalis! The lazy gamers could finish the game at their leisure without embarrassing death-counts.

Basically, if youâ??re looking for old fashioned, historically significant, GOOD Action RPG, umâ?Šactionâ?Šthen, Crystalis should be number 1 on your list. It was re-released for the Gameboy Color, though Iâ??ve heard many a complaint about the quality of the port. Having not played that version, myself, Iâ??ll have to rely on someone else to fill in that gap. Never-the-less, you can find the NES cartridge on Ebay, used, for a relatively cheap price, or some of you unscrupulous net-savvy so-and-sos can find â??other meansâ? to play the game. OR, you can just wait for the Wii to make it downloadable. Either way, there are PLENTY of ways for you to play this game. And you really should, too. Every time Crystalis goes un-played, Baby Mario cries.

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