Crystar

Crystar

Well, well, well, it looks like the lot of us have formed a binding contract the moment you laid your eyes on this blog and now you must read this post! Or else I will… I will… uhhh… cry?

One day, as Hatada Rei awakes, she finds herself in the form of a butterfly, locked away in a mysterious place unlike anything out of this world. As she comes to remember who she is and regains her human form, she finds Mirai, her sister and sole remaining family member. The happy reunion doesn’t last long, however; as the two sisters stumble through the realm of purgatory, both are attacked by a monster and only Rei makes it out alive.
And so Rei forms a contract with the demons Mephis and Pheles, to fight for them in their stead to regain Mirai from making it to the Gear of Recreation, where Mirai’s soul will be torn to shreds for it to be reincarnated. In purgatory, Rei makes new allies, all of which have their own story to tell: Kokoro, the ex-mother who lost her husband and child inside her belly; Sen, the sole survivor of a bus crash, who believes that justice trumps all; and 777, the quirky demon who loves fun and has an odd inclination towards Rei.
With varying motivations, they set out to reclaim what has been lost.
But will they truly find what lies at the end of their journey?

Crystar Rei's Room

Crystar was published by FuRyu, which is very much known for being a kusoge factory, with their biggest title yet being The Caligula Effect, of which you might have watched the underwhelming anime with its best parts being the anime original bits of all things, so perhaps that speaks volumes. I’ve also played a fair chunk of their Yuuki Yuuna game… VN… thing and that’s about the worst game I’ve ever laid my hands on so can Crystar accomplish the impossible and be a somewhat playable experience at the very least?

Ahahahaha, of course not.
That would have been too nice.

Way too nice indeed.

Crystar Kokoro Sen 777

The problem with Crystar is that it takes a fascinating premise and then runs it into the ground. Remember, kids, execution is key. The hard work doesn’t lie with the idea people but behind the nitty gritty process of bringing things to life. And this just doesn’t do that.

First of all, the travesty that is the combat. The combat mechanics themselves are hardly what I’d call stylish or fluid but somehow meet the bottom of the barrel in terms of being still just kind of functional. But there’s not much of a point to that with the enemies being straight up poorly designed, copypasted and unresponsive. Enemies attack in set intervalls and usually have a big enough wind-up with only one or two attacks so you can dodge all of that easily. You could have the greatest combat mechanics in the world and the overall experience would still be trash.

What is no less poorly conceived is that, by killing monsters, you slay the souls of people who had really bad lives but these are just poorly designed, mass-produced mobs so man, do I feel not bad about any of that. There is some really schizophrenic disconnect going on between the writing telling me to be sad and the presentation telling me to slay these things. Not that there’s much writing anyway. These enemies offer some lines of misery after killing them and that’s that. You can also fill in an encyclopedia of enemy types with their tragic backstories but I didn’t even bother with reading those. All in all, Soul Sacrifice Delta did that better.

Crystar Purgatory

Enemies matter little in general anyway, as you can just run past them. They don’t put much effort into following you so you can easily make it across levels without engaging in combat or getting hit, which kind of defeats the purpose. It does come in handy however, considering how bad the combat is and I wouldn’t want to sit through that. Isn’t it nice how this game is so bad and poorly designed on so many levels that some issues take care of others? Minus and minus is plus!

Also, in terms of getting around, you constantly end up pressing the dash button in quick succession to get through levels quicker, something that I never understood with video games. It’s just all around silly and breaks immersion but also the most efficient way to play and you’ll aim for that efficiency, considering how boring these hallways are. The sad part is that they technically have this issue solved by allowing for the running animation to trigger only after two seconds or so, therefore preventing it from replacing the dash function in combat so there’s no need for the running animation to be slower than the dashing one.

Crystar Hatada Rei

Furthermore, you unlock skills as you progress, which you can attribute to four button combinations much like in party-based Ys games except they’re all not much to look at, are incredibly uncreative, a lot of them are just stronger versions of previous skills and they are generally oftentimes so weak that you chaining standard attacks achieves way more damage. Does… does anything in this game work at all?

I mean, clearly, at some point of time, someone should have intervened and pointed out the obvious. Then again, maybe everyone was aware that they were not working on a good game to begin with. I wouldn’t actually doubt that part for one second, that much is for sure.

Crystar Kokoro

The balancing is so bad that while characters play differently to some extent, it doesn’t make much of a difference in terms of damage output as with types or elementary statuses. You could instead easily put these characters into tiers of usefulness. Rei is an all around okay sword user, Kokoro has poor range and speed but her attacks are a bit stronger yet not to a degree to justify using her a lot unless you’re into stunlocking enemies to the point they can no longer fight back (more balancing issues!), 777 is a ranged type user hitting barely any enemies from standard distances and so weakly with her measly projectiles she only becomes usable when standing right in front of an enemy and taking the shotgun approach, making your ranged fighter an ultra closed quarters one, which really, REALLY defeats the point and Sen is a dual swords fighter, meaning she’s a lot like Rei except faster… and also just barely weaker. Her faster attacks also make her power gage fill up way faster so the damage multiplies a lot here. This makes me wonder why I would bother with using Rei when I can just use Sen, who does about 20% less damage per strike but strikes twice or thrice in the same period of time, which then in turn makes me wonder why I’d use anyone at all other than her. It’s bad enough that this game makes me assume it was made on a shoestring budget, it’s even worse that it apparently also had no talent poured into it but what’s downright insulting is that not even basic thinking made it into the final product.

Crystar Sen

Crystar is best played on easy mode, the reason for that being that it allows you to skip past the grind of having to fight hordes of enemies. I switched at some point because the bosses became one-shot HP sponges and I did not want to invest anymore time into grinding mobs. Also, if you lose against a boss, you can retry it but you can’t return to previous stages of the level and have to replay all floors again if you need to grind or buy items, so that adds insult to injury.

The game part feels a bit like an alibi component to get you to the story, there’s just the issue that this is a video GAME and not a visual novel (don’t tell Yoko Tarou or Hideo Kojima how this works though) and that you’re occupied with horrendeous gameplay for 90% of the time so you can move on to the bland and unambitious writing that fills in the remaining 10%. When your reward for getting through the very bad parts is making it to the non-interactive only-bad to so-so parts, that’s not much of anything to work with. Why you would want to play Crystar? I genuinely couldn’t tell you.

Crystar 777

In terms of presentation… eh. The art design is actually good. Dashing across platforms while being surrounded by an endless sky covered with giant swords is majestic and atmospheric and actually otherworldly, so that is a good start. That is, however, all you’re ever going to get to varying degrees and this is where the next problem comes in – the art design is good but the level design is non-existent. It’s practically a three-dimensional rogue-like so you really just run across rectangular maze-like platforms and whatever environment you’re surrounded by is just window dressing. Whether you’re inside a prison or a forest, the geography is always exactly the same and feels 100% procedurally generated, even though it is not. So I’ll give Crystar points for having pretty backgrounds but everything about where the actual game takes place is boring as gruel.

At least the character designs are quite good? I do like the gothic look obviously. Not to mention the Hajime Ueda illustrations. Oh, and Oishi’s OP is also absolutely fantastic and blows almost every other video game opening out of the water BY FAR. Only Baroque’s OP can compete. And I will say that the OST is really quite good. And there is a cute shop witch with an amazing voice and a euphoric mood. I like that. When the overall picture is bleak, you gotta focus on the little things after all.

This brings us to the writing. Which doesn’t inspire me with much positivity. The plot is largely redundant in first and foremost presenting you with episodic character-centric stories and once we’ve run out of that, it’s about pitting characters against another only for them to realize that’s a bad thing or they’ve been deceived so they apologize to each other and are daijoubu again. This perseveres throughout the entire game until the very end and even applies to the villains.

The character development follows a similar pattern. In fact, Crystar doesn’t really have character development. Sure, it’s about *conquering your traumatic past* and *changing for the better* as a result but this usually happens by characters having a complex, trauma or an issue, then saying they will conquer it, then conquering it through either beating up a monster or… doing the same, offscreen… and once that business has been taken care of, they state that they have now conquered whatever it was that plagued them and everyone gives them a round of applause, there’s a friendship speech, let bygones be bygones and so on. It’s like Wonder Egg Priority except shit. There’s also no social commentary. Or production values. The mere thought of those just cracks me up.

Crystar Hajime Ueda

The problem is that the character writing is just banal and amateurish. None of these characters are three-dimensional or have any particular views or interests on anything outside of the game’s plot and only exist to execute what the notes on their character profile sheets dictate. Rei really wants to save Mirai and likes fries (the localization mistranslated this to “potatoes”, I kid you not) so she talks about how she really wants to save Mirai and likes fries. Kokoro wants to avenge her dead family and likes girls so that’s all she ever talks about. Sen wants to exact justice and likes being competitive so that’s what her dialogue is about. 777 is a gimmick character to begin with. These characters only exist within the realm of the few character traits that were designated to them. The writing then throws the chapter’s plot topic at them and they will only ever utter statements that relate to their character traits. When they do actually have organic interactions with each other and talk about something different for a change, the writing flourishes a lot more and might have a genuine moment or two but for about 95% of the time, these characters are written in the most reductive and repetitive manner. No matter what topic, you can very safely predict what each of these people is going to say. Crystar is almost written on auto pilot.

Crystar Hatada Kuon

There are potentially interesting parts in Crystar but the execution is just so dreadfully underwhelming. Rei’s room for instance serves as a hub area and it’s this extravagantly designed bird cage wherein you can see her perform some passive activities that don’t seem much fun. All her communication in the real world happens through phone calls so the hikikomori theme is aptly put into the visual representation. It always reminded me a bit of Tatami Galaxy. Or rather, that is what I thought this game might have been going for but this game doesn’t have an epilogue to see how these characters now can finally live their lives freely or anything. There could have been a cathartic ending scene with Rei finally leaving her house but it just sort of concludes with the characters staring into the void and then the credits roll. I’m not sure what this game was building up to apart from the facing your demons thing but there certainly was no payoff to it.

Crystar Menu

Also, every spirit partner and boss character in this game has a philosopher’s name for no reason whatsoever. I am not making this up. This is just Fate levels of bad pretentious chuunibyou nonsense. You might as well play Pok√©mon and name your Pikachu “Heracles”, it would be the same thing. And don’t get me started on the two demons the characters make a contract with being named “Mephis” and “Pheles”. If that wasn’t subtle enough, the Japanese word for “and” is “to”. Do the maths. And boy, you won’t believe what their ultimate form is called once they fuse together!

I mean, clearly Fate is already bad enough for doing this but Crystar is not helping itself here. If only there was some meaning to the philosopher naming but it’s all shallow and there because it’s supposed to sound cool.

Crystar Shopkeeper

So no, you’re not here for the story, proud as it may be of itself. The writing is the typical video game padding, from the man behind SoraMesa no less so that obviously doesn’t help one bit.

Well, games are a shit medium for storytelling anyway, so go figure. I think the only two games thatever did well in that department that I played were Hotaru no Nikki and Soul Sacrifice Delta and the first tells its story in the most minimalistic way possible whereas the latter told it through a book, cleverly combining the touchscreen features of flipping pages with meta commentary on fiction. Clearly these are the exceptions from the norm. Crystar is not, it’s the same old video game writing of pretending that you have anything going on and something to say while the writing is at best blessed with the gift of “duh”. I suppose if I were to make a comparison with another story-heavy game, there is Red Dead Redemption 2 since that does it the classic way too and despite its grievances in the writing, that had moments that were a lot more meaningful.

Crystar Hatada Mirai

So you have redundant levels, very few enemy types that just get color makeovers and for the most part, the characters and plot don’t substantially change so a lot of the game feels very samey. This, however, isn’t even the worst part since once you finish the game… it starts over from about two thirds into it and you will have to replay the last third again. And again. And again. You know how NieR sucks? This game sucks in very similar ways.

So there’s really not much of a reason to engage with any of this. Which is a shame. Going by screenshots alone, Crystar looks really cool! Plus, the premise itself is really good. It’s just a shame that the execution can’t and doesn’t want to keep up.

Crystar Game Finished

Do I regret playing Crystar? Well… kinda?
But then again, I did get to finish another game in Japanese and Kokoro totally hits my boxes, so I got another good BEST GIRL out of it.

And isn’t that what we’re all here for?

Final Verdict: Very Bad.

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