Title  : Crystalis
Platforms  : Game Boy Color only
Publisher  : Nintendo
ESRB Rating  : Everyone
Game Rating  : 8.4
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Retro-gaming is enjoying a resurgence, due in no small part to the Game Boy Color. People craving the simpler games of yesteryear are getting the opportunity to replay their favorite games as they are released for the handheld system. 

As far as re-releases of classic games go, I've proven myself to be a fickle gamer. But there was no two ways about this one. SNK's Crystalis is one of my all-time favorite adventure games, and I've eagerly anticipated Nintendo's update. I was not disappointed. 

Crystalis' setting is a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. Players take the role of a hero destined to reunite the four swords of the elements to form the sword Crystalis, and defeat the evil wizard Dragonis. 

This quest is carried out from an overhead perspective, battling monsters in real-time. The hero can swing swords, cast spells, and use items while exploring tortuous dungeons, climbing icy mountains, or riding the waves on a dolphin's back. There are plenty of characters to meet and a simple yet compelling storyline that emerges throughout the journey. 

Players unfamiliar with the concept of "levelling up" will quickly learn of this time-honored technique. Crystalis is not paced so that you walk into a new town with money to buy new armor, or enough experience to defeat the next boss. You'll need to spend time in the fields outside town, defeating minor foes and accumulating the wealth and strength necessary to progress through the game. This procedure can be tiresome, but rewarding. 

Besides the action, there are a few puzzles, but since one goal naturally leads to the next, they're easily overcome. The game is extremely linear; though some exploration is possible, obstacles must be tackled in a preset order. 

Even in the midst of battle, important interaction can occur between characters. A side-by-side comparison with the NES original reveals a much cleaner translation this time around. People speak more authentically, and goals and story lines are clearer and more fully developed. But you'll still get strange tasks to accomplish ("Prove you are pure of heart by fixing the windmill") and corny dialogue ("Thank you for proving that prejudice is wrong and just plain stupid!"). 

The soundtrack has taken a turn for the worse, though: the music is positively goofy. When the hero steps into the fields for the first time, it sounds more like the beginning of a fun-filled romp, and not the first step in a world-spanning adventure. The occasional digitized speech is understandable, though just barely. 

The graphics, as with most such classic revivals, feature more detail than the NES original. The sprites are small and move simply, with few frames of animation. 

Game progress can be saved in one of three slots at any point. Should our hero's life end, players may continue from the last entrance or exit. However, such continuation will also replenish the hero's health and magic, without loss of money or experience — making suicide a preferable option to spending a night at the inn. 

Crystalis is an excellent example of the games that rightfully captured our hearts more than a decade ago, and is easily one of the most faithful NES translations to date. To the patient gamer looking for fun-yet-simple gameplay, Crystalis offers a world worth exploring. 


This article is copyright (c) 2000, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 17-Jul-00