An Ode To The Lonely And Misunderstood Souls
There have been games in the past that tackled sensitive topics that are difficult to express directly. Bouts of depression, insecurities, and self-worth are all experiences that people go through. Everyone fights their inner demons in long grueling battles that they don't express toward others. It's difficult to express such delicate instances while maintaining a player's interest. This is what Crystar attempts, as it's not your average "Anime Action JRPG." There are no "Genki girls," no bouts of triumph, and everything begins from the protagonist's failures. This was a heavy title that pulled no punches, which caught me by surprise.
Crystar begins with the player in the form of a butterfly. They aren't alone as there are other butterflies surrounding the player and talking with them will start a dialogue about what bought them here, to begin with. These range from acts of regret to other aspects of misery, yet of the butterflies, there's a red one. This red one reveals itself to be the younger sister of the protagonist, who upon realizing this, both transform into "human forms."
Crystar Looks To The Past And The Future
The protagonist, Rei, is a high school student who had spent most of her life fighting insecurities. She was always a shut-in, home-schooled until high school, and lived a very jaded life. The only form of solace Rei has is her little sister Mirai. Mirai plays the role of the "younger sibling who cares for the older sibling" archetype, cooking for her and making sure she's okay. While it's not explained why or how they became butterflies, it's obvious that there's someone pulling strings.
Eventually, Rei comes across a woman clad in black named Anamnesis who threatens her life of Mirai. Having recently gained newfound power, she fights the woman in a fit of rage. When Anamnesis disappears and Mirai tries to calm Rei down, Rei (by the player's own accord) attacks Mirai, apparently killing her. Cursing herself for not controlling her own power much less her anger and breakdown, Rei is completely distraught. It is here that she forms a contract with two untrustworthy demons in that she must collect seven pieces of "Idea," in exchange for her sister's well-being. The next day, she wakes up and it is here that Crystar begins.
Dungeon Crawling Simplicity With A Dark Twist
What I can appreciate about Crystar is its visual aesthetics, as it is not a game that's meant to be filled with optimism. While the colors aren't exactly "different shades of brown," the primary colors are muted. Crystar is almost noir-like, with Rei herself wearing simple colors in plain clothes as well as her transformed form. I mentioned earlier that everyone is dressed in gothic lolita-inspired outfits and I mean everyone. It keeps the entire "dark gothic" mode of Crystar while ironically having a light-colored theme. The Switch-exclusive features in Crystar include all of the previous DLC costumes by default, for players who wish to dress Rei a bit more decorative.
Rei's room is the "main menu" of Crystar and it is here where she can change costumes, like above, but also go on missions. She can save and load, check her in-game stats, look up glossaries, and other features over time. The most important feature Rei has access to is the ability to pet the dog. The large fluffy ball of floof who I am sure nothing bad will happen to her but considering the pacing of the game I wouldn't be surprised.
Crystar's Gameplay Is Simplistic, Which Doesn't Mean It's Bad
Once Rei is inside any dungeon, she's placed on a randomly generated floor complete with enemies and allies including a shopkeep. The objective is to descend until the player reaches a special monster known as a "Revenant." Rei has the standard light and heavy attacks players can expect from similar titles. The animations aren't exactly the most fluid. Whatever direction Rei attacks, her animation will freeze in place with very little forward momentum.
This becomes an issue with enemies just out of her reach as they would need to be close enough for the attack to land. What's worse is that you can't cancel the attack with a dash. Target lock helps a lot in this case, but sometimes it targets the enemy furthest away. Thankfully her attacks are broad enough to make contact with multiple enemies at once. Enemies also have a sound and visual cue when they are about to strike. This makes combat relatively simple despite the earlier issues and Rei learns an AOE slash that mitigates this problem.
Letting Out Your Emotions Is Therapeutic, Crystar Is Included
Upon defeating the Revenants, they will drop a piece of memory that's fixated on the Revenant's personality. It's here that the big reveal happens to Rei. The monsters she defeats aren't monsters, but actual humans whose realities are so distorted they take the form of monsters. Rei carries the burdens of those who she defeats and can purify said burdens with her tears. By doing so, she gains weapons and other accessories. Up until this point, I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what Crystar reminded me of and as it turns out, it's multiple mediums.
Crystar offers a very Black Rock Shooter vibe in terms of aesthetics and general mood. For an anime based around high school students who learn to cope with their inner demons through fighting each other, Crystar follows a similar premise. It also got me thinking, despite the fantasy setting, how relatable it was to real life.
Ghostwire Tokyo's enemies are all based on various traits among Tokyo's residents. One of the enemy types is a school girl angry with the societal standards given to her. While this is a reach considering Crystar came out years ago, it opens up for discussion on what the modern youth goes through these days. Maybe this could be for another time because Crystar is a very interesting concept story-wise. The gameplay is repetitive and it's nothing to write home about, but there's potential in everything else.
Crystar is now available on the Nintendo Switch.