Review – Crystar (Switch)
Crystar has eluded me ever since its initial release on the PS4. To be frank, I had no idea it even existed until receiving a recommendation while browsing an online storefront. It aroused my curiosity, prompting me to research it further. When I saw that the voices were all dubbed, my uncultured ass was thrilled. Unfortunately, given its niche nature, the physical version was astronomically priced. Rarity had slithered in, gouging its value and making it unreachable for my wallet. It was a sad day until NIS America sent a PR email confirming a Switch port. It was finally time to experience this gothic-like dystopia. I’ve heard endless praise for the story but a fair bit of disappointment regarding the combat. The only certainty I was sure of ws that the opening song was a damn good one. Would the game be reflective of that?
I must admit, the narrative being lauded amongst those that have played Crystar is warranted. I was stunned by how dark, warped, and unafraid it was to explore dark and sensitive subject matter that might leave some uncomfortable. With that said, be wary of topics like suicide, abuse, and others to be touched on and for it to tug at your heartstrings. It was truly a surprise, but the important thing is, my interest was piqued, drawing me to continue. While, as a whole, the plot is nothing groundbreaking, it was effective enough to urge me to the end. What stands out is the main character, Rei Hatada, and her empathetic personality. It takes a vital role, and the pain she goes through fuels the storyline. Hell, her tears are the catalyst for several mechanics. Without hyperbole, she quite literally hears dead people.
Now, humour is pretty subjective, and what I find hilarious might fall on deaf ears elsewhere. Well, when it comes to Crystar, there were chuckles but also an equal number of nothing. It seems like a mixed bag and despite sometimes laughing, there was also befuddlement. You see, every character is distinct in who they are, having their own set of mannerisms that help them be unique.
It can be splendid, but some archetypes felt shoehorned. At least, that was my first impression because as my session progressed, my perspective began altering. Essentially, the weird behaviour that initially turned me off had a deeper meaning. Sure, I still stumbled on nonsense, but it’s a pleasant surprise to see intricacies exist in the writing. The way the game can tap into challenging situations rooted in reality is refreshing. I worry a few may tire from these seemingly frivolous details, though.
Every character serves their purpose perfectly, enticing your attention. They’re inoffensive and never over-the-top, but there’s one that can be divisive. Her name’s Nanana, and because of her voice, her bubbly personality, and her childish mannerisms, it may not arouse a great reception. The biggest problem is the methodology utilized to convey her innocence. Upon first entering her chapter, you traverse the many levels within it. The plotline is expected to introduce significance to the narrative, and it does, but it’s also a slow burn. The dedication to her kid-like identity has me enamoured, and the way she gleefully requests to play tag or hide-and-seek, but there’s stagnation. The controversial aspect is her representation, and how even when you indulge her, she insists on another round. Still, I love her and adore that; given the context of her backstory, too, her behaviour makes sense.
Look, Crystar isn’t going to astound you with a thought-provoking story that leads you down a road full of riveting twists. What it does manage, however, is introduce such an imaginative approach to death and resurrection. It concentrates on the premise of reincarnation and gives it a sense of logic that’s reflective of the world. It’s also a big metaphor for crying and how, after shedding tears, relief washes over a person. Rather notably, Rei undergoes a vast development cycle as the adventure moves forward, transforming from someone unsure of herself to a girl with the confidence to rescue her sister. It’s an emotional story and one that’s full of mystery. Being thrust into a deal with the two keepers of Purgatory is enough to convince me to play through to the end, and, honestly, it was quite worth it.
Allow me to dispel any fears that Crystar is nothing more than a depressing, harrowing tale of anguish. I mean, it most assuredly is, but there’s also deadpan humour sprinkled in, giving a semblance of levity amidst the heavy subject matter. What’s probably my favourite aspect is how the cast leans predominantly towards the female side. There’s a feeling of empowerment with a crew of badass women wielding weapons. There’s also an obvious sisterly bond that quickly manifests between these girls. Nanana and the way she acts is the quintessential example of that. She’s the irritating little sibling that clings on to one of them while pestering the others. Lastly, I could relate to their pasts and the pain they had to endure, especially one specifically. Man, hearing her story invoked a strong emotional reaction of sadness, just imagining myself in her shoes.
Equipment is a prerequisite for any JRPG, and that’s a statement that’s still factually correct, though, with minor tweaks. Unlike in most others, there’s no store to purchase new gear. No, instead, we’re tasked with gathering these crystallized souls called “Torments,” before then converting them into “Sentiments.” It’s an exciting mechanic, and as I said earlier, it centers around Rei Hatada’s tears. It’s a giant metaphor for crying and how having a great weep can wipe away inner grief. The upgrades bestowed are relatively standard but varied and include perks that bolster a pair of particular stats. There is, however, a chance there’s an additional slot or two open. Here’s the deal; something else that can drop from an enemy is a broken “thoughts.” These cover a variety of emotions ranging from love, humour, and, not shockingly, sorrow. Sadly, these are what contribute to my biggest gripe.
You see, by fusing a “thought” into a “sentiment,” it gains a randomly generated bonus that’s either an outright ailment immunity or a further increase to the character’s statistics. It sounds engaging, but the issue arises as you’re hunting – it’s arduous and time-consuming, coercing you into, yup, grinding. It has all the potential to devolve into mindless button mashing as you strike down creatures. I usually don’t mind this fact, but unintuitive actions make sure I’m feeling annoyed. For starters, a hack and slash demands a snappy dodge capable of initiating anytime. That’s not the case, however, and during attacks, the girls won’t dash away until they fully complete the current combo. It’s a downside that’s most prevalent during a confrontation with multiple foes but, fortunately, never led to a game over. The lock-on feature does mitigate the above but can, itself, be touchy during multi-monster fights.
In the grand scheme of the in-game sphere, there’s nothing overly egregious, but there’s still one puzzling feature. You see, selling off any extras found on the battlefield is a basic routine in this genre. In Crystar, currency purchases food with healing properties or “thoughts” for those folks that don’t fancy that grind. The downside is that those prices are bloody steep compared to funds procured during a single level. That said, an outfit does slightly cushion the spending. Now, “Sentiments,” on the other hand, are pretty effortless to accumulate. As such, anticipate grabbing doubles, triples, or hell, even quintuplets. Typically, you’d sell to gather cash but the option to offload is nonexistent. The only time discarding is even a choice is when the bag is packed and requires emptying. Yeah, that sounds fair in writing, but in practice, it took twenty hours to peddle for profits once.
Okay, I have to explain the battle system further because I wasn’t expecting the tinges of inspiration from one of my favourite franchises. It’s, essentially, a modern Tales title in the sense of ability usage and free-roaming. Although with Crystar, there aren’t any boundaries to adhere to staying within. Skills are taught through traditional means, with levelling up being the method. To then utilize them, you assign each one to a particular button combination, but, of course, there’s a limit. Only four can be thrown on at a given time, with each new one having to be interchanged in and out of circulation. I admit, the default button prompt is awkward to press, but thanks to in-game remapping, comfortability is accessible. As you get into a rhythm with slaughtering everything in sight, it becomes a breeze to do, although evasion remains a tiny irritation.
FuRyu has never been known for extensive or outrageously intricate environments. That still holds here as visually; it retains the PS4 early-era look. I must say, though, the mirror reflection that they emulate when in Rei’s bedroom is top-notch. Another point to the positive is, given the dark undertone, it has that gothic, dreary aesthetic I like and nails the atmosphere of tragedy. The handling of dark colours gives it a cold, distant visage that helps suck you in and brings you into the world. As for character models, they’re simple in their elegance and detail. However, the resolution wasn’t as sharp as I would have liked, even with an OLED Nintendo Switch at my disposal. It still looks muddled and a bit blurry. As for performance, my naked eye perceives the frame rate as a solid 30 but given the gameplay, not having 60 is a missed opportunity.
When I reviewed Monark, another title published by the same team, I gave a hefty amount of praise to the soundtrack. Well, it seems that I’m choosing redundancy today because I’m a big fan of the OST here. It does a fantastic job capturing the heartache, which isn’t something I’ve said when providing coverage on other titles involving FuRyu in some capacity. The sad piano score is stunning and compliments the heart-wrenching stories of sorrow. There are also songs with a more cheerful presence, with one that has a melody strongly reminiscent of Blue Reflection: Second Light. The way the violin crescendos across all the notes is so good, and my earholes were pleased. My only complaint is one I’ve had with many titles, and that’s compression. Even when listening through speakers, impactful bass is absent, and as an audiophile, it’s a misstep.
Voice acting is a volatile aspect of any niche JRPG because, as history has shown, it’s either hot or cold. Usually, players are left in a frigid wasteland, but there are those rare instances of a steamy oasis. Well, Crystar fits the latter because I was pleasantly surprised by the amazing performances of the voice actresses. I could hear the emotion behind each word as they were uttered. My favourite part is how there were times that the script wasn’t followed, and they’d adlib a bit. It wasn’t anything substantial, mind you, and certainly won’t ever qualify as being improv, but it did add realism. Sometimes, during localization, the finished product can look robotic and, as a result, sound it, too. Here, however, the direction seems to exact whatever feels natural, and it paid off. The cadence, delivery, and pauses to show inner struggle were well done.
Crystar is a hidden gem for niche JRPG fans with a beautiful music assortment to boot. The narrative centers around rescuing your deceased sister and returning her soul to the land of the living. Meet mysterious characters and sign a contract that then sees you traversing the deep recesses of Purgatory. I’m in love with the focus on delivering a flood of creativity. It tickles my imagination and gets me excited to plow through to see what happens next. The portraits of the girls are beautifully drawn, though I could’ve used more animation during the dialogue sections. As it is, it’s rather lifeless, and movement would have helped drive home what was occurring.
The real star, however, is the writing. It might not be an exemplary piece of literary perfection, but it’s still intriguing as hell, and the voice acting helps nail the emotion it strives to portray. This game is an emotionally driven journey that explores the themes of death and tragedy. The lack of crucial quality of life adjustments, such as selling items whenever, does hold it back by making mechanics tedious when they don’t need to be. For that, I proclaim, while definitely recommended, to grab it at a slightly lower price.
And yes, you can pet the dog.
I while the environments are lacklustre, I love the character designs. The blurry resolution is unfortunate, though, the usage of dark colours to portray the gothic look is great.
The lock-on mechanic is the difference between tedium and not. Although the reticle tends to hone in on a random foe, adapting to it is easy and renders that a nonissue.
Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful
The story is intriguing enough to keep me going forward. I was genuinely curious with everything happening, adding to the fun I was having murdering things.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Crystar is available now on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Crystar was provided by the publisher.