“Crystalis is a magical game. It is truly a gem on the NES, and has managed to age well. There is a meaty enjoyment to be had here, and every pixel shows careful construction in the development of a definitively epic undertaking.”
– from the full review, which you can read here.
I am not sure where the number 250 ranks in terms of arbitrary milestones, but I figured that even if I do not make this a full-blown special feature, I would at least pick a game that could serve as a worthy monument at the rough third-of-the-way mark on my quest to review every American-released NES game.
Crystalis actually holds a special place in my retro gaming heart, as I have written about before.
Some video games are frustrating because they are very difficult. Some video games are frustrating through unearned means, such as requiring outlandishly irrational actions to advance, without any in-game or instruction-manual explanation. Some video games are frustrating due to catastrophic bugs or frequent issues related to the hardware involved.
Then there are the games that, while not frustrating throughout, undeniably do have frustrating moments — but are forgiven, even embraced, because the totality of the playthrough is so overwhelmingly positive.
There is a point about midway through Crystalis when the player encounters a water-related tunneling maze that completely screwed my brain sideways. I could not figure out where I was going, what I was supposed to be doing, or if I had everything I needed to do it. But, with perseverance, I soon learned that my plight was not insurmountable. And, of course, conquering that challenge only made Crystalis all the more fulfilling and rewarding.
This, perhaps, is one of the true marks of a truly great game: When you applaud it even at its most frustrating. When you meet the end of the challenge with relief, but without any bitterness.
I do not mean to, or wish to, focus on the frustrating bits too much. I only mention them to make these points: Crystalis is not perfect, but it is so close that even its imperfections are, in some wonderfully twisted way, rather admirable.
I feel like I do not want to say too much about it, for risk of spoiling the experience for any possible first-time players out there. My relentless optimism at work, maybe.
Is there a game like Crystalis?
I would say: Not on the NES. Even something like Faria has a very recognizable difference in its atmosphere, pacing, overworld exploration, etc.
Crystalis has become one of those intriguing NES titles in hindsight, where so many people have named it as “underrated” or a “hidden gem” that I hardly feel like it is anymore.
But, still: On a list of top ten “non-obvious” NES video games I would recommend to people who have never played them, Crystalis has to be one of them. It is a one-of-a-kind treasure.
I really like it.
Read The Full Review For: More detailed explanations as to what makes this game unique and special; comparisons to other video games, in areas such as trying to describe the soundtrack quality; a general overview of the game, without providing plot spoilers.
NES Gameplay Tips for Crystalis: In any new area, grow accustomed to learning the two nearest points to quickly travel between that automatically generate enemies for grinding purposes. As the general rule of thumb for two-dimensional mazes, if you always take one direction (say, always turning left in the passageways), you will inevitably reach the end by mathematical elimination, even if you end up doing a bit of backtracking. Learn the tenth-of-a-second timing for charging your sword to the max just before moving into attack position. Be patient. Soak in the experience.