Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Crystalis: Better than The Legend of Zelda

Crystalis box art1997, October 1 - The END DAY And that's how the game begins: 1997, October 1, The END DAY. A terrible war that all but wiped out humanity and left the planet dominated by mutated monsters.

To celebrate the 11th anniversary of the end of the world, we're reviewing the classic video game that made the world aware of the apocalypse that we apparently all missed.

...Well, perhaps "made the world aware" is a bit too broad a statement. Crystalis to this day is largely unknown, despite its excellence.

Crystalis was released in 1990 for the old-school Nintendo Entertainment System, gained a cult following, and was remade in 2000 for the Game Boy Color. In many ways, the GBC version is not the same game, so treat it as you would a Swedish meatball tumbling out of a speeding car.

Take that however you will.

In Crystalis, you play as a young man who emerges from a high-tech sleep chamber hidden in a cave, possessing nothing but a name. (Well, and clothes. There are clothes involved.)

Crystalis starting caveYou, of course, are the hero who will save the post-apocalyptic world from the monsters and villains that plague it. Your quest takes you through towns, fields, mountains, caves, swamps, deserts, seas, and more, guided by four wise men who teach you to use magic along the way.

In addition to magic, a variety of armors, shields, herbs, boots, and flutes are at your disposal, along with the centerpieces of the game, your weapons, the four elemental swords.

Throughout the game you collect the swords of wind, fire, water, and thunder, each with their own special powers, and each with the ability to eventually be charged up for more powerful and dramatic elemental attacks. These can also allow you to do nifty things such as knocking down rock walls and building ice bridges over water.

By the end of the game you are able to launch tornadoes, create firey explosions, launch swirling blizzards, and call down devastating thunderstorms to smite your enemies. Needless to say, this is very cool (and the pictures don't quite do justice to these effects).

Crystalis screenshot - using the Ball of Wind Crystalis screenshot - using the Tornado Bracelet
Unlike many other games, your weapons never go totally obsolete: though the Sword of Thunder is the most powerful, there will still be times where only the Sword of Wind can harm an enemy.

Much of your equipment never goes out of style, as well: while the armor that restores your health is the strongest in the game, sometimes it's helpful to change into the slightly weaker armor that defends you against being poisoned.

plays like The Legend of Zelda (and its 2-D brethren) in that it's a real-time, top-down perspective adventure game with lots of sword swinging, but with different types of puzzles (and fewer of them).

However, I hold that Crystalis is superior to The Legend of Zelda because:

- The weapons are more visually interesting, more powerful, and generally cooler (thunderbolt-hurling sword vs. bow and arrows... hm...)

- The RPG elements (leveling up and buying/finding numerous equipment upgrades) keep your character from stagnating

- The plot is more developed, and the characters seem more like they actually live in the game world and aren't just there for decoration, clues, or plot advancement

- Overworld areas between "dungeons" aren't just filler; every location has a distinct purpose and a unique feel to it

- Magic serves a support role rather than a strictly offensive role, allowing you to heal yourself at any time, teleport back to any town you've visited, and telepathically communicate with the wise men when you're completely stumped about what to do next

Still, though, Crystalis isn't perfect. The menu system, the mechanic for charging up your weapons, somewhat frequent graphics flickering, some instances of excessive monster battling (especially at the end), and a wimpy final boss might draw criticism from some gamers, but if you can overlook these minor or relatively minor issues, there is a truly great game to be played, if you can get your hands on a copy of it.

One that's even better than Zelda.

...And I'm already bracing myself for the terrible wrath of the hardcore Zelda fans I've just offended who haven't even played Crystalis.

Crystalis screenshot - floating tower introduction
Happy End Day!

[Cover art photo from; screenshots from and]


A Philosophical Nerd said...

Hmm. I still have much reading to do on this blog. We've touched on Chrystalis on another blog, but I haven't come across this entry yet.

I definitely agree with your sentiments about Chrystalis: it's one of my all-time favorite video games, too. It's one of the great tragedies of video game history that Chrystalis wasn't made into a series like The Legend of Zelda (though hopefully it would have been handled better), or that a proper sequel had never been made (I'm looking at you, pseudo-port to the GBC).

And you'll get no argument from me about its superiority to The Legend of Zelda. Not to diminish The Legend of Zelda -- it was really the first RPG (action-RPG or otherwise) I ever played, so it still holds a place in my heart. And it's still a great game. But it just doesn't top Chrystalis even (in my opinion) on the epic feel of playing through the game.

Flashman85 said...

Excellent! It's very rare to find another Crystalis fan, mostly because almost nobody else I know has played it.

I think I almost like the game better as a standalone rather than a series; I can see the potential for a possible sequel, but I imagine the games would have to be vastly different from one another to be a franchise worth playing through.

This October I'll be playing through the GBC version for the first time--I'll be sure to bring a full report.

I respect the original Zelda for what it did and tried to do, but I feel like Crystalis did almost everything better, especially where combat is involved.

Dallin Smith said...

Hah! I haven't played a single Zelda yet that I liked as much as Crystalis. The game was a masterpiece of game design that I don't think has been bested yet today!

Flashman85 said...

Music to my ears, Dallin. :)