“Give meaning to your tears” ends the opening monologue to Crystar, a Japanese action RPG from developer Gemdrops and prolific publisher FurYu. This opening oration, laden with heartfelt hyperbole and sickly sincere prose, foreshadows a tale of loss, determination and redemption which runs through the heart of this charming, albeit grating, anime adventure.
Awaking in a strange dreamscape of fractured geometry and purple and plum hues, you discover your name is Rei Hatada. Having been tricked by the evil Amnesis to kill your own sister, Mirai, you make a deal with demon sisters Mephis and Pheles to bring back Mirai, confront Amnesis and redeem your deed. As the twin’s Executor, a bounty hunter of lost souls, you must travel through the layers of Limbo, fulfilling their requests, gaining strength and collecting magical crystals called Idea in the ultimate hope of saving Mirai.
This qausi-Dante’s Inferno meets anime tragedy has all the melodrama, convoluted storytelling and intricate lore of both the historical epics and contemporary dramas that inspire it. Long passages of dialogue between archetypal teenage girls constitute the majority of exposition. The writing is at times charismatic and charming, capturing the rhythm and playfulness of conversation between friends. Yet, equally these interactions can be tediously earnest, nonsensical or even downright creepy; the presence of some perverse, neck-beard author glaring through when the girls tease each other flirtatiously about how their skimpy outfits expose their thighs and tummies, all whilst giggling in manic, breathy bursts.
A flowery lexicon of terms further obfuscates the already dense dialogue and storytelling. By departing on Ordeals (missions) you must defeat Revenants and Spectres (monsters) to collect their Torments (crafting materials) which you then purify into Sentiments (equipment). While this rhetoric can be bewildering in the opening hours and often burdens dialogue, it does work to build a rich, distinct world. This is most apparent in the symbolism that symbiotically connects gameplay and narrative. With each trapped Revenant’s soul being freed upon death, combat is contextualized as a means of liberating these transient vestiges, with you adopting their burdensome Torments to then purify into powerful Sentiments in a ritual that reflects your own search for betterment.
Combat is simple, satisfying and methodical. Light, heavy and aerial melee attacks are complimented by evasive dashes and special skills and arts, all while building a combo meter which affords various buffs and bonuses. Your guardian, Heraclitus, a Persona-esque entity that is inexplicably connected to you, adds some variety and flare to the otherwise repetitive combat, unleashing devastating attacks once your tear gauge is filled. Additionally, the ability to play as one of the several other executors in your party offers some slight variation in term of play style, but for the most part I found myself sticking with Rei out of both habit and convenience.
When you’re not patrolling Purgatory, Rei retreats to her room, where she can craft and upgrade gear, browse lore, listen to music and even pet her Samoyed Thelema. These sections allow time for character development as you chat over the phone with your fellow Executors; a cast of goth-tinged lolitas with names like Kokoro and Nanana that are equal parts endearing and irritating. World building is also expanded upon with the Memories of the Dead; poignant parables from the souls you’ve freed which lend added gravity to your ongoing quest.
Crystar’s gameplay loop of clearing Ordeals, gaining levels and upgrading equipment to embark on yet more Ordeals becomes a hypnotic routine, undoubtedly repetitive yet oddly compulsive and consistent in the gratification it delivers. However, beyond the firsts dozen worlds enemy types and the already linear level design begins to stagnate, pitting you against the same predictable foes in the same recycled level layouts over and over again. This monotony can turn to frustration, particularly when certain enemies repeatedly inflict you with a debuff that inverts your movement controls, making maneuvering in combat near impossible.
The game’s strong art design keeps it visually engaging throughout, despite the shortcomings of gameplay. Diary entries animated in a neurotic, scratchy style add a disturbing, voyeuristic quality to flashbacks depicting Rei and Mirai’s troubled childhood. Each new level of purgatory boasts a unique aesthetic, distinguishing it from the last while feeling cohesive in its otherwordliness. Similarly, bizarre creature designs including several spectacular bosses that draw heavily from Final Fantasy ensure that your damage-sponge adversaries are at least interesting to look at.
Crystar is a game I thoroughly enjoyed despite its flaws. For all its overly sincere storytelling, stagnant game design and questionable costumes, it equally impressed me with its strong aesthetic, often touching narrative and repetitive yet almost therapeutically mesmerizing gameplay. Despite endearing itself to me, Crystar ultimately overstays its welcome, ending falsely only to loop story segments back around three times in various ways before it’s credits finally role around the 25 hour mark. While I expected to be burnt out on the game by now, with only a few trophies left to earn I feel compelled to once gain don my skimpy swimsuit and dive back into Purgatory.
Crystar PS4 Review
Overall - Very Good - 7/10
Crystar is a conflicting game. It’s inconsistent, often overly sincere storytelling nonetheless engaged me and moved me and its repetitive gameplay kept me hypnotized for its entire, bloated duration. While fully aware of its shortcomings, I enjoyed every minute of the 25 hours I spent with it and still feel compelled to go back for more.
- Strong art design.
- A emotionally intense story that touches on some heavy subject matter.
- Despite its repetitiveness, the gameplay loop is consistently satisfying and fun.
- Plenty of content.
- Inconsistent writing that is at times overly saccharine or just creepy.
- Recycled enemies and level designs feel like lazy game design.
- With three false endings and a final playtime of 25 hours, it feels bloated.
Reviewed using PS4 Pro.
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