As a big fan of old-school JRPGs, I enjoy playing through modern interpretations of them so here's the delightful Crystal Ortha.
At the beginning of this year, I played through and thoroughly enjoyed Monster Viator and Crystal Ortha is a very similar game except everything is a bit more fine-tuned. It follows the story of a mercenary named Ross who's recruited by a gun-wielding young woman named Margaret to go on an adventure in the hopes of retrieving an epic treasure that's worth a fortune. Along the way, they're joined by the initially reluctant treasure hunter Tee and a little kid in a dragon costume named Marshma. It's definitely an eclectic group of folks and the journey ahead of them is full of unexpected situations, occasional humour, and plenty of memorable locales. Overall, it's an easy-to-follow narrative that will keep you engaged with its character-driven plot points and mostly lighthearted game world.
Speaking of game world, Crystal Ortha's visuals are pixel-perfect for a retro-inspired RPG. The most impressive aspect about the graphics is the character sprites which are beautifully animated and can be rotated in 8 directions thus making their running animations fluid and lovely. There's also a wide variety of environments to traverse as well as a world map that's filled with distinct areas. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is filled with high-energy tunes that sound like they belong in a PS1 Mega Man X game as they feature electric guitar riffs and energetic synthesizers throughout. Plus, the boss music makes confronting the hulking collection of bosses a thrill.
Crystal Ortha's combat system is enjoyable and simple as all you do is attack and use a variety of skills by expending SP that replenishes on every turn so there's a certain strategy to juggling which skills to use and when. The skills themselves can accomplish things like damage multiple opponents, heal your teammates, inflict debuffs, and enhance party members' stats. You can also equip passive skills known as Carmina that feature unconventional boosts such as being able to automatically heal allies if your SP is at a certain point. Party members can level-up and equip different weapons, armour, and rings as well and you can also discover treasures throughout your adventure that permanently boost your core stats which is awesome. These aspects are especially rewarding because they encourage exploration. You never know where you'll discover equipment-enhancing materials or treasures so you'll gladly search every nook and cranny.
On the downside, the combat is incredibly simplistic and doesn't offer all that much strategic depth and the same notion can be applied to character growth which is quite flat. I wish that there were more elements to setting up your party and fighting monsters because at times, I merely felt like I was going through the motions without any need to apply critical thinking skills. Along similar lines, the dungeons are fairly standard and don't really feature any substantial puzzles or mechanics to help mix up the gameplay. Also, other similar games may have you traversing optional areas to uncover valuable treasures after solving a sequence of tricky puzzles or fighting optional bosses to claim a cool sword or something but that sort of fun diversion isn't really featured in any significant capacity here.
Crystal Ortha is a simple and highly enjoyable old-school RPG with impressively lovely 2D visuals and fantastic music. It might be a bit too simple for dedicated genre fans but there's still a fun and epic journey awaiting anyone willing to give it a go.
- + Solid retro RPG gameplay and fun combat
- + Awesome cast of characters with gorgeously well-animated sprites
- + Rewarding upgrades encourage exploration
- - Battle system is a bit too simple
- - Dungeons could use more mechanics
- - Character growth is rather flat