I love niche Japanese RPGs and Crystar has been on my radar for a long time so allow me to tell you if it was worth the wait.
Crystar has you play as Rei Hatada who takes it upon herself to dispatch tormented souls within limbo in the hopes of reviving her deceased sister Mirai. Yes, this is a very strange premise for a game but thankfully, the story and setting benefit from the dark and quirky foundation. For starters, the world and story of Crystar are consistent in that everything is dripping with themes of depression and self-hatred all while a glimmer of hope seems to be just on the horizon. It's rare to see any video game committed to its premise as much as Crystar is and that makes playing it all the more immersive and intriguing. Plus, the lovely stylish visuals, beautiful character art, and talented voice cast add a welcome layer of authenticity to the equation that makes it even more engaging.
All of that being said, Crystar can be emotionally draining to play. I personally don't suffer from depression or any mental illness yet the almost constant reminders of Rei's struggles and the tragic back-stories of many of the NPCs weighed the experience down from time to time and made playing it feel like a bummer after a while. There are moments of levity such as the ability to watch Rei pet her dog Thelema but it's simply not enough. I don't know about you but I play video games to have fun and escape into worlds that make me enjoy myself. Although I did have fun with Crystar's gameplay, its world can be quite a tough pill to swallow at times.
Speaking of gameplay, Crystar is an action RPG where you traverse enemy-filled dungeons. The core combat primarily involves light and heavy attacks, unleashing various skills, and dashing out of harm's way. It's very simple stuff but there are some impressively clever mechanics in play as well. For example, you have a Skill Power gauge that recharges as you attack monsters and allows you to perform special attacks. There's also a teardrop meter that fills as you fight or by holding a button to cry which drains your SP gauge. Once this meter is full, you can enter Idea Released state to summon a guardian which is basically a monster that helps you attack as well as perform a finishing move before the gauge depletes. Finally, there are items that you can use either manually or automatically which recover your health and heal status ailments. Overall, it's fun stuff with plenty of interesting complexities.
As you traverse dungeons, you'll fight red-glowing enemies that curse you with Torments upon defeating them which lower your stats. Although this sounds like a pain in the ass, you can purify these Torments into Sentiments by having Rei cry whenever you're back in your room between dungeon runs. Sentiments basically act as equipment with Aggressive ones being weapons, Protective ones being armour, and Bolstering ones being accessories. You can fuse, modify, and transform Sentiments, too, which can make your characters much more capable in battle. It's a ton of fun to experiment with Sentiments in order to create the most powerful equipment that you can and the fact that you join forces with a few other characters along the way makes the party progression systems even more satisfying.
Although I highly enjoyed my time with Crystar as soon as it all started to click with me, I found the combat to become super-repetitive after a while. First, there aren't many enemy varieties and the dungeons basically just consist of psychedelic floating platforms so it all starts to blend together and become rather monotonous after a while. Even the boss fights aren't very interesting and they are too few and far between as well. I wish there were some sort of timed challenges and such to add some much-needed variety.
Crystar's core gameplay loop also overstays its welcome after a while because you'll end up doing the same tasks over and over again. You'll basically choose an Ordeal, master the dungeon within, then upgrade your party with newly configured Sentiments. Some of these Ordeals are optional but they definitely don't add much variety considering they play the same as the story-driven ones.
Crystar presents a truly unique and consistent game world with simple and enjoyable action RPG dungeon crawling. However, its gameplay gets to a point where it feels all too samey which means that it's best enjoyed in short bursts.
- + Simple and fun action RPG combat with some very clever mechanics
- + Consistent emotion-based game world
- + Rewarding character progression systems
- - Combat quickly becomes repetitive
- - Story and world can get too depressing
- - Gameplay loop could use more variety