Shortly before the 16-bit era of console gaming got underway back in 1990, SNK, a company known primarily for its arcade games, made what I believe was its first attempt at an action RPG, God Slayer, whose title was changed in America, for obvious reasons, to Crystalis. While far from perfect, Crystalis proves to be one of the stronger ARPGs of the 8-bit era and a decent start in the genre by the mentioned company.

Combat in Crystalis, of course, is real-time, with the player gaining up to four elemental swords during the game, with enemies being strong or weak against certain types. The player can also hold down the attack button to charge up the current sword and release an energy wave of sorts, and four elemental orbs/bracelets acquired throughout the game allow for two additional levels of charging, with the highest and most powerful level consuming MP. Yes, there’s magic, as well, ranging from HP-healing to condition-curing to teleportation. Levels are increased through experience gained from killing enemies, with a cap at level sixteen.

The fact that you have to stand still for your weapons to charge is the battle system’s biggest flaw, although you can acquire a secret item that allows the player to release level one blasts from any weapon with normal attacks. The mentioned flaw can make bosses and even some enemies a chore, although most bosses in the late portion of the game, I noticed, fell quickly with a few level three charge attacks. The need to change weapons constantly to deal with the various kinds of enemies can annoy, as well. In the end, the battle system is somewhere in the middle in terms of quality.

The interface could’ve used some work, as well, especially with respect to the save system, with saving only allowable on fields and in towns but not in dungeons, with the player, for instance, having to trek through long dungeons again if he/she dies against a boss. Moreover, while the meager cap on consumable items gives balance to the battle system, it does create the problem of needing to discard consumables frequently just to acquire the contents of certain chests with a full inventory. Some descriptions for items and magic would’ve been welcome, as well. The only real saving grace is the teleportation spell, providing rapid conveyance among towns. Interaction, in the end, could’ve easily been much better.

Crystalis is surprisingly original, though, being the earliest action RPG I’ve played with charge attacks, diagonal movement, elements, apocalyptic references, tools not seen in the Zelda games like a Gas Mask, and so forth; no problems here.

According to Crystalis, October 1, 1997, is (or was, at least) “The End Day,” when the apocalypse, weird mutations, a floating tower being constructed, and all that crap, happens. You play a purple guy who emerges from some weird machine within a cave, freaks out a few people, and travels around the world to save it from imminent destruction. There are some decent revelations towards the end, and the backstory is nice, although the plot, of course, would’ve benefited from more development, longer cutscenes, and so forth.

The aurals are standard 8-bit fare, moving on, with some catchy, though repetitive and sometimes annoying, music, alongside limited sound effects, some of which can get annoying, as well.

The graphics, too, are middling, with a pretty pasty color scheme for the environments and low-detailed sprites, though black outlines make things look a bit better.

Finally, the difficulty of Crystalis hovers between easy and medium, especially depending upon whether or not the player acquires that secret item I mentioned a while back, and the game itself is pretty short, taking anywhere from five to fifteen hours to complete.

Crystalis, in the end, was a surprisingly decent entry by SNK into RPGs, despite its flaws, and would a decade later receive a remake on the Gameboy Color near the end of that system’s life, although I’m not certain if that port would be best, given the horror stories I’ve heard about its aurals. Whatever the case, Crystalis is worth at least a look-see, if nothing more.

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