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Crystalis: A tough, 31-year-old action-RPG for the NES.

I just replayed Crystalis for the first time in a decade using the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection for the PS4. It is often compared to Legend of Zelda, or somewhat more accurately, described as a precursor to Secret of Mana, but the most accurate comparison by far is Ys series games such as Ys 1+2 and Oath in Felghana. Imagine an 8-bit, post-apocalyptic version of Oath In Felghana where you get to ride a dolphin, and you have a pretty decent idea of what this game is. Killing hundreds of enemies for exp is the name of the game, not puzzle solving.

HOW IT HOLDS UP IN 2021:

Town and Overworld Music- Catchy as hell. Every one of these themes will get stuck in your head. The town theme has the same cozy feel as the Kakariko Village theme from Link to the Past, and the main overworld theme, the angry sea theme, and the Mt Sabre theme will get you amped up and ready to slay some mutants and imperials. These themes are on par with the Megaman 2 soundtrack.

Plot- Extremely simplistic by modern days standards where we have games like Bioshock Infinite, Metal Gear Solid 4 and Kingdom Hearts 3, but for 1990 NES standards, this game is Chrono Trigger, this game is Planescape Torment, compared to other NES game plots. This is an NES game with a post-apocalyptic setting! There is this floating tower in the sky which might "save" the world by destroying it if the wrong person gets their hands on it, and an evil Palpatine-like emperor is trying to do just that. But then our hero awakens after a 100-year cryogenic slumber. The hero's destiny is to master the four elements and confront the Fire Lor- er, Draygonian Emperor and put an end to his tyranny and the threat of the floating tower. And along the way, surprisingly for an NES game, alot of people will die. This is one dark NES game.

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The basic gameplay- Its pretty fast and fun. You go around, question the townsfolk for clues, kill enemies with badass charged sword attacks, look for treasure, confront the boss, kill him, get a new ability as a reward, rinse and repeat a dozen times. This is Oldschool Action RPG 101.

Graphics- Still pretty charming. The character sprites look muddled, but the overworld and towns look great. These graphics were some of the best the NES had to offer. It was what Doom Eternal is to the PS4, graphically.

WHAT DOESN'T HOLD UP IN 2021:

-Brutal status effects. You have four: poison, paralysis, petrification, and slime. All four suck. Paralysis is especially annoying because you can't used charged sword attacks and therefore can't blow down walls and progress through the game until you've healed. Buy and manage your healing items wisely. As soon as you get the Water Sword and Water Ball, grind those chest mimic enemies in the waterfall cave until you have $9k, go to Brynmaer, go southeast of town to the river, use the Water Ball and cross it, enter Amazones, buy a Sacred Shield, and NEVER REMOVE IT until you get the Psycho Shield at the endgame.

-Forced leveling: Yep, if your level is too low, the game won't allow you to damage the boss! Be level 3 before facing the vampire, be level 4 before fighting the giant forest bug, be level 7 before facing Kelbesque, be level 11 before raiding Sabera's fort, and 12 for Mado. You'll need to be level 13 before rematching with Kelbesque and Sabera in Goa, and 14 before facing Mado and Karmine in Goa. To take on the Emperor, you need to be level 16, the max level. Use the jellyfish cave at the entrance of Sabera's island to get to level 13, and inside Goa, use the spider room near Mado to grind to level 16.

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-Dungeon Themes get repetitive, unfortunately. Still catchy as hell, but get repetitive compared to the other music.

Melee hit detection is wonky and janky. Its safest to use charged sword projectiles instead. Never attempt to melee a status effect-inducing enemy. This is one department where Zelda has Crystalis beat.

-"Find the item in the vague location" quests such as Akahana's Statue, the Kirisa Plant which is needed to get a very important item, Kensu's love pendant, what to do with the eyeglasses, etc.

Other vagueness… seriously, don't be afraid to use a walkthrough. For example, the game won't tell you that you need the Power Ring equipped to damage the penultimate boss.

-Slowdown when too many enemies are onscreen, though this only becomes a problem in later dungeons.

-Endlessly respawning flying enemies will continuously fly at you at top speed from offscreen. You WILL get hit by these bastards alot. This is reason #1 to get and keep the Sacred Shield: some of them have paralysis attacks!

TIP FOR MAKING GOA FORTRESS A CAKEWALK: You can get the Power Ring in the Desert Oasis Cave immediately after your first fight with Mado. The Leather Boots in that same cave will also help you in that fortress. Equip the power ring, and the Finest Four will all die quickly in Goa. Of course, you still need to be level 14. I one-shotted Sabera with the Flame Bracelet lol.

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Overall, for a 31-year-old RPG, it holds up better than it has any right to. Its a charming, somehow beautiful, and fun game despite its several flaws. I recommend it, especially the Anniversary Collection version which lets you save anywhere and rewind when something frustrating happens.

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