I always loved the original Legend of Zelda growing up, but always wondered why there weren’t more games like it. When I got back into retro gaming in the Fall of 2015, I scurried the internet for “hidden gems” to fill my collection with, and quickly found this game among them. Just looking at the awesome cover art – I knew I was in for an epic 8-bit action-RPG adventure!
Crystals takes place in a post-apocalyptic world caused by a thermonuclear war 100 years prior. Civilization has reverted to a simpler time – technology is gone and swords and shields are back in style! One major difference between the prewar and postwar world however, is that now there are angry mutants running rampant! As always, there is an evil empire attempting to control the world – but this time through combining the old ways of science with the now prevalent magic! I won’t spoil the whole story, but, as expected, the goal is to stop this evil empire.
You start the game as a nameless male protagonist and quickly gain access to a sword, shield, and armor! Throughout the game, you will pick up tons of different equipment pieces through exploring dungeons or buying from stores. Many of these items (like the swords) get more powerful the further you get into the story and introduce strategy to the gameplay as certain items are good against certain types of enemies and poor against others. Unlike Legend of Zelda, the hero also gains levels that increase hit points and magic. These design decisions together bring a sense of strategy and progression that made me feel like I was getting more powerful as I move further into the story.
Gameplay-wise, this game feels in many ways like Legend of Zelda! You move around from a topdown perspective and whack your enemies to smithereens! You can also power-up your swords and shoot projectiles! There is also a huge emphasis on magic in this game. Throughout the story, you meet various mages who teach you a huge number of different spells like fireballs, recover, and telepathy. I regularly relied on these spells to move forward and enjoyed how integral they were to the design of the game.
The game has great graphics and a colourful world! The music and sound effects game are also phenomenal and is really a standout feature for this game. The music just makes you want to go on an adventure!
The only real gripe I have with the game is that the dungeons are quite bland conceptually and aesthetically. Most dungeon rooms look the same, and although there are a few “secrets” accessed through the use of magic or powered up swords, dungeon puzzles themselves are quite simple. There was also a few times where I had no idea how to proceed – but through fumbling around (and the occasional gamefaq check) I moved through the game without much incident.
Overall, this is a hidden gem on the NES. It plays like a mix between Legend of Zelda and Secret of Mana (in 8-bit, 1 player form). It has great graphics, interesting magic and weapon mechanics, and some of the best music found in a NES game. The game looses some marks on its simplistic dungeons but it otherwise great! I give this game an 8/10.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10