Review by Crythania
"A work of art"
This was my first RPG on a game system. Actually, I think my first RPG was Temple Of Apshai on an Atari computer, but that was decades ago (early 80s). Anyway, Crystal Warriors was my first exposure to the new wave of RPGs during the Nintendo/Sega era. Let's put it that way. And this little game is still my all-time favorite.
Crystal Warriors is the familiar story of an evil warlord who invaded a peaceful realm, ambushing and defeating the King and his knights in battle. After that, the warlord Grym stole three of the four elemental crystals of Arliel; but the last one was missing because Princess Iris had taken it with her on a trip. Thus begins the quest of Princess Iris and her loyal followers to battle Grym and the hordes of the Jyn army in an attempt to retake their kingdom and get back the three stolen crystals.
As far as the story goes, that's it. The rest of the game is pure old-fashioned game (as in, a game you actually play, not a slew of story scenes you watch while occasionally interacting).
Crystal Warriors is a tactical RPG (the best kind of RPG). It's played on an overhead view, chessboard style layout. You have your army of six to nine characters, and the enemy has their army. Each battle represents a journey from one town to another. You have to protect your town from enemy attack while advancing on the enemy's town to defeat the army that is occupying it.
To start out with, your characters include Princess Iris, a mage, a healer, and three fighters. The thing that makes this game unique and stands it out from the rest is the strategy of elements. Each character is associated with one of the four cardinal elements: Water, Fire, Wind, and Earth. Water characters can easily defeat Fire characters. Fire characters can easily defeat Wind characters. And Wind characters can easily defeat Water characters. Earth characters are evenly matched with all of the others. A big part of the tactical strategy is setting up your front line so that your characters have the advantage (and not a disadvantage). The elemental dynamic also pertains to magic spells. Because of this, the various magic spells actually have a practical use instead of just being upgrades of each other. Fire spells are most useful against Wind enemies, and so on.
The combat is turn-based. All of your characters can make a move and/or attack; then it's the enemy's turn and all of the enemy characters make a move and/or attack. You can decide the order in which you move your characters during each round, which makes for even more strategy. Each character can move a number of squares during his turn, and some characters move faster over certain types of terrain. A Water character can move fast over a stream, river, or shallow lake, while the rest of the characters get slowed down while crossing water. Other types of characters have similar terrain advantages.
There are also monsters scattered about. Your fighters can attack, defeat, and tame them. A tamed monster will serve the character who tamed him, fighting for him in battle if you choose. This adds yet another strategy element to the game. If a character has the right type of monster, he can turn a bad situation into an advantageous one, counter-attacking with the monster against the enemy who attacked him.
After a battle is over, you enter the newly liberated town and do some shopping at the local shops. The usual shopping is present here: Weapons, Armor, and Spells. In addition, you can hire new characters to join your army at some of the towns. You can't get enough money to hire all of the new characters or buy all of the items and spells that are available, so there is strategy in spending here. There's also a lot of replay value. You could play the game again and hire different characters than you did the first time or improve on your strategy by saving up for the good stuff that you'll find in the next town.
There's a battery backup here. We can save our game in one of three save slots at the Inn at each town. I discovered that if the battery backup happens to die out, you can recharge the battery by playing the game. Nifty! I had a dead battery (my previous saved games from long ago weren't there), and playing the first level charged it up again.
In terms of overall game-play appeal, this is a perfect game. There are 16 levels of tactical battles, and at no point does it ever get boring. The terrain designs start out rather simple and quickly get complicated. There are bridges to cross and other bottleneck situations to confront. There are mountain ranges that must be circumvented, and multiple avenues from which enemy characters will approach your castle. You have to split your party into two groups as you advance. There's a good variety of enemy characters and monsters to fight. The game is perfectly streamlined from beginning to end. No need to spend mindless hours gaining levels so that your characters become strong enough to beat that difficult boss. Although the boss characters here are challenging, they're all beatable with good strategy. The enemy presence in each battle is nicely designed. They never become overwhelming. It's a perfect game.
Visually, Crystal Warriors is well above average. Towns, castles, groves of trees, bushes, rocky land, desert, ocean shores, lakes, small springs, streams, marshland, mountains, volcanoes... Everything is colorful and well presented. The water has a nice movement animation (it's not just plain blue like in other games). Waves roll up against the ocean shoreline, streams flow, and lake water ripples. Waterfalls are appropriately animated. Ocean salt water looks darker than inland fresh water. Desert sand dunes move with the wind. The tips of trees lean in an occasional breeze. The flags atop castles wave in the breeze. It's graphical flourishes like these that make this game look great.
Characters on the battlefield are as good as they're going to get on the Game Gear (small cartoony characters). When you move the cursor over a character, a full-body picture of him pops up in a corner of the screen. All of these pictures are detailed and well presented. Overall, the characters here are well designed. When a character engages another in battle, we see a battle screen with a close-up view of the characters attacking each other. Everything here is well animated. Some of these characters are a treat to watch in action (especially the Skorp and Phoenix). This game is a graphical work of art that stands the test of time.
The sound department is just as good. Background music is well composed and sets the mood nicely. There are some quality themes here. Battle music for boss encounters does a great job of conveying the feel of going up against a superior enemy. Effects are all good, including melee combat effects and some good spellcasting effects. When you move a character on the battlefield, there's an appropriate effect for his footsteps. This is a great-sounding game.
Much to my dismay, I have not yet seen another tactical RPG that employs the elemental dynamic for battles (maybe I've been looking in all the wrong places). The elemental dynamic is an awesome idea that adds flavor to the combat and makes for some very interesting tactical situations. Instead of hacking 'n' slashing mindlessly, we have to use our characters as a team and have them cover each others' backs as they confront the opposition.
Crystal Warriors may be a small game on an old portable system, but it's got it where it counts. Engaging game-play, some great replay value, and it looks and sounds great to boot. This is one of the best RPGs of all time.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 02/24/05, Updated 08/19/11
Game Release: Crystal Warriors (US, 12/31/91)
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