Developer: Emmanuel Salva Cruz
Publisher: Emmanuel Salva Cruz
Review Context: I played both the prequel on Newgrounds and the free browser version on Kongregate.
Date of Playthrough: March 2015
PC Specs Game Played on:
OS: Windows 8.1 64-bit
Processor: Intel Core i5-4200 CPU @ 2.80 GHz
RAM: 8 GB
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 840M
Resolution: 960 x 540
With a start on the indie animation site Newgrounds, animator Emmanuel Salva Cruz designed his own RPG flash game by the name of Crystal Story. With humble beginnings his game garnered a fan base on the site being quite the success winning both the site’s Weekly and Daily awards right after release. While the original game had a certain charm to it with its limited gameplay, Cruz had higher aspirations. On February 6, 2015, Cruz would take the leap from Newgrounds creator to indie developer with the sequel to his cult game, Crystal Story II: War of the Shattered Sky. The question remains, was this game worthy of joining the Newground alumni who have made hit games such as Castle Crashers or Super Meat Boy? I will be focusing on the Steam release game throughout the review and reference the original edition only to show the leap forward the steam version made.
D the dragon, descends from above one day from his own dimension on a quest to save this world from the impending doom that is the Dargons. He must then travel to the far reaches of the world to gather jewels guarded by powerful beings with the help of his ragtag crew and stop the evil witch Rita once and for all from using the Dargons to destroy the world. This is the bare bones of the story, which sounds a lot like Final Fantasy V, but has enough differences to make it stand apart. The dialogue of the story feels less forced than its predecessor and is often tailored to the characters quite nicely detailing their two dimensional personalities. The characters are cardboard cut outs, but still have their charm to them. With up to six chapters of story, it starts to drag on but all in all it’s quite generic and won’t stand out in a crowd. The characters are alright, just alright. With good design and personality choices you would expect a really fleshed out and compelling cast of characters, yet the story itself hinders them. No scenario forces them to evolve past their two dimensional frame, and that is a detriment to such a potentially fun cast. D is the methodical hero with a chip on his shoulder, Lina is the loveable thief, Mari is the cowardly lion with authority, and Kaz is the brooding demon with a good heart. All together they should make a decent cast, but do not expect anything more than their archetypes.
Crystal Story II, much like its predecessor, is a flash style game. With a vibrant color palette, it stands out amongst the crowd. The animations for the main party are fluid and fleshed out, while the monsters are given a static portrait. Spells in the game are not the biggest spectacle, but are rather short and bland compared to the fluidity of the party’s animation. The overworld map is barren and lacks the luster and creativity brought out by the character designs. While each dungeon may have a different feel to its overall design, unfortunately due to it having randomly generated dungeon maps things at times feel out of place and nothing seems unique. The portraits of characters are nothing truly special, but still are well designed and memorable. Overall the design aspect of the game, while lacking in creativity and evolution from the first game, certainly is some of the best I have ever seen in a flash RPG.
Sporting classical turn based RPG combat, it doesn’t fail to impress. It utilizes a timed system of play where characters race to make a move first before their opponents, much like a simplified version of the Child of Light’s fight mechanics. While regular/most enemies are quite simple to handle, bosses will give you a run for your money if you enter unprepared making them far more heart pounding than your average battle. Late game the difficulty ramps up, but it only starts at around the end of Chapter 4. The problem that comes with this, is that grinding is made very easy, and thus the game can become tedious due to the onslaught of enemies found in each room. For a classical RPG, it is on the easier side and more for casual gamers entering the genre rather than those hardcore lovers of traditional JRPGs and the like.
Crystal Story II surprises with an in depth stat and class system much to the likes of a simplified yet more personalized version of Final Fantasy X’s leveling system. Characters level up through SP gathered after battle and are allowed to add/change to a different class after they have completed one, making the stat boosting complex and allows one to customize their characters to their choosing. While branching paths don’t happen inside each class, it does at times allow you to decide between either upgrading one stat or the other giving some personalization to the leveling. The equipment also is upgradable, but in the generic sense of having the stats arbitrarily raised. The only thing that would stand out is the alchemy section, which allows you to craft different weapons out of items you receive from defeating enemies.
While going through the game you will often come across mini-games either for a quest or for leisure. Fishing is simplistic as it is just time-consuming and more so for a completionist run as you mash that spacebar away for tens of minutes, if you are unlucky, just for an achievement. The Hackpick mechanism for chests is just another monotonous game that just has you switching arrows to get to the end, and only gets slightly harder as the game progresses adding in more obstacles in your path. There is a Zombie Defense mode where you play Bejeweled in order to defeat an enemy. Mercenary Defense is a simplified version of Plants vs. Zombies. Snowboard Extreme is just another dreary games to attempt to spice up the gameplay. While all of these show potential, they lack the proper execution and complexity to be proper additions to the game.
The only two asides from the game worth checking out is the pet and card game featured. You will receive your pet slime early on in the game and receive different customizations for said pet slime throughout your playthrough. You can even call upon your pet slime to assist you in battle. The card game is a bit more complex, and is just about as addictive as the main game itself. You collect cards of monsters found in the game’s bestiary. These monsters will have a defense and attack stat along with an element. It has a ranking system, achievements, and hours of playable content in order to obtain the best cards from other NPCs. Sadly this mode has no online play, but if it did it would be a blast to outwit your friends.
The game’s soundtrack assists the blander dungeon levels to give more of an identity to places. Tracks like “Erimos” and “Luminous Decay” give beautiful atmosphere to each of their respective dungeon maps. The composer, Morgan King, certainly knew how to handle each situation within the game. Especially in the ice segment of the map, giving a chilling accompaniment to one of the more beautifully designed portions of the game.
The version distributed on Steam is considered the deluxe version of the game, and therefore includes enhancements from the Kongregate original version. The differences in this version compared to the other is an obvious increase in graphical and audio quality. Each character sprite is in 24-PNG instead of the 8-PNG. With the audio quality also given a boost, Crystal Story II was given new life and a much better playthrough than the original version. This essentially is the predominant version of the game. The reason why is the added features, which ultimately add in more time to your playthrough, making it long to make up for its lack of replayability. The card game, chapter 6, and additional quests are just some of the features only available to the deluxe version, and they are some of the more enjoyable parts of the game.
Crystal Story II can be summed up in one sentence, “A jack of all trades, and master of none.” With a small team of designers, Cruz went grander than the previous installment of the game adding in a flowing story, more organized stat trees and classes, mini-games galore, and a world map. The flash animation is much more crisp and fluid than the original and sports a large diversity of motions not found in indie flash RPGs of this nature. The problem is that the execution just doesn’t match up with the ambition, making the game not be all it can be. Does it deserve to be among the prestigious alumni? Well in my opinion it is on the fence, but by George does it not try its hardest.
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