Crystalis

Developer: NST (After SNK)
Publisher: Nintendo?
Console: GB Color?
Release Date: 2000

Based on: A game that was really much better on the NES. And that's not just nostalgia talking.

I finished up my playthrough of Crystalis last night -- unfortunately, though, it wasn't the classic NES version of the game. Much to my regret, it was the portable remake Nintendo Software Technology pooped out a few years back for Game Boy Color. I've already lamented the sizable difference in quality between the two editions of the game, but now that I've actually completed the handheld port I can fully appreciate how compromised it was. And now I feel OK about paying for a copy of the NES title.

I still really enjoyed the game, broken as NST's take was. I'm hopelessly weak against the charms of top-down action/RPG/adventure games, and Crystalis was pretty much the game I had wanted from Zelda II. It was a lot like the original Zelda, except less vague, much faster, and with much more emphasis on magic and sword beam attacks. Plus that whole "ancient hi-tech war machines ruling over a post-apocalyptic wasteland" thing was still obscure enough not to be a tiresome cliche.

The problem with NST's version is that it suffers from one of my biggest portable remake peeves: horribly cropped screen dimensions. I was surprised by how much this changes the nature of the game, but it honestly makes Crystalis for GBC much, much harder than the NES version. Unlike most top-down RPG-ish games, short-range sword attacks are more or less secondary to long-range charged projectiles. But with a quarter of the screen graphics missing in each direction, the character's range is effectively halved. One of Crystalis' trademarks was the nimble foot speed of the hero, but it's a serious drawback here -- you walk so fast that you constantly stumble into foes that would have been visible on the NES, but which only show up a few inches from the hero on GBC. And the huge, maze-like dungeons of the latter third of the game are vast seas of monotony -- without full visual range to give some context to each section, it's almost impossible not to get lost within the mazes of twisty three-color passages, all alike.

And don't even get me started on the changes to the plot and story. As far as I can tell, the hero isn't actually the tall, slim, lavender-hued young man with flippy anime hair (as depicted by the in-game sprite) but rather a dowdy wizard with a pot belly and a long white beard that curls off the top of it. It's still a good game, and I think the NES version holds up nicely today (it's certainly a more satisfying Seiken Densetsu substitute than Sword of Mana). It's just that the GBC take on the game is... less gooder.

Tangentially, I wish I knew more about the Japanese Famicom version of Crystalis; all I know is that it was called God Slayer over east, which is pretty rad. I'm happy to see that Japan's fascination with violating religious totems isn't a new development, but rather something that's been brewing for years. Between this and Kyoufu Bio Monster Jesus (an awesome-looking adventure game that combines Japanese mythology, futuristic sci-fi and '80s aerobics), there was plenty of warped misuse of western religion on the ol' Famicom. Or so I'm assuming; I can't say for certain that God Slayer was actually about killing the god we Americans know and love and invoke for political gain. It may have been about killing Shiva, or Zeus, or even some obscure pagan deity like Analgesic, the god of dropping two aspirin into your pint of lager as a hangover preventative.

And in any case, warped as it may have been, nothing that came out of Japan was even slightly as twisted as Wisdom Tree's bizarre 8-bit take on God:

  • 21 And she completed the stage with a great gnashing of teeth; and she rent her garments and poured ashes over her hair, saying
  • 22 "Forgive me, great and terrible YHWH, for I have accidentally tossed baby Moses into the Euphrates, and lo, he did vanish off the bottom of the screen."
  • And the LORD saw her anguish and pitied her, and the sky turned as pitch, and the NES system font appeared on the screen.
  • 24 "Why dost thou weep so, Egyptian nursemaid? Buck thee up, for I AM bids thee go to the next level regardless."
  • 25 And she did begin the second stage with the infant in hand, and in her heart she was glad.
  • 26 Then a big-ass spider did knock her into a pit.