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A Promising Remake

  • Sviel
  • 08/23/2014 02:10 AM
Part I

tl;dr - Everything about this project feels almost like a professional NES game. If that's your thing, do yourself a favor and just skip to playing it. It has some hiccups on a few fine points, but it will eventually be a great game if it continues along the path it has set out. So, at the very least, subscribe.

I should note that, prior to downloading this game, I had never heard of Crystalis. In fact, I'm not totally certain that I have ever seen or played a NES. I think I might have emulated one or two games over a decade ago, but...I have those memories locked away with other large chunks of my childhood.

That said, I will be scoring this one as it is a rather expansive demo. More of a part one than a true demonstration. However, greater weight will be given to gameplay and presentation than story since the latter is harder to judge with a truncated game.

Part I of this review will be spoiler-free though I make no such promises about part II. Rather, I can tell you right now that part II is shot through with spoilers. It is intended mainly for the dev or people who have already played the game.

STORY: Things start off very quickly, which is almost always a plus. Even before you know the main characters name, you will be stabbing your enemies. For the most part, this works out, though anyone unfortunate to ask 'why' is going to wonder unsatisfied for a long time. We do eventually find out why our enemy is our enemy, sort of, but only by being told as such. That happens almost halfway through the demo and it is a longer wait still until we actually see these bad guys doing bad things. The important exposition comes across in an 'as you know...' segment, but there's talk of a new intro that would eliminate the need for that, so it doesn't worry me too much.

Even so, the characters have enough personality that I wasn't missing the Big Picture bits all that much. They aren't memorable, exactly, but far from drab. Once the game has a longer run-time, I imagine they might just make the jump.

The Quest, so to speak, is collecting the elemental forces to use against the Bad Guys. It is a remake of an old game, though, so that's sort of appropriate. The manner in which it's undertaken is abrupt, but not jarringly so; it was only well into the game that I realized it felt like something was missing. From what I've read on the game page, there is some fleshing out in the works.

GAMEPLAY: Here, the game charmingly recreates the feel of a NES game. Probably. I'm no expert on the NES and am probably totally not qualified to make that claim, but I liked it. I meant what I said before about it feeling almost professional. Do not be led astray by my tendency to say only mean things; it's actually quite good. It uses a real-time battle system that is very simple and easy to grasp, but has enough tricks to it (or will, when the other swords are around) that it doesn't get boring prematurely.

The 'almost' before the professional is there due to a few odd issues and a bit of design that can be wearying to some players.

The odd issues include the way the menu works (but the menu is being redesigned already!), especially the way that items are used. Since the game is being played on a keyboard rather than a controller, it is not as intuitive to just Press All the Buttons and find out what works. In addition, the starter sword appears to have a charge up attack, but in reality it does literally nothing. It would be best to remove it so as not to confuse players or, perhaps, actually make it a stronger attack.

The wearying issues manifest in two main ways.

First, whenever there is a dungeon, you can be sure that you're going to have to traverse that dungeon many times. Even if you know everything ahead of time, you'll find yourself walking through the same hallways at least twice and perhaps up to six times if you go in unprepared. Namely, the swamp requires 4-6 journeys crossings on preparation. As you can imagine, the area is hardly as fresh or exciting after all of that. It feels like filler because it is.

Second, there are some items that must be bought to continue the game's story that are quite expensive. Whenever I ran into one, I had to run off and farm up currency. I'm not really a fan of grinding in any sense, but it smarted especially bad when I had to grind for a one-time use item rather than levels and strength that would always be around. Since money drops were low across the board, it was much faster to do this in past areas, meaning I didn't even get much in the way of experience.

While both of these things were a strain, they did not ruin the game experience.

PRESENTATION: There were obviously a great many pains taken to make this look and feel like a NES game rather than an RPG Maker VX Ace game, and they paid off. There are a few refreshing issues with the UI (as in it did not refresh sometimes, not that the issues were rejuvanating), but they are rather rare and will definitely be fixed for the full game if not the next demo. There are a few places where one expects to be able to walk and can't, and vice-versa, but they are only in one cave and not really a huge deal for a demo.

In contrast to the rest, however, the world map does not show a ton of effort. It's small enough that direction is never a big problem, but visually it does not have a cohesive look. The snowy areas especially stand out at sharp angles. There is some debate over whether or not it will be left out of the final version, but if it isn't, it will need some love. Fortunately, it's sole functional purpose is to get from point A to point B, and it does that well enough.

OVERALL: There is always something scary about fan remakes, but this one seems to have pulled it off without any crazy design decisions that only a few can love or understand. Whether or not you're into old-school NES games, this is a title that will be worth adding to your collection. It has proven itself well enough to be recommended; what remains to be seen is how highly.

Part II

-The opening screen certainly invokes that NES nostalgia. Both with graphics and music. I take a minute (okay more like five) and bask in the simplistic midi glory.

-On the screen that shows the controls, I'm told to press 'Z or Entr to exit this screen.' Given that it's a full sentence, I wonder why the second 'e' in 'Enter' had to be omitted.

-I press SPACE because I'm a REBEL.

-SOME GAL assassinates a guard then remarks aloud that now is her chance to destroy the new weapon, presumably in the castle ahead.

-Turns out that I am THAT GAL and proceed to walk straight into the castle and begin STABBING things. I'm told how to attack and use magic and open the menu or resize the screen, but not told what my magic does. Turns out, it heals me, but I didn't realize this until I open the menu...after burning all of my MP trying to figure out what the spell did. No matter, I can still STAB things.

-I find a chest that says I found 10 GEMS, but I now have a total of 5 GEMS. Hmm.

-When I change maps, though, I receive the 10 GEMS.

-I walk through a CASTLE where I overhear two GUARDS talking about WAR stuff and see a DAMSEL in a cell. There is also a SAVE STONE.

-The only door leads to a courtyard with a CANNON and some DUST BUNNIES who apparently man said CANNON. It seems I'm supposed to fight them? Well, they WIN. I never figured out how to hurt them.

-I RELOAD and discover that THE GAL THAT IS ME is named MISAE.

-On my third attempt, I discover that by running into a small corner, I can damage the CANNON...but dodging is not possible while doing it. It seems I will have to run in and out very quickly, very many times.

-On my fourth attempt, I realize that I can hold down the ATTACK button to charge up what I assume is a more powerful attack...and also that I can't open the menu while fighting the CANNON and thus can't use herbs to heal...not that I know how to do that even when I can bring the menu up.

-I figure out how to use herbs. I bring the menu up with SPACE, then hit C. Nevermind that, outside of the menu, SPACE and C have the same function.

-On my fifth attempt, I realize that I can't hold the super attack forever, making it much harder to land.

-On my sixth attempt, I get the timing down pretty well.

-On my seventh attempt, I land about five such attacks before dying.

-On my eighth attempt, I land way more. It seems the fight drags on well beyond the point where the battle mechanic grows tiresome. Perhaps I was meant to be stronger? I decide to look around and see if I missed anything.

-By which I mean grinding on the only enemies available.

-Of note, the charged attack doesn't allow me to one shot the enemies...even though I normally two-shot them.

-I LEVEL UP and all of my stats double from 1 to 2. I can now one shot the enemies with a normal attack...which casts even more doubt on the usefulness of the charge attack. Unfortunately, they no longer give experience...except the the rats, which give 1%.

-I throw caution to the dogs and SPAM ATTACK on the CANNON while the DUST BUNNIES dance in their usual pattern. I ignore the BALLS OF FLAME that come after me because I just can't be bothered to care. The CANNON dies when I'm at about half health.

-As I walk back through the CASTLE, the GUARDS are gone. It seems they heard the repeated CANNON FIRE and decided to look someone else. MISAE says 'oh yeah, there was a kidnapee' and heads over to save the DAMSEL.

-MISAE grabs the keys to the cell from a nearby plate (wat) and frees RUBY.

-I leave the now empty CASTLE by studying the provided map until I can figure out which wall is actually an exit. It looks exactly like all of the other walls.

-I walk RUBY home and she invites me to stay the night. In the morning, I YAWN excitedly and set out.

-I enter a forest as I head to my MASTER's LAB. The trees often obscure vision, leading to rather painful encounters with baddies.

-I reach the LAB and learn that he has finished the medicine to cure RUBY's amnesia-ish disease. Using ALCHEMY. Apparently, some bad, alchemy related thing happened to my FATHER.

-He then asks me to follow him into the BASEMENT.

-Oh dear...

-Turns out he wanted to give me a SWORD. Or, rather, he made me work for it. I use ALCHEMY to imbue it with wind spirits and name it AZURSLAYER, which is probably the most offensive to wind spirits name possible.

-Turns out, MISAE is fighting against the EMPIRE for some reason. As far as I can tell, they don't seem like bad fellows...besides kidnapping RUBY, though, I have no clue why they did that. It's not like they're doing anything bad to the village outside of their CASTLE. Certainly nothing that justified MISAE killing dozens of guards and generally wrecking the place. Also, CHURCH PEOPLE apparently don't like ALCHEMY.

-I can also save on the WORLD MAP, which is nice.

-Speaking of the WORLD MAP, the snowy areas are all right angles...creating some jarring clash.

-At any rate, before you can say RPG TROPES AWAY I'm in a cave searching for a missing young girl named LEANA.

-The SLIMES here take 3 hits to kill. This makes it even more obvious that combat is nothing to write home about, especially since they don't even notice me. They just ooze around without a care in the world.

-I discover that my CHARGE attack now shoots WIND THINGS out. They won't seem to hurt the SLIMES that I can tell, but I guess that's why it's not actually a stronger attack.
UPDATE: Ok, so they were hurting the SLIMES. I think...just way less than a good STAB in the primordial goo.

-I find a CAVE within the CAVE. Entering does not make the black ceiling go transparent. I wander around in the dark a bit, then LEAVE.

-I realize I must return to town and HEAL. I encounter SLIMES patrolling the bridge and shoot wind at them. They flash red, actually, and eventually DIE.

-I think it's because I LEVELED UP? Perhaps their WIND DEFENSE was too high, before.

-Turns out, shooting WIND costs MP if I have it, in which case I shoot 3 CYCLONES instead of 2.

-Seems that there are plenty of those HIDDEN PASSAGES that people seem to love so much.

-I find some WINGED SNAILS that poison me upon hit. They actually try to attack me, albeit very slowly.

-I think I forgot to mention that I'm on a journey to collect the ELEMENTAL SPIRITS in order to assist my fight against the EMPIRE, but I guess that's not really NEWS.

-In more HIDDEN PASSAGES, I find one that does not seem to exit into the end room. There's not much I can do but grope about blindly, so, I LEAVE.

-I find the CHILDREN who speak of a MONSTER and suggest that I kill it before freeing them lest it comes and attacks the village. I must be quick, as it is expecting them to bring it dinner soon.

-I venture further into the CAVE and find...FATHER CLIVE, the CHURCH GUY who sent me on this quest. Turns out he's BLUE (or a demon, but all I can be sure of is that he's blue) and thought the monsters in the cave would kill me, which was a real possibility.

-He teleports around, smacking his lips, while BATS attack me. I DIE.

-And DIE again.



-My strategy is to run from the bats when they appear, then try to attack him once the bats are gone and before he summons more. Unfortunately, it seems that the bat summon is random, so there's no clear time to attack him. If I'm too close when he summons, then I get hit at least once for sure. In addition, since running into him causes damage and I can't turn without moving a square, it can be very awkward trying to turn to face him without getting hurt. Once I manage all that, there's only time for a couple of STABS before he poofs across the room. I keep DYING because damage is all but unavoidable every now and then but I can't put out much damage myself. I suppose I'll have to go buy that armor in town and make sure I have enough mp to keep my hp up. Meaning another trip through the cave and several HERBS to keep my hp up.

-I notice that I enter the shop from the SOUTH door, but once inside, I'm seen coming in from the NORTH. Nothing in this town is as it seems...

-I PREVAIL. He starts teleporting faster towards the end, which I don't mind, as it tells me that I'm making progress and I don't have to go through his whole lifebar at that speed. It takes just about all of my MP, though. It rather seems like it all would have been ok if that save point had healed my MP, or perhaps I just need to always save it for the boss and never use elemental swordstuff, etc.

-I get a message saying that I have defeated the NOSFERATU. This means little to me as it is the first I have heard of this NOSFERATU. Yes, I know that it was CHURCH GUY, but since I knew him as CHURCH GUY and MISAE never found out exactly what he was, it would have had more impact if it said tha tI defeated CHURCH GUY.

-Back in town, everyone is HAPPY. They then begin to discuss WAR. Turns out the EMPIRE has unexplained NON-HUMANS among their troops.

-Misae asks if someone is referring to "the thermonuclear war started by the Velyagun Empire 20 years ago." Makes me wonder just how many WARS there are that she feels the need to ask such a specific question.

-The answer to said question is "Yes, exactly. As you know..." Classic out-of-place exposition.

-I buy a FOG LAMP in the shop because it 'gives light in the darkness' and I do so hate to be blind.

-In the cave, I often find I can't pass through tiles that look passable. It's not a problem in terms of getting around, but the tiles certainly don't communicate passability well.

-I get through the mountains by going through the CAVE again. It seems I must go through once to free the children, once more to get them back to town, then a third time to actually get where I wanted to go in the first place. Since I had to heal up before the boss, I went through the whole CAVE 5 times. Seems a bit much...a one-way shortcut from the end to the start would be very helpful, or perhaps if there was no need to walk the children out, as in it skipped straight to the cutscene.

-In the next town, I enter by going NORTH, but taking a step to the NORTH after entering causes me to exit...since I somehow end up coming in from the EAST.

-Inside of town, there is a RED SAVE PILLAR. It functions much the same, but also restores MP...hmmm...

-In the PUB, I kill some EMPIRE MILITIAMEN. When the second dies, a cutscene triggers...but the guard never poofs. He just stands there awkwardly for the whole scene.

-At any rate, I'm off to MT. SABER, which has no WORLD MAP marker, even when I have someone guiding me there. It's not too hard to find, but is a bit of a scare.

-The HOT SPRINGS building is totally fleshed out, complete with actual POOLS with NAKED MEN swimming around. I think my SHOCK is mainly due to how detailed it is. The BUILDING...not the MEN...

-Anyway, I have to go look for FAIRIES in the POISONOUS SWAMP. The area is plagued by a BLUE BUG that flies everywhere, occasionally smacking me in the face. It hits pretty hard and takes a while to kill...but doesn't seem to give much in the way of rewards, even though landing even one hit is a huge operation.

-I see a PRETTY FLOWER. But when I go to touch it, it SPITS at me, causing PAIN, PARALYSIS and HEARTBREAK.

-I find a FAIRY. It seems this FAIRY has never seen a HUMAN before. It has a slightly odd way of talking that is TOTALLY COOL. Really sells the whole NOT HUMAN thing without making communication too hard to understand.

-I find a RED SAVESTONE near what I assume is going to be the BOSS. Hurrah for that.

-Seems I have to lure an ANIMAL out to continue the game...since I compulsively talk to everyone in town, I know that this means that I need to buy a POKEFLUTE from that old guy in town. Otherwise, I would be totally lost here. This also means that I have to traverse this area AGAIN to go buy the POKEFLUTE and AGAIN to return. Not to mention the 100 GEMS I have to farm up just to afford the thing.

-It seems that the BLUE BUG is weak to WIND, when I have a mind to spend some MP.

-I find a minor CLIPPING error along the lower wall in the middle of the SWAMP. The map with two NORTHERN exists and one WESTERN.

-100 GEMS is way too steep a price for a forced buy, especially since there's no benefit besides being able to continue playing the game.

-I return with the POKEFLUTE, but nothing happens.

-After much running in circles and menu checking and looking through other areas, I discover that one of the items in the MENU that looks nothing like a POKEFLUTE is apparently what I need to use. It is totally grey in the menu, just like the equipment that I don't have, so I did not think to try it.

-I play the POKEFLUTE and am attacked by an OHM and a neverending legion of BLUE BUGS. This time, I had all of my MP at my disposal, and manage to barely WIN.

-After the boss fight, the SAVEPOINT disappears. I can only hope I find another before dying to BLUE BUGS or some such nonsense.

-I find the FAIRYTOWN with it's very short musical loop. Sanity fades...

-I have to go back to the HOT SPRINGS, then to a deeper part of the SWAMP. That means at least two more traversals of that area.

-Seems that I have to buy a GAS MASK to continue. Once again, at 50 GEMS, it's not cheap at all. Seems I have to go grind up more cash just to continue the game.

-The fire area has a few puzzles that make use of the WIND SWORD mechanic. So far, they make the thing feel useful without being annoying. That is, they are well designed.

-Almost as if to spite me, I run into one that requres three flames to be put out in quick succession, lest they relight themselves. Difficult as it is, it is even more frustrating due to the third lamp sometimes not going out, even when hit with a CYCLONE.

-I try switching up which lamps I hit first, to no avail. The third lamp always resists being blown out.

-Reading the game page, it seems that other people managed this without complaint, somehow. I wonder how likely it is that something changed between then and now (it's been two years) that is causing the problem. Even when I blow out the lamps with no wasted time, they either re-ignite or don't go out in the first place.

-At any rate, I'm not too keen on spending so long trying to get past a secondary game mechanic that may or may not be bugged. Nothing is more disheartening than getting stuck harder on a mini-game (as in, not the gameplay you signed up for) moreso than the actual game.

-I ask the DEV for help and am told that it can be done by using a single level 3 shot. Since the lamps are not in 3 adjacent squares, I did not think the level 3 would take care of them all. I expected it to follow the same target area rules as the other two; that is, only blowing out the lamps hit by the CYCLONES. It didn't help that using the third from the wrong position curiously blew out one lamp but not the others, despite coming closer to them than the affected one.

-I eventually reach a BRIDGE where I am attacked by a MOLTRES. I sit on the far left end of the BRIDGE and wait as he cycles through his attacks, then blow KISSES at him when he stands still. He dies quite easily.

-Just beyond that, I find the strongest source of ether? and make a SWORD using ALCHEMY. Thus ends the demo, putting my completion time just under 2.5 hours. From the gamepage, it seems that there must be another demo in the works as it talks about things I haven't seen heads or tails of yet.

-Also, the new sword has more changes than just a simple element. The magic changes as well, a la Sword of Mana.


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This is a very constructive review and I'm grateful for that :)
Some of the points you raised were already discussed but some are also new and I really appreciate to know what your experience was playing the game.

Part II of this review I find hilarious and not any less useful. I'm actually impressed that you noticed so many inconsistencies. You understand now why I want to make changes to the story and scenes :P

All I can say is that I am rewriting huge parts of the plot and altering the gameplay and UI a little to make it more user-friendly, as well as adding a few new mechanics that are aimed at enhancing the experience: the ability to turn without taking a step, auto-recovering MP, elemental affinities applied to regular sword slashes (instead of projectiles only), being able to toggle equipment and use items without going through the menu, etc.
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