Preceded by a bombastic anime trailer, Crystar takes you on a gut-wrenching adventure through the afterlife. You play as a teenage girl called Rei who is summoned, along with her little sister, into Purgatory. There, your sister is killed, but two demons who watch over Purgatory offer you a deal: They will help you revive your sister if you collect crystals called Idea for them.
Even for a game that openly has death as a central theme, Crystar hits its emotional notes hard from the very beginning. As you explore the first area, you meet a number of butterflies, which represent the flickering embers of human souls. As you pass them, you hear the last things they said before they died. For some, death is a release from pain. Others are scared. Others laugh maniacally. It explores the full spectrum of death in a few simple moments and sets the tone for ultimately a very dark game.
Purgatory is populated by Revenants and Spectres, creatures you have to fight. It is only after you’ve got through the first sprawling map that you learn that these beings are corrupted souls that didn’t make it through Purgatory. When you defeat them, you absorb their pain. When you reach the end of each level, you have to cry to release that pain and your tears become the crystals you need to collect. You can take comfort by petting your big fluffy dog, though.
The whole game is gorgeously designed. The anime art style lends itself well to the fast-paced action. The world is strewn with beautiful crumbling buildings that float in a twinkling sky. Monsters and heroes alike are equipped with very cool weapons and armour. This is all complemented by a lovely soundtrack.
The gameplay is relatively simple. You journey through the levels of Purgatory defeating the monsters that populate each map. The instructions are clear and the controls aren’t complicated, so it’s easy to get the hang of how to fight.
At the end of each level, there is usually a cutscene of some kind that explores how the demons are toying with you in particular and human souls in general. Sometimes this introduces new elements of the game, such as new moves and spells. After a few maps, you’ll reach a boss that offers you a harder challenge and a chance to return to your world to purify.
As Crystar progresses, you acquire allies with different skills and battle styles. You can swap out Rei to play as the other characters to diversify the gameplay. These add new layers to the narrative when it comes to how much you can trust them. Ultimately this leads to increasingly convoluted plotlines that jump between alternate universes.
By the final chapters of the game, there’s a lot to keep track of, but it can be a fun rollercoaster if you’re committed to paying attention.