In a time when portable RPGs weren't too common, the folks over at Sega pumped out a strategy-RPG that would charm some gamers for years to come. The game was titled Crystal Warriors...and it was released in North America in 1992 (1991 in Japan). Gaming Sanctuary has already discussed Royal Stone, the sequel to
Crystal Warriors. There are a few reasons why I decided to discuss the second game in the series (which consists of only two games) before the first game. Crystal Warriors is a cult classic to some long time Game Gear owners and while information is present for it, few people actually acknowledge its sequel. I remember having a strong liking for Crystal Warriors and my fascination with the game stuck around for quite a while...unfortunately, I knew that revisiting the game after beating Royal Stone would make me look at Crystal Warriors in a different way, and I was right when I thought that. After a considerable amount of thought, I decided that I still do like Crystal Warriors, but I can honestly say that it's not as great as I originally believed.
Whenever I think about a strategy/tactical RPG, one of the key elements for me is usually the plot. This is how you begin your journey in Crystal Warriors:
"For nearly a century, peace reigned over the continent of Tyramus. A peace that was maintained by the four elemental crystals of the kingdom of Arliel. A peace that ended when King Lawrence of Arliel and his knights fell victim to the invading hordes of the Jyn Empire. Led by Emperor Grym, the Jyn legion sought to dominate Tyramus by using the four crystals to their own advantage...But to their dismay, there were only three crystals to be found. It wasn't long before Grym realized that Iris, princess of Arliel, was also missing. Seething with rage, he sent his men forth in search of the princess and the lost crystal."
This introduction, while simple, generally summarizes what takes place. You control Iris and her army of soldiers across the continent of Tyramus to deal with Emperor Grym and the Jyn Empire. There is one small surprise late in the game that isn't really dramatic or captivating, but it IS there. The problem with the story is that beyond the introduction, there is virtually nothing that makes the story interesting. You will visit numerous towns and each town has two buildings where you can talk to an NPC to see what the people of Tyramus are thinking. To my disappointment, they don't think of anything interesting to say. The amount of space that they wasted on pointless NPC dialogue could have been used to enhance other aspects of the game. Actually, they shouldn't have even wasted space by making a town. You might as well had went to a screen to buy stuff, recruit characters, save your game, or enter the next battle. The characters, including Iris, have absolutely no character development. While old, Crystal Warriors could have had more meat on the bones in the story department. I'll be honest with you though; I'm probably being a little harsher since I played Royal Stone.
While the game doesn't provide much in terms of dialogue, Crystal Warriors did manage to be visually pleasing for its time. Before I jump the gun, when I say "visually pleasing", you shouldn't expect anything that pushes the Game Gear to its limits. When you confront an enemy unit, you are brought to a gray screen with large sprites of you and the enemy. The animation is as simple as one may (or should) expect; characters have about two or three frames during most attack animations. The spells look decent for the most part. Fire and lightning spells look like they should, but ice magic looks like a blue version of fire, which is somewhat lazy, but it isn't too important. The fields that you fight on look pretty clean and things like trees blow in the wind and water moves as well. You are presented with large and cute characters designed by Kagatsuhime (Kagatsu-hime) when you highlight a character on the field. For an early 1992 game, it gets the job done. One thing to note is that characters are placed on the left and right in battles in Crystal Warriors but on the top and bottom in Royal Stone. All of your units look different, even if two characters are of the same class.
One thing that truly disappointed me with Crystal Warriors was the music. I always remembered that the music was something I was very fond of, but upon revisiting the game, it leaves something to be desired. The tunes are very few in number, very repetitive, and a little generic. Like Royal Stone, the game has a different battle theme that plays for the heroes and the villains. The battle themes are fairly average, but the field themes are pretty boring. While they are upbeat in their composition, the repetition makes them little more than mediocre and it doesn't help that you must listen to the limited assortment of redundant tunes for the entire game. Even all of the towns have the same music, not to mention that they all look the same! The sound effects aren't anything out of the ordinary, which at least means that they don't suck.
Perhaps the most broken aspect of Crystal Warriors is the gameplay department. Now I am aware that some will argue about this, but after playing the sequel, it's apparent why it removed several elements from its predecessor. First, I'll start with what makes both games good. You can command up to nine characters at one time. The characters come in four different elements: Fire, Water, Wind, and Earth. Fire deals extra damage to Wind. Wind deals extra damage to Water. Water deals extra damage to Fire. Earth is the neutral element that is usually for wizards and healers. Depending on the element of the unit, they can move differently over different terrain. For example, Fire units move poorly in water, but Water units move very effectively in water. Enemies are unknown on the field (except for monster units) and to figure out who they are and their element, you must use scan magic so you are better prepared and can set units accordingly.
The game has you move in phases where you move all of your units and the enemy moves theirs afterwards. Battles are fought in two rounds where you and the enemy can attack twice (with the aggressor attacking first). If a wizard unit is confronted in battle, they can cast magic twice. However, if you cast magic from a distance without coming face-to-face with an enemy, you may only cast a spell once. If you cast magic against an enemy wizard, they can counter with their own magic. You gain levels, buy equipment and spells, speak to NPCs during visits to towns, talk to a fortuneteller who can help you with hints about your upcoming battles, and hire characters at inns. Besides getting characters at inns, Crystal Warriors allows fighter type units to control up to four additional monster companions that you gain when that unit defeats the monster, so your army is considerably larger than nine units and larger than the force you could bring with you into battle in Royal Stone.
What exactly bothers me with the gameplay? Well, the monsters do for starters. In Royal Stone, monster units weren't much different from fighter type units and could be used to replace a human unit if they were to die. In Crystal Warriors, you can summon a monster when you are in combat. They have their own HP and statistics and take damage in place of the character who summoned the monster. When they die, the summoner remains unharmed. The big problem with this is that for a great deal of the game, monsters greatly defeat the actual strategy that goes into the game. What's the point of having a fighter unit of the wind type if you just capture a bunch of water monsters to offset their weakness to fire types? It can allow you to be more reckless in combat. What this means is that you can send a wind type up against a team of two fire types and still end up the victor by using water monsters. In an effort to limit this, monsters are made weak in the HP department, but they usually can live a whack or two and get their point across. The silly part? If they die, just capture more. There are more than enough monsters to go around.
Another (less bothersome) aspect is MP. Some may argue that having infinite MP in Royal Stone is ridiculous, though the game still managed to be challenging. You DO have an MP limit in Crystal Warriors...but you might as well pretend that it's infinite. The fact of the matter is, with the exception of Iris, the mages and healers have more than enough MP to last a battle. Most spells are stupidly cheap and when a mage has 60+ MP, you can only run out of MP if you are doing it deliberately. I'm also saddened that Iris' "Boost" spell (The equivalent of "Bless" in Royal Stone) is nearly useless, whereas it kicked butt in Royal Stone and actually HELPED in a pinch. Boost acts as a critical hit that generally does the exact same damage as two attacks (sometimes, it's ONE point stronger and no more) and since it takes a turn to do it, it's useless against priests and lots of other stronger enemies since you'll likely retreat instead of finish the attack. Bless made attackers MUCH stronger and priests could even use it. Iris also has the useless "Chant" spell, which gives some of her MP to a mage or healer. I don't think I have to explain why it's useless at this point.
Finally, it took me a while to figure out that weapons and armor actually AREN'T useless. Usually, games tend to indicate the usefulness of equipment by actually showing what stats are boosted in the process, but not Crystal Warriors. You can't find out its worth until something is actually struck with the weapon. Same goes with armor. For this reason, I went through the majority of the game without even buying weapons and still did it fairly easily thanks to cheap monster friends. Thankfully, it's pretty easy to know what weapons and armor you need...because there is hardly any weapons and armor to begin with. Let's just say that there are only four armors for ALL units in the game. Not four per type of unit, but four in the entire game that healers, mages, rangers, fighters, lords, and the princess must share. The assortment of weapons isn't much better. You're better off buying spells for the mages and hiring units for the majority of the game, since your gold caps at one dollar shy of 10k (9999 for others). It's not cool to buy a claymore for Iris for over 5000 dollars and see that on the surface, it doesn't boost attack in the slightest...until you hit someone with it to realize its worth.
Like Royal Stone, once a unit dies, they stay dead and for that reason, this game is said to be similar to Fire Emblem. If Iris dies, the game automatically ends. Unlike Royal Stone, units level up every ten experience points and reach a maximum level of nine. You can only gain experience points by defeating enemies. Crystal Warriors is a decent strategy RPG and one of the first of its kind in the U.S., but it is not without its flaws. It has a boring plot, decent visuals, an average soundtrack, and interesting gameplay that isn't quite up to par with Shining Force: Sword of Hajya or Royal Stone. Still, Crystal Warriors is competent enough to warrant a playthrough. There is something to be said about Crystal Warriors simply because it is one of the first RPGs for Game Gear and will always have a place in my collection, though it may turn some gamers off because it clearly shows its age.
- Written by Vyse the determined -