Crystalis (NES)

Few games dare to predict the apocalypse less than a decade away from the date of release.

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  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System
  • Genre: Role-Playing
  • Max Players: 1
  • US Release: December 1990
  • Developer: SNK
  • Publisher: SNK


Few games dare to make such a prophetic statement as this. Particularly when the games are less than a decade away from the purported end of the world. Being only seven years before the apparent apocalypse didn’t stop SNK from proclaiming it in Crystalis, however. And that kind of brazen attitude was what intrigued me as a young gamer.

Now, on the eleventh anniversary of The END DAY, I have to say…how did I ever manage to play this game?

Certain things about Crystalis were amazing, when I originally played it. For those who actually sat through my yawn-fest Dragon Warrior review, you’ll understand that my youthful imagination allowed me to suffer some of the worst stories ever told. In the case of Crystalis, it was more along the lines of the best story ever not really told. That is to say, what little story that was actually present was pretty sweet and my imagination worked overtime to fill in all the wonderful blanks, but playing it more recently, I have to acknowledge that the plot revolved around “wander around randomly until you find the only place that isn’t blocked off”.

The graphics of the game are pretty sweet. The opening and ending are as close to FMVs as the NES could make, and the in-game graphics are at least easy to recognize as their intended subjects. I guess, being a late NES game, it wasn’t amazingly uncommon, but it’s still pretty impressive and looks pretty cool to this day.

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The music is hit or miss, however. Some good songs exist, but, especially early on in the game, a number of songs seem to be psycho-analytical experiments to measure human aural endurance when immersed in an otherwise entertaining experience. The total number of these experiments is relatively few, but their impact is felt throughout the game.

While the game makes good use of the Zelda-style action battle system, being about as innovative as you can get for an RPG of its time, there are a few things holding it back. Primarily, as well-employed as the battle system may have been, it essentially grinds the game down to “stand back and use the charge attack”. I suppose it was a little more interesting when I was too young to develop such an advanced strategy.

This game is also one of the worst cases of inconsistent button mapping that I’ve ever seen. You’ll find yourself asking “Wait, did I just save the game? How did I get to the save screen anyway?”, and then accidentally dropping the key item that you just spent half an hour standing back and using the charge attack to save up for.

Hmm. Is it worth getting rid of the dangling preposition to actually say “for which to save up”? At least, I think that “save up” is enough of a set phrase to avoid having to say “up for which to save” or “for which up to save”.


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Crystalis has an ending that would impress M. Night Shyamalan. This was quite a lot of foresight for an NES game, when compared with stories like the original Dragon Warrior. Final Fantasy had a curious ending, but it seems doubtful that anyone actually beat that game on its original system. Crystalis, like Final Fantasy Legend, was a game that blew my little gaming mind back in the day. While the ending may seem ridiculous now by my more mature standards, it certainly had something going for it when it came out.

“When out it came”? I don’t know.

All in all, Crystalis has a lot going for it, and a few things holding it back. “Holding back it”… It’s a neat game, and when I had the time and the mind to play a game that gives little to no instructions as for what to do next, it was incredibly fun. For me, I still play it every year or two, but part of that is simply nostalgia, and yearning for a time when October 1, 1997 was still the future.

Anyway, if you were too young to remember The END DAY, as most gamers and Internet users seem to be… “Be…to seem”… Then, maybe you’d prefer to play Super Smash “Bros.” Brawl, or some other modern hype-fest. If you can appreciate a Xenogears of the 8-bit era like Crystalis, however, you should definitely check out it!

  • GameCola Rates This Game: 6 - Above Average
  • Score Breakdown

  • Fun Score: 7
  • Novelty Score: 7
  • Audio Score: 5
  • Visuals Score: 8
  • Controls Score: 4
  • Replay Value: 7
2 votes, average: 8.00 out of 102 votes, average: 8.00 out of 102 votes, average: 8.00 out of 102 votes, average: 8.00 out of 102 votes, average: 8.00 out of 102 votes, average: 8.00 out of 102 votes, average: 8.00 out of 102 votes, average: 8.00 out of 102 votes, average: 8.00 out of 102 votes, average: 8.00 out of 10 (You need to be a registered member to rate this post.)

About the Contributor

Since 2007

Alex "Jeddy" Jedraszczak is presiding Editor-in-Chief at GameCola, not only editing content but often writing it as well. On top of all this GameCola work, he also develops indie games.


  1. I know it was forever ago that you published this, but on this anniversary of the End Day, I was looking up things Crystalis related (because frankly I couldn’t remember if it was 1997 or 1999 that the apocalypse happened), and loved the nostalgia your article brought.

    I actually played this game so much, that I started creating my own strategy guide for it with hand-drawn maps, etc.

    Ah, the days when you had the time, and games were short enough to absorb wholly. Thanks for the review.

  2. I just played through it again. I kind of feel like, complete with all the grinding, Crystalis feels like a forebear of Dark Souls with a Nausicaa-style environment. I can’t prove it, but it might be the first legitimate action RPG.

    There’s an argument for Zelda, but it was much more tile-dependent than Crystalis.

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