Crystar Review: A Wonderfully Soul Shattering Story, but Forgettable Gameplay

This is a game I meant to get for a while for the PS4 but I wasn’t able to get it when it was released and physical copies were so hard to come by. Luckily the game became available for the Switch this year and I didn’t miss the opportunity to snag a copy. The story focuses on a girl named Rei who is dragged into Purgatory with her sister Mirai; however, in an unfortunate accident Mirai is killed in Purgatory and Rei makes a deal with two demons to be able to travel to the depts of Purgatory to find her sister’s soul to revive her before it’s reincarnated.

First I want to talk about the story because wow it was a story to remember and a very powerful experience. The story really highlights trauma to a degree that I’ve never seen in any game I’ve ever played. While Rei’s trauma of losing her sister is at the forefront of the story she meets other characters who join her in her quest and have experienced their own trauma. All of these characters go through something so intense that it’s hard to put into words what they experienced without feeling sorrow for how powerful and painful their lives were. This story does not shy away from the pain and brings up many things that might be hard for some players to handle because they really show how these characters are to some degree damaged from their experiences with various causes of death. Now I am trying to be delicate as I describe this because I know these topics from the game can easily trigger people, and understandably so. There were stories of how some of these characters died that left me with my jaw dropped in sheer shock and horror and I believe I have a fairly high tolerance for such stories if that gives any kind of margin of comparison.

If you are able to handle the story and believe me it is no insult if you can’t as it’s just that intense, then you are in for a powerful experience. As you progress through the story you unlock the memories of the various characters within the game, both the playable ones and the NPCs, and you dive into their lives and further understand what they went through and in many cases how they died. It actually further motivates you to want to save Rei’s sister. So much trauma has happened that you want to do something that brings joy back into their lives somehow, but as the story progresses it becomes clear that the attempts to undo Rei’s traumatic experience are actually ending with more trauma and more despair. In the end, that’s what this story is all about. It really emphasizes that the only way to deal with trauma is to overcome it. You can’t undo it, you can’t find solace in revenge and you can’t avoid it and expect a satisfying outcome. The fact that this story tells such a powerful message that is also such a tough message to accept is what makes this story so amazing. This is not the story where everyone lives happily ever after, this is the story where people learn to live past moments that can very easily break you emotionally.

Now I’ll talk about the gameplay. As much as I loved the story I wasn’t nearly as big of a fan of the gameplay. It’s a combat system that runs a lot like a hack and slash game. You are traveling through various levels of Purgatory with enemies spread out at random. You defeat enemies to level up and collect items to boost your stats and in some cases memories from when they were alive. The combat mechanics are just ok and honestly, they got old fast as I just wanted to get to parts that had more story. Normally I like hack and slash games a lot but I found a lot of instances where I’m just standing in one section and hitting the attack button for an extended period of time rather than steadily moving forward as I defeat these enemies. It got to the point where if I felt like there was nothing of value to collect and I had a high enough level I would avoid most of the encounters completely. The gameplay and the lackluster background make this the weak point of this game. Now the concept of collecting memories was really interesting. You would get memoirs of their lives and can read them outside of the levels for a full story of what happened to these NPCs and how they died, but as you collect these memories Rei feels the negative emotions behind them so in order to organize them you have to be outside of a level and just let it all out by crying about it which I thought was a very beautiful and poetic mechanic. So while the actual hacking and slashing parts get old the stuff you get out of doing it is pretty memorable.

Overall the story is so powerful and so intense that it may in fact be too much for some gamers, and that’s ok because it very heavily addresses topics that are emotionally devastating. However, this game is one of the most powerful stories I’ve ever experienced and I loved not only the message behind it but how well that message was executed from the story to the actual gameplay mechanics. The gameplay itself is nowhere near as captivating as the story and can honestly get old but it’s good enough that you still enjoy yourself and still want to play through the levels to find out more about the game. I do highly recommend getting this game, but understand that this is a very heartbreaking experience.

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