Playing a lot of anime games, you quickly become desensitised to a lot of things that other people might find egregious, with the quirks becoming mundane over time. Then, on the rarest of occasions, you get hit square between the eyes by something so absurdly Japanese that the force practically leaves you with whiplash. You likely already know where I’m going with this.
CRYSTAR follows Rei Hatada, a girl who finds herself suddenly trapped in Purgatory with her sister Mirai. Owing to an unfortunate (read: tremendously over-dramatic) sequence of events, Mirai is killed and a grieving Rei makes a pact with two demons to help her bring her fallen sister back to life. Thus begins a fun old time for Rei and the player in Purgatory – of all places.
The main story elements, aside from the rescue mission revolve around two equally bonkers points. Firstly, every character seems to be intensely attracted to Rei, despite her age. Secondly, Rei’s tears have magical properties that manifest in the ability to cleanse the “Memoirs of the Dead”, the often haunting last thoughts that the dead cling to as they lament their own deaths.
Of these, the former thankfully doesn’t quite fall into uncomfortable territory, with passes at Rei often framed as jokes, especially those made by the excitable part-animal Kokoro. The latter forms one of the unique gameplay elements in CRYSTAR, but I will come back to that point a little later. Needless to say though, the plot is unashamedly dumb and is great fun to experience.
The majority of the gameplay sees you jumping into Purgatory through a series of Ordeals in an impossibly skimpy outfit, smacking around enemies, engaging the more powerful Revenants, and exploring the various floors of each Ordeal to gain experience and find items. You have a basic attack combo and unlock powerful skills as your level increases, which all cost SP to use.
Certain points in the game you acquire other party members to play as, varying the repetitive moment-to-moment gameplay. If you switch just after being hit, the active character will receive a temporary stat boost too. This means that if you really want to maximise damage, you’ll need to switch characters often, which adds a layer of strategy to otherwise mundane combat.
When you slay a Revenant, you become inflicted with a Torment, the last living thoughts of that soul. These will negatively affect Rei, reducing her stats while they are held. She can only hold onto so much of these grieving thoughts; so at the point that her heart cannot take anymore, which is ten by the way, Rei needs to cleanse these thoughts with … the power of crying.
Crying transforms these thoughts into, hold on to something, armour, weapon upgrades, and support abilities called Sentiments. These can then be equipped to Rei and the other party members, when you have them, to boost their stats. But, crying doesn’t only serve the purpose to make you stronger overall, it also plays into the last combat element – the Guardians.
The Guardians are powerful spectres that protect the player character from harm, and can be summoned to attack autonomously for a short period. The gauge to fill to bring them forth is the teardrop (duh) in the bottom-left, which can be filled through combat or – you guessed it – crying. The latter option is risky however, as you become unable to defend yourself while crying.
If you’re tired of all the smacking around of sullen souls, you return to Rei’s bedroom between Ordeals, where you can cleanse Torments, experiment with Sentiments, engage with characters on the phone, or pet Rei’s dog Thelema to calm our heroine down. The last option of which, if I’m honest, is enough of a reason to give CRYSTAR a game of the year award. I’m joking, of course, or am I?
Visually, it’s kind of hard to fault CRYSTAR, unless you aren’t a fan of anime aesthetics. The detailed character art that’s used in the splash art and during cutscenes is sublime, the expressive 3D models used in gameplay and the bedroom scenes are adorably cutesy (especially the dog), and even Purgatory is visually arresting, if bland in terms of the overall structures there to explore.
This level of quality extends to the gloriously animated intro cutscene, which makes the whole package feel like an extended anime episode. The music is also great, especially the tracks that play in the intro or when in Rei’s bedroom. There’s also the option while in the room to listen to any music you have heard so far, which is a great little feature more titles should adopt.
One small problem is the sound effects, which are mind-numbingly repetitive. Every attack has the same sound clips, with the same voice lines. Initially this is not a problem, but it does get tiring hearing the same sword swing and Rei saying “I’m sorry” for the thousandth time. This being said though, the Revenants have suitably creepy voices and scream at the player - so there’s that.