Not long ago I read a post on SpectacleRock.com that mentioned the game, Crystalis, which immediately sent me into nostalgia mode. Crystalis, released for the NES in 1990, is an action RPG where you play as a young man who awakens from being cryogenically frozen. You have no memory of who you are but soon learn that you are the world’s only hope against an evil empire who is trying to take over the post-apocalyptic world. The story is a bit clichéd for RPGs now but considering the time of its release, it’s among the first to use this plot.
This seemed more prescient in 1992 than it does now…
I don’t consider Crystalis a classic because of its game play–there’s not a whole lot of strategy to whacking monsters with your sword and blasting them with your sword’s elemental power.
I loved and still love Crystalis for its story. It was one the first games I played that not only established a deep narrative but made you the center of that narrative. In most games I had played you’re in charge of a named protagonist. In Crystalis you get to assign a name to the hero – “Austin” conveniently fitting the six character limit. By today’s video game standards, that’s hardly something to base a glowing review off of. But keep in mind that as a twelve year old boy with a large imagination, I was floored. I was the hero of the game. The NPCs in the game said my name when addressing me. Suddenly the game was a lot more personal.
This personal connection stayed with me throughout playing Crystalis. Later in the game you come across a guy who you’d met earlier in a nearby town. He’s lying on the ground and not moving. He delivers his last words and dies in your arms. I was absolutely stunned. Again, as a young boy, this was a video game first for me. I had killed thousands of video game monsters and death as part of a game’s prelude wasn’t new either. But this was the first non-combatant to die in front of me. I immediately sought vengeance for his death.
I don’t recall ever feeling the same connection with a game since. I’ve been moved, terrified, and excited by games after Crystalis but not at the same level. Since then I’ve played games that I would certainly say have a better story. I think as a twelve year old I was capable of immersing myself a bit more than I can now as an adult. I may never get that same connection with a game again but it’s fun to think back to that time when I fell into a game so deeply.