This time we have a double feature retrospective, if you only have a minute then read this:
- Crytal Warriors and Royal Stone are two unique games that mix the exploration of SF, the permadeath of FE, unit advantages from Langrisser and a unique monster taming system.
- Both are short games, lasting from 6 to 8 hours with 16 scenarios each.
- Crystal Warriors has not aged well and can only be recommended to retro or nostalgic fans.
- Royal Stone has to be one of the most graphically impresive games of the Game Gear, has an actual plot with characters and polishes everything good about his predecessor, if you have the time you should give this game a chance.
Crystal Warriors is an SRPG on SEGA’s Game Gear, published on 1991 in Japan and internationally on 1992, for context the game came out just one year after the original Fire Emblem, 6 months after the first Langrisser game, and 3 months before the classic Shining Force. The game came out at a time were SRPGs were still in an experimental phase, and big franchises were nothing more than just a single game, this was a time were each game had potential to be the start of something great, but does Crystal Warriors measure up to their contemporaries and that potential for greatness?
Presentation wise, Crystal warriors shows it ages, the game being an early game in the Game Gear library means that it doesn’t really use all the graphic power of the hand-held and everything looks pretty basic but with some interesting animations going on on the map, like trees having a wind blowing effect every few seconds, or volcanoes with smoke. You can see a lot of character in the super deformed designs that give the game a light hearted tone and can make it easier to get into for retro fans. One thing to notice is how the game moves, it actually goes pretty fast and fluid… for a turn-based game, that’s it, and characters move in 8 directions, that is something pretty rare for the time the game came out.
The game plot is pretty basic and there isn’t a lot of text for development, the basic premise of the game is that the evil Jyn Army attacked the kingdom of Arliel to stole their 4 elemental crystals, but they only found 3… the last one is on the hands of the princess Iris, who escaped the castle and now has to fight back to retrieve the crystals and beat the evil Emperor. This is explained at the start of the game and then the plot has minimal development, characters only speak when they ask to join you on the Inn, and you have 3 other NPCs on towns that speak lines based on the mission you’re on.
So the game doesn’t look that great and the story is barely there… the only thing left is the actual gameplay, and this is were things get interesting. The game can be divided in two kind of segments, the battles and the town exploration. The town exploration while present is minimal, all towns look identical and have the same things: an Inn were you can recruit new units and save your game, an item shop were you can upgrade your units equipment, a magic shop were you can buy spells for your mages, a fortune tellers that sells you advice and 2 houses with NPCs.
On the other hand the battle segments have more going on, we have the Player Phase – Enemy Phase turn system with up to 9 units on each side and the presence of neutral monsters. All units follow an elemental system, were each one has a specific element and this determines their strength and weakness in a rock-paper-scissor fashion: Fire beats Wind, Wind beats Water, Water beats Fire, and Earth is a neutral element assigned to mages and special units like Princess Iris. Monsters play a fundamental role in the elemental system since warriors can tame monsters of any element and then use them to fight for them, so a Fire Warrior can use a Wind Monster to fight a Water Enemy, that way getting the upper hand on the elemental triangle.
When it comes to two units facing each other the games changes to a more classic turn-based battle, the battle plays out in two rounds were each unit can choose to Fight, Retreat, Summon a Monster or Cast a Spell. Experience is awarded only when defeating an enemy, but with a maximum level of 9 there is plenty to get a team of 9 units to max level. On important detail is the presence of perma-death, if one of your units dies, it’s gone for good but the game still gives you enough units to go around and characters of the same class have the same stats at each level.
Sadly the map design is not that interesting, all battles start with your units in a castle on one side of the map and the enemy units on a castle on the other side of the map, this makes for some uneventful turns at the beginning of each map, terrain wise there is some variation but terrain only affects movement. An interesting but minor detail, all the maps are connected at each castle so you can build the map of the whole continent with pasting screenshots of the maps.
Overall the game is fairly short, and there is not a lot of content or replay value, with 16 chapters that can be beaten in around 6 hours. When it came out the game received pretty good reviews, but for today standards it’s feel more like a proof of concept… A concept that would be polish and see it’s true potential on the Japanese only sequel.
Royal Stone came out in Japan on 1995, almost at the end the Game Gear’s life and few months before Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict and just like that game it would remain a Japanese exclusive, until the release of a fan translation by Aeon Genesis that allows as to enjoy this gem today.
This time the presentation is stelar, you could even think this is a 16-bit game if you didn’t pay attention, the map looks beautiful and the battle sprites are big colorful and have really nice animations, even the UI while simple has way more style than what we saw in Crystal Warriors. The unit sprites on the map have taken a hit and now look more plain that the super deformed ones, but they mesh really well with the map and the color coding is easier to read. The history and town segments have also received a face lift, and now use a completely different set of tiles and sprites, bigger and more detailed.
On the negative side the game feels a bit slower, now you have to end your turn manually and the units no longer can move diagonally.
The story once again starts with text giving as a bit of lore about the land, the creation of the titular Royal Stones and the sealing of some demon king, but just after the text scrolls we are welcomed with a beautifully rendered cut scene… of the Knight Eva of Martalia facing her trial. The story starts setting up Eva as traitor to her kingdom, and after surviving her exile (that looked more like a lazy execution than anything else) we find her being attacked by the Knights of Zeal. The plot takes a bit to get going actually, the first few battles are against some grunts going after Eva, but we have no clear indication of their motive, but after this the plot gets going when we learn that the Zeal Empire is after the Royal Stones to engulf the world in a constant state of war, later we get some interesting twists and even a rival character with development of her own.
An interesting detail is that during the exploration phase we control Cocotte, a kind of guardian angel of Eva, and by taking her point of view we learn about how other people see Eva, and see her develop as a character since she is not a silence protagonist or an avatar of player. Other playable characters also get some lines of dialogue or scenes, specially those that are not recruited on the Inn but none of them get much time at all.
Gameplay wise the game change sometings from Crystal Warriors but not the basics, the player phase – enemy phase is still there and so there is the elemental system. The battles have now 3 commands instead of 4, Attacking or fleeing is still an option but now the second command depends on the class of the character, fighters can block or use a special attack and mages can use spells. Using monsters to tank damage is now relegated only to the summoner class. The whole monster taming is changed, now only Eva can tame monsters and only 2 per map, this monsters now can be deployed and train as any other unit or used by the summoner, this change makes taking the time to tame monsters less meaningful overall, since most monsters are not worth the time to train instead of human characters (maybe they are there in case you lose a bunch of units) and the summoner class appears pretty late in the game but on the other hand it makes space for more distinction between units and makes it harder to have the elemental advantage in each battle. A totally new thing in this entry are promotions, by using special items you can change your mages to a different class but this only lets them buy different spells in my experience if they had stats changed I didn’t notice.
The map design has also been improved but only slightly, most maps still have you starting on one end and the enemies on the other end, but every once in a while a map changes this and introduces a new wave of enemies or have monsters distributed in a way that makes the fights more interesting. Now Terrain actually affects something more than movement as we see defensive bonuses make an appearance. The trend of having one map connect directly to next is still present here with a few exceptions, I found that this gives you a better sense of place in the world, and that the time you spend going from one end of a map to the other actually correlates to the development of the story. Last a little piece of warning, by the end of the game most bosses are immune to magic, so train a least a couple of fighters besides Eva.
Overall, Royal Stone is a bit longer that Crystal Warriors, taking around 8 hours to beat. The game has way more content too, just the story before the first fight has more text that the whole previous game, items have also been expanded having now more options and improvements. This is without a doubt the potential of the previous game expanded to the limits of the Game Gear, and if you have already played other Game Gear games you should not miss out on this one.