This week’s Monday’s Game starts a long voyage into the old 8-Bit video game realm with my Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) essential plays list. This list is of 10 games that I think most encompass the NES experience. Two of these I’ve already highlighted, but I’ll be bringing them back for another look as I make my way through the list.

Number 10 on my list is Crystalis by SNK.

Released in mid 1990, Crystalis was a late comer to the NES platform and was sadly eclipsed by both spotty commercial availability and the rising popularity of the 16-Bit Sega Genesis and the soon after release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in late 1991. Because of this poor timing, Crystalis never received much critical acclaim and was largely unknown until the boom in old-ochool gaming around early 2003. Now it’s viewed as a cult classic that should have received more attention than it did. For my part I was lucky enough to have rented the game several times when I was young, though I never procured a copy of it for myself, an oversight that I’m working at resolving. You can pick up a used copy online for anywhere from $3 to $10 and is not an uncommon sight at the local used media store. It’s not an expensive purchase for those wishing to give it a try. Otherwise, there are always ROMs available if you want to give the game a try without an investment or an NES console. But for those who have an NES, I really recommend buying the game, as it’s worth owning.

Crystalis is one of the few successful Action Role Playing Games (RPG) made for the NES (along with Dragon Slayer and Zelda II: Adventures of Link). In this case Crystalis borrows heavily from the earlier released Legend of Zelda for the combat system and item collection aspects while using the RPG elements of leveling, towns, and character interaction to progress through the game. Later, more popular games such as Secret of Mana or Terranigma would be based on this successful melding and are very reminiscent of Crystalis when played. In fact, interviews with Designer Koichi Ishii revealed that Secret of Mana was unabashedly based on the game mechanics of Crystalis as he was very impressed with the gameplay.

Don't call me "Pink-Boy!"

Crystalis is based in a post-apocalyptic world directly inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. In the game you play a Nameless male protagonist, who is later named Simon in the re-release of the game for Gameboy Color. The gameplay is very similar to the earlier Legend of Zelda game produced by Nintendo, with the exception that there is less puzzle solving and that diagonal movement was possible in Crystalis. Through defeating enemies you can gain experience points and levels which augment the player’s health, defense, and attack, allowing for more difficult enemies to be dealt with.

The game succeeds in many places other than just the gameplay. The plot, while simple and linear compared to more modern games, is rather deep and complex for an NES game. The characters are well done and the pacing works. Further, the graphics are rather good when compared to other NES games; probably owing to it being a late release for the console. And last, the music and sound effects are very well done. Often NES games have the downside of the music and sound effects being very repetitive and annoying (such as the dungeon music in Legend of Zelda). Aside from a few places, the music in Crystalis never really feels obtrusive or repetitive.

The inspired game mechanics, complex and involving plot, good graphics, and wonderful sound of this game make it an easy choice for my #10 essential play slot.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?