Crystal Story 2
Quirky characters, dungeon-crawling RPG strategy, a sense of humour... Emmanuel Salva Cruz's Crystal Story was a surprise hit, voted Best RPG of 2011 by the community. So a sequel? Yes, please! Crystal Story 2 takes place a long time after the events of the original game have turned to legend, and begins with a boy falling from the sky wrapped in a comet. Which, you know, isn't something you see every day. Almost every day, but not every day. This is our hero, who, as it happens, is also a dragon if the scales and tail didn't clue you in, and he's been sent to see the Oracle on a mission of utmost importance!... but, uh, doesn't really have any idea what an Oracle is. Before he knows it, he's fallen in with a "treasure hunter" who promises to help him, but his journey is just getting started.
Crystal Story 2 offers a lot of control options... you can use [WASD] or the [arrow] keys to move around, or you can just click on the map to walk to that location. If you touch an enemy onscreen, you'll enter into a fight, and any other enemy that was onscreen at the time will join in! Battle is more of a Chrono Trigger/early Final Fantasy affair this time around, with characters taking turns attacking when their icon reaches the top of the meter at the left of the screen. This time around, there are no experience points and levels, and instead your characters grow stronger by equipping various items that change their stats, or by spending SP earned from battle. Each character has their own set of skill paths, and unlocking new abilities and upgrades by spending SP will not only teach them new things, but can increase their stats as well. Once you acquire all upgrades in a given path, you'll be allowed to unlock another class of your choosing, which offers more upgrades and skills of its own!
Where Crystal Story was sort of a mission-based dungeon-crawler, the sequel feels a lot more like a traditional RPG, and not just in the scope of its story. You'll wander a world map and visit different locations, though towns are still subject to the original game's menu-based interaction to shop, sleep, and slime. By visiting a certain familiar place, you can pick up various sidequests to earn a bit of extra bank and items. Additionally, you can use Alchemy to create new weapons and items by combining others, or spend scrap metal on upgrading the equipment you already have. True heroes recycle, after all!
Analysis: Without getting too "back in my day" on you, I've been playing RPGs since Zelda began, and every once in a while I look at RPGs like this, available online, for free, to anyone with an internet connection, and my mind sort of boggles a little. Though it may be a little rough around the edges, Crystal Story is still a formidable game in its own right, with animated cutscenes, voice acting that's actually very well done, and a familiar but enjoyable story with a light-hearted sense of humour. The game's strength lies in its characters and its combat, since wandering around "dungeons" tends to be boring simply because the maps and environmental art are very bland. Seen one identical square room with static backgrounds and borders, seen 'em all, and you'll definitely see way more than one.
Though it might look like a lot has changed, most of the differences between the original and the sequel are actually fairly cosmetic. You are, after all, just swapping out EXP grinding for SP grinding that accomplishes the same things, and for the most part characters don't have a skill tree so much as a linear skill root, though it does occasionally offer a choice between upgrades. That's not necessarily a criticism, mind, just an observation that there's not quite the need for panic in the streets that a more substantial mechanic overhaul might have called for. The "hacking" minigame to unlock treasure chests is a little obnoxious, largely because it feels gimmicky and unnecessary. One of the more welcome changes is a greater focus on character interaction and dialogue, which goes a long way to flesh out the world and your party simply by including more talky-talky.
Crystal Story 2 is, at its core, a combat-focused, light-hearted RPG that may not provided the emotional character development or shocking plot-twists some RPG fans demand, but it still heavy on charm and fun. It's an endearing as it is addictive for fans of dungeon-crawling. The love and effort gone into crafting it is clear, and the result is a frequently funny adventure with expressive artwork and a lot of quirks and surprises. There's also an HD version coming soon to buy, with additional content, cleaner graphics, and offline play, and if you want to thank the developer for two fantastic, hefty free RPGs, you might want to keep your eyes peeled for it. As you might guess, our hero's journey winds up with the fate of the world in the balance, but with an unlikely group of people to back him up, a slime you can doll up in outfits and call into battle, and much more, the threat of the end of the world was rarely so much fun.