The bubbly girls at the heart of this Japanese role-playing game make it feel cute and glossy at first blush, but dig a little deeper and you'll find some surprisingly dark plot threads. Indeed, Crystar's most engaging facet is its storytelling, which unflinchingly explores the circumstances surrounding a variety of different types of death, ranging from sickness to murder, and how those contexts affect the souls' existence in purgatory. Players will see and read about a lot of unhappy and tragic endings to human lives, making the girls' quests seem all the more urgent and dire. The personal battles they face along the way are just as compelling. Rei, for example, is crippled by guilt and a sense that, deep down, she's driven by hedonistic impulses rather than any truly good or noble motives. She's also conflicted about joining forces with the others, seeing herself as a moody loner full of social self-doubt.
While the game's designers have created a captivating world and some interesting, multifaceted characters, things break down in the action department. The fantastical afterlife world that players explore is intriguing to start but quickly feels repetitive, with cookie-cutter paths, staircases, and gates blending into each other, making it easy to get lost and disoriented. Ditto for the revenant monsters, because there's only a handful of types that get recycled with new colors, skins, and higher hit point values to make them seem tougher. While the concept of collecting the emotions and thoughts of tormented revenants and purifying them with tears to turn them into useful sentiments that can be equipped is novel, they don't bestow any spectacular powers or effects. Instead, they simply let the characters keep up with the gradual inflation of monster strength and defensive power. Crystar is definitely worth a look for Japanese role-playing game fans interested in a good story, but you can expect to grow a bit bored exploring the dungeons of purgatory.