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What parents need to know
Parents need to know Crystar is an action role-playing game for the PlayStation 4 and Windows PCs. The story is about a quartet of girls questing through purgatory. Each has her own objective -- the main heroine is trying to revive her dead sister before her soul is reincarnated -- and they all have personal demons that they struggle to overcome, but all four help each other along the way as they battle aggressive revenants (fantastical monsters that were once human) gobbling up lost souls. The main narrative delves into dark territory, including sororicide, a fatal bus crash, and a young mother losing her baby. Dozens of small side stories are similarly melancholy, touching on sickness, serial killers, and depression, and resolution isn't always provided. Combat involves swords, gauntlets, and magic, but the action is free of any blood or gore. Monsters simply disappear in a burst of smoke when they're defeated. Parents should note that the four girls wear some pretty skimpy outfits -- including bikinis -- while battling monsters, and that they're prone to occasional bursts of relatively mild profanity.
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What's it about?
CRYSTAR is set mostly in purgatory, a place where the souls of the recently dead roam as glowing butterflies until they're eventually ground up in giant gears and reborn in the physical world through a process of reincarnation. Players take control of a quartet of girls who sign a contract with purgatory's demon-like managers to cleanse the realm of revenants, once-human monsters that roam purgatory in search of souls to gobble up in hopes of restoring and reviving their own souls. Each of the girls has her own reasons for signing the contract. The main heroine, Rei, wants to save her sister, who she killed in an unusual fit of anger; another wants revenge; and another is seeking answers. The fourth is actually a revenant who has a strange fixation on Rei. Players can switch between these characters at will as they explore the mazelike paths of purgatory, fighting revenants with a mix of melee weapons and magical abilities that include guardians, towering manifestations of their inner selves that can be called upon in dire situations to deliver devastating attacks. Between missions, players are sent back to Rei's room in the real world, where she can chat with her friends via cellphone. She can also use her tears to purify the tormented ideas she collects from defeated revenants, and then transform and fuse them into sentiments that the girls can equip to augment their abilities and become stronger.
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about screen time. Crystar is broken up into many missions that can generally be completed in about half an hour each. How many of these missions make for a satisfying -- but not too long -- play session?
Did any of the relationships between Crystar's heroines resonate with you? Do you think these friendships are helping the girls grow as people? How?
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows
- Price: $59.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Spike Chunsoft
- Release date: August 27, 2019
- Genre: Role-Playing
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- ESRB rating: T for Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence
- Last updated: October 9, 2019
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