Made by solo developer Andrew Willman, Crystal Project is a JRPG where, through combat and platforming, you explore the world searching for crystals.
The Crystal Project
We begin our journey by choosing our characters’ genders, names and classes. The former isn’t just cosmetic. Males have more HP/Healing Power/Luck; females – higher MP/Accuracy and Evasion/Speed.
This isn’t a dealbreaker, however, as you can change both it and the character’s name at the first major city. Further, I did an entire playthrough with an all-female party – and the bonuses aren’t that significant. So, unless you are a minmaxer, you don’t need to worry about that.
After character creation, the game greets us with a little text, explaining the reason and the nature of our journey. Then, the sky is the limit.
Platforming and Exploration
You may be familiar with other JRPGs, like Final Fantasy. There, the adventure generally proceeds in a straightforward, directed fashion. Although they might also offer some exploration, Crystal Project outshines them with its open world, created by Andrew Willman.
By platforming, you can go anywhere you want – provided you have the means to do so. Really, the entire game is a platform playground, where you can just randomly stumble upon new areas – even those where monsters outlevel you.
Jumping, however, took me some time to get used to. First, I had to learn how movement momentum works. Once I got it, though, I had no more problems making leaps. It also doesn’t look like my troubles with platforming are universal – some players didn’t seem to have had such difficulties. So, you must judge for yourself. Overall, I found the system to be quite reasonable.
Many JRPGs rely on random encounters. In Crystal Project, instead, the enemies are present as you walk around – and will only attack on contact. They will, however, chase you, unless you greatly outlevel them. On the map, each is shown as a flame – which can be one of five colors:
Fiery red, signifying that the monster is way over your level.
Orange – for those foes that only slightly outlevel you.
Blue – for those close to your level
Green, when you slightly outlevel the enemy.
And finally, gray – for those whom you greatly outlevel.
To make exploration more convenient, there are some fast travel options. First, there are save points, which you can set and then access with a key item. The recent update adds an option to have three such home bases – although you have to specifically turn it on in the options menu. The game, however, lets you save at any point, even without those. Then there are also special temples with teleport stones.
I should mention that most areas you reach for the first time won’t have a map. I do enjoy this kind of exploration – and you are able to buy or find the map. This could, however, be frustrating to those who don’t like travelling blind and prefer to have clear directions.
Combat and Classes
Combat is my second favorite thing in the game, after exploration – not counting graphics and music. Battle mechanics feel very fluid. Plus, it’s really easy to keep track of the turn order, and how it’s affected by the characters’ abilities. For example, every spell has a turn timer – showing when they’ll go out. While, at the bottom, the game displays whether our mage goes before or after the enemies.
There’s a lot of freedom to how you fight the battles. There are abilities affecting unit speed, crowd control, threat, etc. Note that this is a game where buffs and debuffs are crucial to success. I myself tested multiple playstyles, like bursting down enemies, or setting up buffs and going defensive. In the end, I felt that both have their use, depending on the type of enemies.
While regular fights can also be challenging, bosses are – for the most part – significantly more difficult. So, if you want to win against them, you may have to come up with a solid strategy. Thankfully, respawning allows for multiple tries, and the home points are generally close to the battlefield – so not much backtracking.
The combat system also makes use of threat level – like in MMOs. When your character attacks foes or heals allies, they generate threat, attracting the opponents’ attention. It’s easy to keep track of, however. There are arrows pointing from the enemy to the character they want to attack. Further, there are also tanking classes, able to taunt the foes into attacking them.
Magic-oriented classes traditionally use mana to power their abilities. The physical classes, meanwhile, utilize “AP” which stands for Adrenaline Points. Both mana and AP accumulate during combat – regardless of whether you attack the enemy, or the enemy attacks you. There are also items and passives that let you gain these points faster or start combat already with a specific amount.
Another thing worth mentioning is that it seems like for many there’s a steep learning curve to the game. However, I can only judge about that based on what my friends and some other players have said. Playing on normal, I didn’t really have many problems. This may change on higher difficulties, though – so it may be interesting to revisit the game some day. This time, on hard.
Correctly choosing characters’ classes is the key to victory. You can change those at every home point, which lets you fine tune your team for specific fights. No single configuration is optimal for every battle, so the heroes may have to switch professions quite often.
There are many classes to choose from. All are unique and play differently from each other. This lets you come up with a variety of tactics and party compositions. I had a blast experimenting with different teams – to see if I could beat the game using certain combinations. The classes themselves you unlock by collecting crystals, spread around the map. So, once again – exploration is essential.
There’s one thing I dislike about the classes, however. Some of them feel underpowered to the point where I really couldn’t see why I’d use them, other than for the challenge. This can also be due to how expensive their abilities and passives are – but more on this later! Still, with how many classes there are, making them all equal is highly non-trivial. That’s not to say that there are completely useless classes. Some are just niche.
The different classes do level up individually. However, no need to worry about leveling one and then switching to another. In the first city, there’s an NPC who lets you move levels between them. It makes specializing in different classes way easier, and something minmaxers will enjoy. Still, choosing one class over another may be a complicated task, due to each one having its own built-in passives. One may get a discount on an ability – which you only get at the very end of their upgrade tree. This makes it hard to estimate whether you should concentrate on this – or just choose another class.
Equipment, Passives and Skills
Onto the next subject – which is team building! I already talked about classes and mentioned the passives. Here, we shall delve more into these, and also discuss skills and equipment.
Let’s start with the latter – the equipment. The classes are limited to specific items. So, no wizards in heavy armor. Still, there are many tools to give to your heroes. Those you can get at the shops, steal from the enemies, or find in chests during exploration. There’s one certain store, which increases its selection in accordance with how many classes you have. Its items are good quality too. In addition, there’s crafting, the materials for which are scattered around the world. The best equipment, however, can’t neither be bought nor crafted. It comes only from stealing or exploring.
One nice feature in Crystal Project is a merchant who sells items from the bosses you kill. So, if you forgot to steal from them, you don’t have to despair over the loot you cannot get. Equipment is varied – and not only in a “oh, this just has better stats” way. Some items have special effects – like boots that hasten you at the start of combat.
Passives are essential to character building. These are specific to each class – except for the standard ones. However, it’s important to note that a passive from a wizard tree can still be used even after the character switches to a cleric. Collecting abilities in this way is definitely something you’d want to do. Also, one thing that I particularly enjoy about passives is that some let you use certain weapons regardless of your class. Considering the special effects those may have, it’s a really nice option.
Speaking of passives – as I’ve mentioned, I think their costs could use a bit of adjustment. Some are too cheap for what they offer. Others are so expensive, that they are almost not worth using. I’d definitely like to see more balancing here, in the future.
When it comes to skills, the trees are rather straightforward. Their effects, however, are where they shine. To give you an example, Samurai builds up combo points to, in the end, unleash a mighty attack; while Wizard’s spells become progressively more amazing the further they get in their tree.
Another option that may be familiar to those who’ve played something like Fell Seal or Final Fantasy Tactics is the ability to set sub-commands – to use skills from another class. Warrior with monk abilities? A healing rogue? All of these are possible. Not that they are optimal, of course – but still a lot of fun.
Finally, I must also mention Class Masters, who are usually hidden throughout the wilds in tall building. They provide an accessory that lets you earn more LP (Learning Points, I think). This makes levelling some classes much easier. The catch is that you first need to achieve a high level in some other class.
Pixel Art, Music and Narrative
Crystal Project does a fantastic job building its atmosphere. The locations you go through look absolutely beautiful, featuring great pixel art, reminiscent of classic JRPGs. Furthermore, all details seem to be done with equal care, which makes me appreciate even more the artistry behind the project. It’s also rather surprising, considering the game’s reliance on free assets. In my journeys I’ve explored many biomes: meadows, jungles, snowy mountains, caves, even some eastern-inspired locations – and so much more.
The choice of music too is very good. In my opinion, the soundtrack should always fit what we see in our journeys. Crystal Project does achieve that, further enhancing the atmosphere. There are several tracks I especially enjoyed – one of them for the eastern province. (Damn the platforming there though, it was a lot of fun, but so hard!)
The story is pretty basic. Still, considering the game’s grand scope, I can’t complain too much about that. Narration is mostly told by bulletin, just like dialogue – something that older JRPGs fans might appreciate. I enjoyed getting to know the world through these conversations – which threw me back to earlier Final Fantasies. Something like the third installment, for instance, or even the first one.
Taken together, the graphics, the music and the narrative I believe create an amazing atmosphere. I just hope that if there’s ever a sequel, its narrative would have a bit more to it. I’d really like to learn more about some of the locations I was travelling through.
Mounts, Minigames and Optional Bosses
Progressing through the Crystal Project, we’ll also find mounts. They will let us reach places which might’ve appeared impossible to reach. This is significant, as even I thought that some areas were closed to us, in the beginning. Yet, throughout the course of the game, I learned that there really is no place where we can’t go.
Crystal Project also contains two minigames. One of these is racing – with fish or quintar. I thought they were quite hard – like you had to be near perfect to take the podium. Thankfully, the recent patch has not only made some of them easier, but also added ways to completely skip them and still get the rewards. While I would recommend playing these challenges as-intended, I can understand why some may want to just not bother with them.
Another minigame is quintar breeding – where we keep getting better ones until we finally achieve the “ultimate” mount. When I went through it, I found it quite enjoyable – but I also liked Chocobo Breeding in Final Fantasy VII (and XIV too).
Even when you finish the main story, there is still plenty of content left. For instance, there are many places that unlock near the end of the game – faster if you know where to get a specific mount. You can also test the teams against bosses, who aren’t mandatory for completion, only if you want the 100%. Finding them is no easy task, however. Once, I went through a pitch-black place, where I could barely see anything at all. All of a sudden, a boss attacks me. Quite a good jumpscare.
Crystal Project is one of the great surprises for me in 2022. I learned of it only around the beginning of March, tried the demo – and immediately fell in love. Thanks to it, I was able to feel again like back in the 2000s when I was going through Final Fantasy games and other JRPGs. I think Crystal Project is definitely long enough, with plenty of side content too. Its graphics, music, combat, platforming, and exploration are done well, coming together to create an enjoyable experience – even if a bit light on the narrative. Certainly a game that I will recommend, especially for the fans of the genre.