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Crystal Monsters - DSiWare Review

Game Info
Crystal Monsters

DSiWare | Gameloft | 1 Player | Out Now | 500 Nintendo Points
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Review
30th October 2010; By KnucklesSonic8

Gameloft sure has gotten a lot of hate for their releases on Nintendo platforms. Everything from sports titles to adventure games, this developer has a large portfolio of games that many consider to be little more than knock-offs of established games. And as soon as Crystal Monsters was announced for DSiWare, it was completely unsurprising to see people comparing the game to Nintendo's own Pokémon series. Quite frankly, it does borrow a lot of elements from that successful franchise, but it also incorporates elements of its own. And for a $5 game, you could do a lot worse than this.

    At the start of the game, you'll be introduced to the hero of the game and have the opportunity to give them a name. Players will witness a few cutscenes which form the foundation for the entire journey. Before long, you'll be able to select from one of three starter monsters to add to your roster. Then you can begin training regimens to shape up your basic monster into a more formidable opponent. Sound familiar at all?

    Crystal Monsters plays a lot like the Pokémon games, but if you've never played any of those games, here's how the game will play out. You'll guide your adventurer to face off against and capture monsters from various regions, with a goal of becoming a master trainer. Along the way, you'll go through towns, forested areas, and more. Of course, your actions will also advance the story, depending on where you go and what you decide to do with your time in the game. You'll soon find yourself enlisted to help stop a series of powerful "Final Monsters" from wreaking havoc on villages, towns and innocent civilians. As a whole, the story is very mediocre and predictable, which is to be expected from Gameloft.

    
Like most RPG's, the game consists of two phases: Adventure and Combat. When traveling to different locations, you'll use your stylus or the D-Pad to control the hero on the Touch Screen. Right off the bat it's worth noting that using the arrows isn't as smooth since your character will pause before changing directions. It's very silly and it may just be little more than an annoyance at first, but it becomes a bigger problem in later areas. The top screen is your main point of reference for navigation purposes. There's a map that provides you with an overview of the area you're in, and a dialog box that lists the current mission you're undertaking. 

    By tapping the Information icon towards the bottom of the touch screen, you can pull up a handy menu that provides useful information as your quest develops. You can view your current inventory, and see which monsters are currently assigned to your team (up to a max of three). There's also an Encyclopedia that lists all the creatures you've encountered, and an option for viewing side quests. In conjunction with the normal missions, side quests help by offering a slight change of pace from the fairly-linear progression. If you feel up to the task, head to the nearest Breeder's Office and get yourself an assignment. From this central hub, you can also purchase items from the merchant, and teleport to other offices you've visited in other towns.

    When you begin exploring and venturing away from the inhabited areas, you'll come across rugged terrain where numerous monsters reside. Encounters happen randomly without warning, so you'll need to maintain a level of expectation of this as you try to cross a piece of land. Sometimes, these random occurrences can be very irritating, and that's not just when you're running low on health either. For instance, you may find yourself just one button press away from opening an item chest or going into the next off-screen area when suddenly, an encounter takes place. So don't assume that these spots are enemy-free, because they're not.

    
All of the monsters in this game belong to different element classes, including Wind, Rock, Fire, Light and Dark. The types of monsters you could encounter largely depend on what region you're exploring. So, for example, if you're venturing through caves, you're more likely to encounter ghost- and bat-like creatures. Each monster has its own assigned name as well, and some of these seem as though they were done for comic effect. There are a couple funny ones like "Horrorosaurus" and "Mummybeak", but then there are some really terrible ones like "Snitch" (seriously?). Most probably won't care too much for the names, though.

    The battle system is easy to understand in terms of the sequence of events, and what kinds of actions you can perform. When your team is on the offense, you can select from a list of character-specific abilities on the Touch Screen. These abilities almost always require a certain number of points in your SP Gauge. Usually you can tell the strength of the ability just by the amount of SP it requires. Now, not all of these are strictly for attacking purposes. Some abilities can be used for healing, building up defense, or increasing the strength of your next move. It all depends on which monster you have at your disposal. Unfortunately, some moves aren't clear in what they do, so in those cases, you'll just need to experiment. The lack of explanations here is an odd omission.

    When performing attacks, a chain link system will appear on the Touch Screen where you're required to stop a needle in a highlighted area on a circle to perform the most effective hit. You can perform up to three attacks in the same turn if you manage to stop the needle in the right place each time. Of course, the opening will get smaller each time, but after you've played thirty battles or so, you'll get used to the timing that's involved. When it's the other team's turn, you can perform a Guard move using the D-Pad, thereby reducing the strength of their attack. You only have a limited amount of time to do this, but unless you're super-slow, it's extremely hard to miss the opportunity. For the most part, the battle system is pretty good, especially since it seems less automatic in its execution (even if it can get very repetitive).

    
With each passing battle, you'll gain experience points - gain enough and you can advance to the next level. Keep going higher and higher and your health, power, and defense levels will increase. If you manage to get close to the 20th mark, you'll have the ability to take your monster to the next rank. Using Evolution Stones can grant you new moves and give your monster a new colour. After the "Plus" rank, you can advance to "Mega" later on if you continue earning EXP points.

    Essence Cores also carry a key role in your quest. Once you've reduced an enemy's health dramatically, you can use these items for a chance at capturing them. Activating these will have you pressing A repeatedly to try to increase the chances of capture, indicated by the percentile on the top screen. What makes it difficult is the fact that it's next to impossible to contain high-level enemies, and this can be frustrating. This forces you to target low-level enemies, then train them by bringing them into battles. But it's very likely that by this time, both your creatures and the ones you encounter are at a high-level, so they won't stand a chance. In short, this system is very flawed, and it does get in the way.

    At some point you'll be granted the ability to give monsters a facial makeover using the X-Form feature. Using the DSi Camera, all you're doing is basically juxtaposing a person's face or an object onto the head of a monster. It's something that Gameloft has continuously tried to implement (i.e., the use of the camera), but as with most of their other games, it's utterly pointless and rather disturbing to see. Losing a battle can be a tough loss, and seeing a Game Over is the last thing you need when you're right about to reach the next save point. Thankfully, the developers implemented what could be referred to as a "backup system", and needless to say, this is a much more valuable addition than the X-Form feature. When your team expires, if you have more than three monsters in your roster, some will automatically get added to your team, allowing you to continue. This also affords the opportunity to actually recover the fallen monsters using recovery items, but either way, you'll come to appreciate that this exists as you get closer to the end of the game.

    
Mating is another important part of the game, where you can create some pretty interesting combinations. After combining two parents of the opposite gender, you can opt to keep the child or an improved version of one of the parents. Anytime you'd like to experiment with this process, you'll need to venture to a specific location and speak to a farm boy who will guide you through it. I honestly felt it was a bit silly that you had to go out of your way to do this. There should've been a much more accessible method, but it's still a really handy feature.

    When it comes to presentation, I thought the developers put a decent amount of effort into the visuals and the music, although the audio itself can get really annoying. Gameloft's titles have a reputation for having long loading screens, so it was nice to see that there weren't that many here, and the ones that did exist were brief. And although it may not be as bad as what was seen in Zoo Frenzy, the dialogue here is laughably weak. So that's something to keep in mind as well.

    The game should last you more than 5 hours, depending on how you choose to play the game. There's a small amount of replay value, but more than likely, you won't feel too motivated to continue playing after you've beaten the game and seen the game's unsatisfying conclusion.

    In summary, I'm not sure I'd call Crystal Monsters a rip-off exactly, and even still, what do you expect for only $5? It's a decent romp that RPG fans should enjoy, as surprising as that may sound. There's not a whole lot of depth here, and there's a significant number of flaws that prevent this from being a good game. But Crystal Monsters can be fun to play if you don't take it too seriously.


20/30 - Okay/Average

Gameplay 7/10 - Good battle system, flawed capture system and controls, different monster classes, interesting mating process, silly design choices
Presentation 6/10 - Mediocre effort put into visuals, music can be very annoying, brief loading screens, extremely weak dialogue and story
Enjoyment 4/5 - Very addicting but can also get very repetitive, the design flaws can get in the way of having a good time with it
Extra Content 3/5 - Side-quests, not a lot of replay value after you beat the game, X-Form extra is pointless, not bad for only $5

Equivalent to a score of 67% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Review by KnucklesSonic8
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