Here we are at the end of the NES’ reign. The final NES game on this list is also my absolute favorite on the system, and in my opinion maybe the greatest action RPG ever. The visuals might be dated, the mechanics might be way simplistic, but to this day there are only a handful of videogames that can bring me to tears by the end — and one of those games is Crystalis.
Final Fantasy and Mario 3 made me feel fear, sure. But fear is primal, and scaring a child is easy. How many games, on the other hand, can really make you feel the rest of the emotional spectrum? That’s the test of art, to me at least: Does it make you feel something? Crystalis surely does, more than 97% of modern games that claim to.
I didn’t really know that videogames could pull at my heartstrings until I encountered this little game. I’m not even sure I knew media of any kind could do that. Crystalis was a kind of awakening for me — an awakening of emotions that were deeper and more nuanced than those I had known before. Sadness, disgust, grief, guilt, revenge, triumph. Those don’t sound like much now, but I was young back then, and these were all pretty new to me. I was still in the process of figuring out what it meant to be a thinking, feeling human being.
Beyond all that, the ending of Crystalis is complicated as hell. You have just (spoilers!) killed the big bad guy who put all your comrades to the sword. You’re ascending a high-tech floating fortress in order to stop it from nuking the world. Epic, inspiring music plays and you tear through security robots with ease. You should feel elated, powerful, heroic — and I did! But you’re also, all along the way, being fed these messages from long-dead friends. Friends who trusted you to judge mankind. And all of a sudden I’m feeling this tremendous sadness, this bitter-sweet emotion, knowing these are the final messages of people I will never meet but who believed in me enough to decide the fate of our species. As a kid, I didn’t know what I should be feeling. And that’s the lasting impression Crystalis left on me: emotions, sometimes conflicting and confusing, that I didn’t even know I had.
You could say — and I don’t think it would be an exaggeration — that Crystalis taught me how to feel. And that is an incredible thing.