Though today you can stuff stereoscopic 3D and console-quality graphics into your backpack, that once seemed inconceivable. Handhelds have evolved quickly, but we shouldn’t forget the games that made them great in the first place. Though these games lack raw processing muscle, they have a power all their own.
The Sega Game Gear was a short-lived console that at its time was the most serious contender for the Game Boy’s throne. The Atari Lynx and TurboExpress had offered color alternatives to Nintendo’s tiny grey-green behemoth before, but the Game Gear was the first color handheld with an affordable price point (relatively speaking). A lack of game support from Sega ultimately lead the system to fail, but it had some gems, like Crystal Warriors.
In this strategy RPG, you control a small band of warriors on a quest to defeat the evil Jyn who’ve taken over the lands and stolen three precious crystals. Each level consists of trekking across the map from your base to the enemy’s.You can either defeat them or invade their HQ in order to advance to the next level. You take turns moving your warriors while the computer controls the Jyn army. Once a battle occurs, you are given a couple of turns to attack before going back to moving around the map. Enemy forces remain a mystery until you either use magic to reveal their identities or enter battle with them. Even the land is covered in darkness with no way of telling who or what stands in your way.
Crystal Warriors is engaging for sub-systems, such as the ability to keep monsters as pets or recruit new warriors to your cause. As in other RPGs, you have to take into account elemental type-advantage when battling -Fire beats Wind, Wind beats Water and Water beats Fire. You can either use physical attacks or magic, so it does take some strategy to make it through a fight. If you don’t want to get your own hands dirty you can summon a monster to fight for you. Once you defeat a scorpion or harpy in battle, it will become your pet and do your bidding. As you advance from level to level there’s a sense of anticipation to see what new monster types are out there.
Crystal Warriors felt like a groundbreaking game at the time of its release, perhaps because of the Game Gear’s processing muscle. It definitely wouldn’t have been a success on the Game Boy. Crystal Warriors can be compared to Fire Emblem since they share tactical gameplay and attack similarities, and it could have been great on the Super Nintendo or even Sega Genesis. Sadly, it has remained exclusive to the Game Gear since its release in 1991. Fans in Japan got a sequel called Royal Stone, but it doesn’t measure up – Crystal Warriors deserves a remake.