Crystalline: A Visual Novel Review

Crystalline, a visual novel available on Steam, is a fun isekai / romance / adventure story. Crystalline is the first visual novel I’ve ever tried, so I have nothing with which to compare it, but I found it charming. From what I can tell, it is typical of the visual novel genre, straddling the intersection of video games, light novels, and anime. The player / protagonist character is a college student mysteriously whisked away to a colorful fantasy world, and adventure ensues.

Game “play” consists primarily of reading and listening. Aside from scene descriptions and the words of the protagonist, the dialogue is all voiced. At various points, one gets to the opportunity to choose how to respond to a situation. Many of the choices have little significance beyond that particular scene, but others lead to entirely optional scenarios, or affect one’s ability to reach the true ending. One can save the game at any time, making it easy to try different dialogue options. There are also a number of simple and easy click-the-matching-icon minigames.

Crystalline provides gorgeous static backgrounds and charming music to accompany its narrative. Although a few of the backgrounds see frequent use or occasionally don’t match the environmental descriptions, many are unique to specific locations and effective at providing a sense of place. The soundtrack is pleasant and works well at setting the mood of various scenes, though it isn’t especially memorable. The voice acting for the main cast is solid. However, some of the minor characters suffer from either sounding too forced or sounding too much like other minor characters no doubt voiced by the same individual.

Besides the protagonist, the story focuses on four other main characters. Leanna is a Mage-Knight and the love interest. Zack is the gruff mercenary. Amy is a student at the mage academy. Finally there’s Kara, a treasure hunter. These four companions join the reader in trekking across the land of Esaria in search of the power necessary for the player to return home. At first glance the characters are pretty one-dimensional, but they grow more nuanced and endearing the longer you’re around them.

I imagine the ESRB would give Crystalline a T rating for suggestive themes and infrequent use of strong language. There are a couple of fanservice-y sequences and some sexual innuendo in a few other scenes. One of the main characters dresses in a fairly revealing outfit all the time. There are also a few instances of profanity. In short, it’s as clean as the average anime.

Completing the game yields access to the music and backgrounds one has discovered. I apparently missed a handful scenes in my playthrough, judging by the fact that I failed to unlock several backgrounds. There are several endings, including one identified as the “True Ending.” According to Steam, it took me about 18 hours to go through the entire game (though that may include time where I had the game open but got distracted and wasn’t actually playing).

Crystalline had a surprisingly large number of typos or inconsistencies between the spoken dialogue and the written text. It was never bad enough to jeopardize comprehensibility, but was sometimes distracting (or inadvertently hilarious—in one scene, a character was clearly supposed to have “superb” posture but instead wound up with “suburb” posture). On the spelling front, it’s worth mentioning that the developers are Canadian, which explains the incongruity of the nominally American protagonist thinking or speaking using the British spelling of certain words.

I thoroughly enjoyed Crystalline and would recommend it to anyone to anyone looking to try out a visual novel. The main cast receives a satisfying amount of character development, the plot is reasonably entertaining, there are some really humorous pop culture references, and objectionable content is minimal. The story isn’t especially profound overall, but it does wrestle seriously with the relational consequences of traveling to another world.

Rating: A-

Crystalline is available for both PC and Mac.

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