Crystal City Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Linux
Publisher: Dagestan Technology
You know, visual novels really do have the lowest barrier of entry over any game genre. With the ability to write a decent story, the patience to learn a bit of Python, and the funds needed to commission art and music for the game, just about anyone can make a visual novel. Because of this, I feel like I am always in for a surprise when I check out a visual novel with even a slightly novel premise, as even if the game is not necessarily good, it is almost always interesting on some level. A sentiment that certainly holds true for today’s title.
Crystal City is a strange little kinetic visual novel that follows Honore, also known as Aki Bar, a fairly stereotypical nerdy and socially reclusive young man who somehow fumbles his way into making love with one of his co-workers. Upon rolling high despite his low charisma stat, he finds himself in a near utopian society and in the body of his far more attractive alter ego. After fumbling into the titular crystal city, a futuristic city made up of buildings with transparent walls and filled with sexually attractive promiscuous people adorned in revealing clothing.
Furthering his fumblings in an encounter with an android who doubles as a police officer and sex bot, he finds up feigning amnesia as he tries to tolerate and grow accustomed to the world around him, taking in the various technological and sociological advancements present here. All of which serves to be bizarrely interesting in spite of the fairly crude conception of the game. It truly does feel as if the writer put some genuine thought into how such a world would function at least from a social level, creating a world dreamlike in how advanced it is, yet ultimately bound by some tangible sensibilities. Even if certain things, such as the source of the many resources used in the Crystal City, are left unanswered, there is a lot to dig into here.
Yet as the story gradually makes its way to having a more direct and demanding plot, things start getting rather messy. With the introduction of a group of people who are able to traverse alternate dimensions by doing something emotionally stimulating with another individual. The establishment of literal angels that exist in this world, along with an ethereal energy being who functions as the singular deity figure for their entire bizarre multiverse. The way in which this seemingly beauty obsessed society has rather inhumane treatment towards less attractive and promiscuous human beings. The merit of artificial intelligence and whether or not it is right for people to keep their emotions in check by sodomizing police women androids. Or the discrimination applied towards telephaths, seers, and people who can levitate.
It is such a weird mismatch of various concepts and ideas, all of which manage to be interesting at least on some level, and could in theory be used to form a deeply intricate explorative visual novel, except it really does not. As the story comes to a conclusion, it does so with a level of reckless abandon and all framed in this unceremonious lense. Wherein a major plot point is skimmed through by the writer before being wrapped up into an ending that leaves the story incredibly open for a series of sequels, called Stop The Earth, I’m Getting Off, that may or may not end up actually happening.
As for the actual writing of the story, while I can see a lot of promise in the script, this is a Russian visual novel that was later translated into English, and it’s a really bad translation. Not in the sense that it is overly stilted, as a lot of the game’s personality seems to shine, but it is littered with countless grammatical, syntax, and typographical errors to the point where I am honestly amazed that anybody thought it was okay to put this game out. The mistakes from the first half hour alone include, but are not limited to, not capitalizing the word “I”, spelling “that” as “tat”, “mom” as “mome”, and spelling ecstasy with an x.
Those are not too bad, but certain lines are genuinely unintelligible, and certain scenes are written in such a way that I was at a loss for what was actually going on, which is especially true for the scenes preceding the ending. I am genuinely shocked that a game with such a poor and careless translation can still be sold, and has not been patched or updated in the near year since its release. As a writer, I have made similar mistakes, but either my spell check highlights them, or I catch them in editing. The people in charge of the English version of Crystal City apparently did not do any of that, and wound up shipping a brief kinetic visual novel that was not so much as proofread based on the abhorrent quantity of errors in its script.
Well, I call it a kinetic visual novel, but there is one brief escape the room section inserted early on in the game. One that neither makes much sense in the game’s setting, nor is it very well done. Despite being rather simple in concept, the single interactable screen does not clearly represent what can be interacted with, and places heavy emphasis on combining items, a mechanic that is not explained in the accompanying tutorial.
As for the presentation, the character art is rather detailed, depicting the few central characters well in a style that takes clear inspiration from the anime art style of most Japanese visual novels, while featuring more detailed shading and a good number of expressions for all characters. Meanwhile the backgrounds were handled by two artists, and there is a notable discrepancy between the two, with one having created notably more rich and detailed backdrops for the game that better gel with the sprite art, while the other incorporates far harder linework, less detailed shading, and a more geometric design. In spite of this disparity though, the game certainly looks good enough, and has a quality soundtrack to boot.
Crystal City is a futuristic isekai story that reads like it was written by a /d/ user who posted it directly to pastebin without so much as proofreading it, and while it completely botches its ending, it still manages to remain an interesting story that touches on some unique subject matter. I can clearly see the alternate universe where this game could have been polished and refined into something actually remarkable. Yet as it is, the most I can say is that it is a strange and ambitious oddity that does enough to keep things interesting from beginning to end, albeit in an often ungraceful manner.