It’s not everyday that we get a 35-year-old Japanese game released in English on PC, but here we are with The Demon Crystal. Originally released back in 1984 for the MSX by a company named YMCAT, it is just now finding its way to international audiences. I certainly had not heard of the game prior to this release, but I’ve always had a soft spot for older Japanese games like this, so I had to check it out.
Fun retro gameplay. If you’re a fan of older arcade-style games like this, then you’ll find that there’s a lot to like here gameplay-wise with The Demon Crystal. From the simple, yet effective enemy designs to the variety of cool upgrades to find for your attacks, the game is full of what makes these retro titles fun. Of course, that’s pretty much a given considering that it was released back then, but the game also adds a few more features to suit a modern audience. The first being the ability to continue after you’ve died, which was pretty nice to have considering that there are quite a few difficult levels. Another feature being the inclusion of hints before certain levels. There are some levels that would absolutely require a walkthrough if these hints were not available, so I’m glad that those were added as well.
Cool secret design. Speaking of hints, the majority were added in order to help the player uncover the variety of secrets the game holds. There are plenty of items that are unlocked via cool ways, such as not moving in a level, clearing a level without killing anything, or moving in some sort of pattern across a level. In doing so, the player is granted a variety of cool upgrades to help out later on. In fact, there are some levels that can only be cleared when certain upgrades have been acquired, so again, I am glad that hints were added, as I would have lost my mind trying to figure out what to do otherwise.
Great optimization. There are plenty of older games like this that were ported to Steam using some sort of emulator — an emulator that would also emulate the slowdown and issues that the original release had (a prime example being the Mega Man Legacy Collection). Fortunately, that is not the case here with The Demon Crystal. Not only does the game maintain that retro feel, but it does so at 60fps without any sprite flickering, stuttering, or other technical issues that plague such games. It’s nice to be able to play an older game like this adapted for modern hardware.
Cheap difficulty. I had little issue clearing most of the levels in The Demon Crystal, but there were some that made use of some rather cheap gimmicks to artificially increase the difficulty. To be specific, there were a few levels that hid enemies right behind a locked door, enemies that would immediately attack and/or start walking towards you as soon as the door is open. Given that you are not provided any sort of prior indication, this often resulted in a death that hardly seemed fair, forcing a level restart.
Another good example being the game’s use of “fake upgrades”. These upgrades appear like any other item, but when picked up, completely wipe your inventory. As a result, you’re forced to go back through several previous levels just to hunt down your old upgrades. I understand that a lot of games back then had to artificially increase their difficulty like this to make them last, but it doesn’t make it feel any less cheap.
Complete lack of music diversity. While I do like retro games like this, one thing that I have always disliked is the complete lack of music diversity. The Demon Crystal is no exception to this, playing just one track on repeat the entire game. Even when held up to retro standards, the music is not all that great and it definitely does not help that the track itself lasts like 10 seconds and then just repeats. By the time I had completed the game, it was fully ingrained into my head, haunting me for the next couple days. I actually ended up extracting the game’s assets to see if there was other music and was surprised to see a bunch of tracks that I do not remember hearing in the game, some of which would have definitely been a better choice than the looping 10-second track. I get that this is something that comes with games like this, but the point should still be made.
For fans of retro games, The Demon Crystal certainly does a good job scratching that itch. The gameplay is fun, the secrets were pretty cool to uncover, and the game actually adapts well to modern hardware. Even so, the cheap difficulty and complete lack of music diversity were a bit annoying to deal with, but I still recommend the game regardless.
You can buy The Demon Crystal on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.