Welcome to the world of Crystalis, the cult classic RPG that captured my imagination decades ago, and has held onto it ever since. The way Crystalis tells it, the world as we know it was fated to end in a terrible war that would knock the world off its axis, mutate plants and animals into terrible monsters, and turn back the clock on human civilization a few hundred years. 1997 rolled around, and the end of the world transpired with little or no fanfare; it wasn't until 1998 or 1999 that I noticed the planet hadn't been reduced to slag, and realized those monster sounds outside were just the kids next door. Not that I needed an excuse to replay one of my all-time favorite video games, but I decided that year to celebrate the anniversary of the apocalypse everyone forgot with a marathon session of Crystalis.
Had it been any other game, I might've celebrated once and gone back to my regularly scheduled business. Ah, but this was Crystalis, and I'm a sucker for dorky traditions. Somewhere in the 2000s, I turned The END DAY into an annual celebration: a reason to change my computer's desktop wallpaper to the game's ominous first screen for a day, call out from work to play Crystalis, and encourage my friends to do the same (play Crystalis, that is. I expressly did not skip work last year for the sake of video games. Though I may have deliberately waited until October 1 to bring my car to someplace within walking distance of my Nintendo for repairs). But what is it about this particular game that's prompted me to uphold this unofficial holiday for so long?
For a good year or so after getting an NES, those first three games were all I owned. Anyone who grew up with an allowance, or a well-established game collection already in their home, or the glut of cheap downloadable games that emerged when the likes of smartphones and Steam started to take off, might not appreciate exactly what that's like. Mario was hard and boring, Duck Hunt was fun but got old fast, Gradius was fun but way too tough, and Crystalis was fun but downright impossible. If I wanted to play video games at home, these were my options. If I wanted to beat any of them, I needed help.
It wasn't long before I teamed up with my dad to save the galaxy and overthrow the evil emperor. Although we enjoyed only modest success—saving whatever part of the galaxy Stages 1-3 took place in, and overthrowing the little green slime monsters in the first dungeon—our small triumphs and hilarious failures together are some of the earliest and fondest memories I have of bonding with my father.
Once we got a Game Genie and I was able to cheat my way to victory, Crystalis kept me busy long after we had saved the entire galaxy, rescued the princess, and brought the local duck population down to more manageable levels. I was engrossed by the story—a surprisingly deep one, by NES standards. I loved the freedom I had to explore, and the tactical options I had in facing my foes. I liked the special effects, the neat locations, and the great music. I even got a kick out of the box art and the instruction manual, whose detailed instructions and numerous illustrations fired up my imagination about what exciting challenges and mysteries the game might hold. I often credit Mega Man 4 as the primary reason why video games became more than a casual hobby for me, but Crystalis laid that groundwork—I just hadn't made it far enough in the game to realize it.
In more recent years, as the replay value of the NES game stretches thinner and thinner, The END DAY has remained fresh and fun thanks to more creative ways to celebrate, and to bringing more friends along for the ride. I bought Crystalis for one of my friends one year. I celebrated five years in a row on Exfanding Your Horizons—count 'em: one, two, three, four, five. I picked up the Game Boy Color adaptation of Crystalis, began alternating between it and the NES version every year. I got my wife to start marathoning the game with me. I wrote and ran a Crystalis-themed Dungeons & Dragons podcast for GameCola one year, and I recorded a playthrough of the GBC Crystalis the next. This year for GameCola, I participated in joint commentary of a six-way blind competitive playthrough of the NES version. And let's not forget about the post you're currently reading, which is a much more fitting celebration than last year's passing mention.
There's no telling what future celebrations will hold, but I've already made a mental list of gaming websites that need screenshots, sprites, and sprite maps of Crystalis—maybe I'll get a head start on that this year. Furthermore, I've always wanted to design a playable video game...perhaps you'll see a fan-made sequel to Crystalis from me someday. Who knows? The floating tower in the sky is the limit, as they say.
Wait, no one says that. Oh, well. Go in peace, kyu kyu, and Happy END DAY!