Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Missed Classic 105 - The Kristal (1989) - Introduction

Written by Morpheus Kitami 

Some time ago, I think after Legacy's reign of terror, I noticed that there were a couple of mainline games that had yet to be claimed, Cosmic Spacehead and Innocent Until Caught, so I asked Ilmari if I could claim those, and he said sure. I thought I'd just get all those titles these companies did beforehand now, rather than when they come up on the games list. They are admittedly still a few games away. 

Cosmic Spacehead was published by Codemasters, known at this point for Micro Machines, the Dizzy games and trash. None of the games they published were really adventure games. Dizzy sort of approaches that, but its comfortably far enough away to not be a concern. I feel like the games from the next company have far more validity to the adventure label and I'm not really about to play those now either. Or at least that's what I thought. I must have missed one title on my first passthrough, Necris Dome. However, Necris Dome is a case I don't really think fits too well with Codemasters, since the author, one Charles A. Sharp, did about 13 text adventures in the 1986-88 period, of which only one was published by Codemasters. I might dip into his titles, but not anytime soon. 

On the other hand Innocent Until Caught was published by Psygnosis, who were kind of a big deal. While the company responsible for Innocent did nothing of importance here beforehand, Psygnosis...kind of did? Psygnosis, if you don't know, back during the days of the Amiga and Atari ST, was a game publisher with high production values. A combination of having staff artists who knew their way around the systems, having Roger Dean, best known for his album covers, do the cover art. From their founding up until around 1993 they were the company to beat if you wanted to have an impressive audio-visual experience with your game. Now, the part they sometimes missed was that they didn't always have the best gameplay to go along with that. 

Ultimately, its not really a secret as to why Psygnosis hasn't been covered before, since they primarily dealt in action games. Some of these I understand have adventure elements, but they're not straight adventure games, its not that important. They did translate the French adventure game series Explora into English as Chrono Quest, but they missed the last game in the series and it kind of doesn't feel like Psygnosis in that regard. 

Our hero doesn't look like he's winning here, he's also missing a mustache

Now looking at the list of games they published, and looking through them, the only thing I see that isn't a translation is Obitus. Now, Obitus is one of those games that doesn't really fit well into modern definitions of games. Most places list it as RPG, but those of you who follow the CRPGAddict's blog will note that he hasn't covered it. Why? Because it isn't a RPG. What is it? I don't know yet, but it isn't where this story begins. Obitus was worked on by three people, Giulio Zicchi, Justin Garvanovic, and Michael Haigh. These people worked on earlier adventure game The Kristal, which was published by Cinemaware here in America. So let's talk about that game. 

The Kristal (1989), based off a theater play called The Kristal of Konos (1976), which was never produced. Finding information on it just gives me information on the game, and then nothing, so it must not have been produced. As an American, I suspect that's because its a space opera, perhaps literally. The kind of people who watch plays here are rich and are not interested in seeing lasers and spaceships. The only place I know of that has plays with lasers and spaceships is Japan. I do not know where any of the authors are from, but I do suspect that Zicchi is Italian, and the authors of the play are either English or German. As a side note, I normally read reviews afterwards, but as I was getting the game, I couldn't help but read what was said about the game in the place I found, people were using words like "hate" and "tell my past self to burn it", which mean one of two things, this is going to be very hard, or this is going to be garbage. I saw a Russian review on the game that was more positive, but didn't exactly disagree with the other comments in terms of gameplay. Also, I keep mentally calling this "Der Kristal" because my mind isn't registering that this isn't German. 

The story is...confusing. First I read that the game was about a space pirate trying to save the universe, then I read it was for a bet, and once I cracked open the manual I got this: 

In the days before Kree and Ma made their appearance in 
the heavens, in the time of no time, when the Lord of 
Liqht ruled the seven planes, there existed at the source of 
the causeless cause, at the heart of all being, sealed in the 
Halls of Love, the symbol of unity, manifest in the form 
of a shimmerinq aura: 
The Kristal held together the force of harmony. Thus it was 
for many eons; until Malagar, the unworthy servant of 
Ono, the nameless one, transgressed the essence. Assisted 
by the Sisters of the Black Void, he gained entry to the 
Halls of Love and spirited the Kristal away. And so it 
was that the servant of Chaos could enter the seven planes, 
and discord disrupted harmony, and conflict entered 
into the lives of Man. 
But Malagar, the unworthy, never reached his evil master. 
His ship was caught in a maqnetic storm and lost in the 
Sea of Emotion. Malagar and his crew perished and, 
for a time, nothinq was heard of 
the KristaL of Konos. 
Until the second dek of the nem of Ma, when, legend has it 
that Mallava, the Gru of Grus, found the Kristal on 
the edge of time and, guided by the Lord of Liqht, did hide 
the Kristal in a secret chamber. And, it is written that 
there it shall lie until the one who is worthy shall discover 
its whereabouts and restore it to its 
riqhtful restinq place. 
He who shall find the Kristal must be courageous and 
bold, of a good heart and a noble spirit, motivated by the 
power of Love, which will be his shield against 
the powers of Chaos. 
Thus it is written - thus it will be. 

And our hero is Dancis Frake, a swashbuckling space pirate from the planet Zapminola. Who has a space galleon. Which means we'll be in a space simulation. Let me see if I have this right, since I came in at the end of 2019, which is the very end of 1992. Games combining space simulation and adventure, we have the Captain Blood series, Inca, I think B.A.T. 2, and the Star Trek games. I know of a few more, Coktel Vision's A.G.E., Universe II, some other games I am forgetting. What is it about space simulation and adventure games that have been put together so many times? 

The title screen, which is also roughly what the European box art is

There are three versions of this game, one for Amiga, one for Atari ST, and one for DOS. We're going to be seeing the Amiga version because the other two are objectively worse. I get no sound in the DOS version, and the Atari ST version doesn't always load. If I feel motivated, I'll briefly play through the DOS version, since I can actually run that. 

Millions of stars and billions of galaxies, or something like that

The game starts off with logos and some music. It uses a flute as the lead instrument, but its got nothing on the Inca soundtrack. We get a voiced intro narration, basically just describing where we are. I tried to write it down, but some of it just sounds like gibberish to me, and I've deciphered black metal vocals. We're on a planet doing a figure eight around twin suns, and the Earth time is 2:00. Oh, now there's some text. Am I ever going to play the game? This feels like a modern title, since it takes a long time to actually get to the game. I, Dancis Frake, with my glorious mustache, have woken up on the planet Mel Toca...the two suns Kree and Ma...what happened last night? My head is pounding like a lazer hammer in the mines of Kraan. I'm not in my home base of Zapminola (there it is) a million driks away from this place. 

Okay, okay, this sounds like it's stupid, and maybe it is, but the concept to Farscape or Stargate SG-1 might sound stupid at first reading, but heck, they're great sci-fi. 

How do I know that?

I control Dancis primarily via the joystick, in this case, my numpad. He's got a nice and smooth animation cycle. I can access the inventory by pressing F1, and if someone talks to me first, I can engage in conversation. With F2 I can pick up items. I can look at items with F5, use them with F10, and cycle through them with F6 & F7. Which is just one of the worst possible control configurations, outside of something optimized for early '80s computers that I'm forced to use in 2021 times. This has no excuse, I would have hated it back in '89. 

Yes, the flower is talking

Conversations are done via a conversation system. It expects very specific output from you, in the form of realistic conversations. You have to type out "what is your name" or "what is your job", or hope you typed a variation of that is recognized. The first person I can talk to is a talking plant, who is most useless. I can't get anything out of her beyond her name or her job, which is blossoming. Scratch that, if I say a bad word she'll recognize it. Screw better parser design, we need to poke fun at the player for cursing. 

There's usually a common thread in made-up names by most writers, I wonder if -la is going to be one here?

Moving is very smooth, Dancis is well-animated. Nevertheless, there is a problem, any time there is a character on-screen, the game slows down. Moving up and down is also necessary, or into the foreground and background. There also hasn't been any sound since the game started. It looks nice. Those backgrounds are gorgeous, but this feels like a very modern game. In the sense that its going to take a while before I can actually play the game, as opposed to wandering around talking to people who tell me nothing. It takes some guessing to figure out the right words to say. Or at least getting something. 

I hate having to remember these random symbols

Not far from the last fellow I found is a door that looked like I could walk into. It turns out to be a teleporter, and I can't go back. There's a balcony here, and I can enter it, not expecting much. 

This makes me suspect Dancis has a very romanticized view of old Earth pirates

Left is my ship, and I try to enter it. Because I figure I'm going to meet someone or get a message where they tell me I'm stuck on this planet until I do so-and-so task. You know, like a lot of games do. It'd only be normal for someone to have a problem after a night of mystery... 

Nope, nothing. Just straight into the ship, just some loading...and some symbols. Like Stargate. Dancis moves around each time I change symbols. I press one, thinking its going to be like Stargate, and no, I'm just off. Guess I was wrong about having to find the game.

After going plaid, I get combat. I hope this was just an unfortunate random selection, because otherwise this is going to be a very fun experience. I'll see if its better once I take out my joystick for this, but playing it with a keyboard joystick is...the worst. The basic gameplay concept is the same as Inca, which I will bring up again, no doubt. Enemy ships appear in waves, and the planet doesn't really get closer until you kill all the enemies. The thing is it controls badly. Turning is slow and yet, imprecise. You also control acceleration by holding down fire and moving the joystick forward or backward. At least there's some sound. 

Very Jazz Jackrabbit though
After killing all the things that showed up to stop me from reaching this planet, I can enter it. After nearly dying. What's on the planet? Nothing. I kid, its very scenic, but I realized its probably better to show this place when I have a reason to be here. Uh...I guess I better restart and find something on the planet. 

My mustache isn't glorious enough for this
Going through the area again is interesting. The first time through I chose a path out of the first area that might not have been ideal. This lead to an area that showed up glitchy. I could converse with the guards, but they didn't let me through. I do applaud the developers for not causing me trying to walk past them into them killing me. 

I can't help but feel like you're trying to get my hard-earned skringles

Interestingly, when I return to the area with the guy, I see new characters. Interesting, I am aware of some adventure games that have characters that don't always appear, but usually those are because the game was designed with pre-planned routines put in place. I think Lure of the Temptress and Personal Nightmare both use that approach, but randomly appearing characters are new to me. 

Anyway, the buxom shopkeeper talks up her stock of fruits to "keep strength up", which I suspect is a clue. I'm glad they said it because if the game didn't tell me I'd have ignored it. I'm not really sure I should spend my 25 skringles on this, since the aforementioned comments mention that money is a limited resource. I will be using money from now on, since I can't remember skringles. (watch how I remember skringles) The shopkeeper asks me where I'm from, and what do you know, I can actually tell her! She mentions that she likes space pirates. I hope that means Dancis isn't the kind of space pirate who eats, maims, murders, does the hokey-pokey with and then enslaves people he meets. Both for what this playthrough will entail and for the sort of woman that would say that. 

I thought you liked space pirates?

While flailing around trying to figure out the cost of her fruit, I am reminded why I don't like this conversation system. Programs do what they are programmed to do, and this is most obvious in text recognition. People have many, many ways of saying a sentence that means the same thing. This is why games that use key words or choices are superior. 

Selecting 1)I would like to buy the froodles or selecting a differently colored froodles work much better than having to figure out what words the game would like to buy some froodles. 

Now, I have seen this system before, in a game released many years later called Facade, which is more like a cross between an arthouse game and a tech demo. It's nothing but a conversation in real-time. I can't confirm the underlying tech in it, but it uses a keyword recognition system. Its incredibly simple, boiling down most sentences to agreement or disagreement, and obscenity. Words like "Belgium" or "melon". I'm not kidding about the latter, you say "I love watermelons", and the characters in that game act like you've dropped your pants and started painting the walls a new color. 

Now, The Kristal isn't promising anything beyond "guess the sentence", but my point is language is complex. Guessing verbs is annoying, but an inevitability in designing a text adventure. Its not really that easy to figure out what I should type even when I know what I want. What was the fruit? Oh, froodles. Does this mean I have to walk back to certain characters and ask them about everything I now know? Will the creepy plant tell me something important I need to know? I haven't been playing that long and I feel like the game already screwed me over. 

I also dislike this system because, well, I took a picture. Now I have to write down Kring Narta is the space director of the federation (of seven planets) and the second coming of Jesus Christ. Also, I ask Sir Danek, who I assume is some pun I don't get, about space pirates. In addition to finding out I'm not a psycho hungry for blood I also discover there's someone/someplace called Lotarr. Lotar is a real, albeit fairly rare name. Which makes me wonder about the rest of the names. Lotarr is a very evil place, they're related to the forces of Grimm. Who is Grimm? He doesn't want to tell me. 

Well, I have to take a break for now, but I'm suspecting that this is going to not go as well as I hoped. This doesn't really seem like its got much going for it besides graphically. There hasn't been any sound outside of the intro, and all of the game's systems have been underwhelming so far. There's sword-fighting to be had, but it doesn't look like that's going to be better. And I strongly suspect that I'll be able to easily make the game unwinnable if I don't handle things properly. Hell, I haven't even gotten any progress yet, I'm at the place I was at the start of this entry, only more confusing and worried about the game. 

This Session: 30 minutes 

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introductory post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 50 CAPs in return. It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.


  1. when the Lord of Liqht ruled the seven planes

    Are all the q's instead of g's in this that way in the manual? Weird.

    And our hero is Dancis Frake


    After going plaid


    Its incredibly simple, boiling down most sentences to agreement or disagreement, and obscenity. Words like "Belgium" or "melon".

    "Belgium" of course is a terrible obscenity, as any decent Galactic citizen knows. And also some indecent ones.

    1. Because I didn't feel like typing the whole thing out, I copy/pasted it from the manual. Whatever method the scanner used to allow the text to be copied didn't do it perfectly, it spit out a lot more nonsense. Because the q/g difference wasn't as pronounced as some of the nonsense (planes as pC.anes) that it spouted, I didn't notice it.
      Dancis is apparently a real name, though considering the rest of the made-up names, I doubt they knew this.

    2. it does seem rather silly, but if you're going to make it that obvious, why not just call him Francis Drake and be done with it?

  2. Put me down for 30, graphics and atmosphere look decent but I suspect maximum points deductions for very specific gripes.

    The amount of cliches in the manual is enough to make me physically ill. And how is a shield of love protection against chaos? Against hate and so on sure, but chaos and love are not opposites. It does not bode well, and I think even the author of a Care Bears book about love conquering all may find the plot a bit much.

    1. The amount of cliches this game has seems to border on parody. Even in the pre-Star Wars world this was supposedly made in, I can't think of anything off-hand that hits all the cliches. Makes me wonder what's in that play.

  3. This looks like it's going to be potentially very frustrating!

    I'll say 28 for the score, with most of that being for the graphics.

  4. 25 for the score, since it seems really awful.

  5. The author's names of this game might be italian, english or german, but it looks and feels like a french game, with all the bad things that that entails. I bet 27 for this one, but if it gets a lower score i wouldn't be surprised

  6. 26 for me (was angling for 27 but Leo beat me to it)

  7. "This doesn't really seem like its got much going for it besides graphically."

    That's unfortunate. I have to say that it really does look great!

    Hello everybody, by the way. I haven't forgotten about TAG, and I'll be back soon-ish!

    1. The protagonist looks like Sean Connery in ZARDOZ (Except less naked)

    2. Thank you for that one, now I am not going to be able to read any dialogue without shome Shean shpeech shenanigansh. You should change your bet to thwenty-shicksh for this.

  8. El Conde de Montecristo9 January 2022 at 21:59

    Its a great game, the atmosphere and background are awesome, its different of other mainstream games.

    The parser sucks, a dialogue system would be more funny.

  9. I'll be an optimist and take 32.
    I don't see an obvious word play on "Sir Danak," although with all of the other knights being word plays, it should be. "Sirdan" is a real place.
    Dancis Frake is an odd transposition; "Drancis Frake" would exactly translate from Sir Francis Drake. "Frake" might reference Jonathan Frake of Star Trek: TNG fame.
    The interface sounds terrible, unclear if it would have worked better on contemporary hardware. Interfaces are hard; you wouldn't believe how much thought, argument, and agony went into designing the one for Hero-U.

    1. That's Frakes (with an S) though. And was he that well known in Europe in 1989?

    2. The closest I came up with for Sir Danek is sardonic, but seems a bridge too far.
      As to the controls, in the past I've played games where I controlled aiming with the function keys, but in that case the original layout of the keyboard was different, the function keys were on the left in two columns. I'm 90% sure every Amiga model had them at the top, more or less the same layout we use now. The joystick would probably be a lot better to use though.