Save Your Tears
Crying is an essential part of the human experience. That could be tears of joy and laughter, or sadness and pain. Crymachina, developed by FURYU Corporation and a pseudo successor to the 2018 release Crystar, tries to evoke all of these feelings, but that emotion is buried underneath a convoluted story. Instead of feeling any genuine emotion towards characters finding their humanity, the player is left with repetitive gameplay and narrative threads that feel as robotic as the characters in them.
Leben Distel is awoken as the Chosen One by the Dei ex Machina, who are in charge of reconstructing the human psyche and restoring humanity. Leben, however, takes form in a synthetic body that has select memories that are of a 17-year-old girl who died in the 21st century due to a disease. Greeting Leben as she awakens is Enoa, a machine that is one of the eight Dei ex Machina. Together, Enoa will help to guide Leben to restore her Personality Data to become a real human and save humanity, which has been extinct for thousands of years. Enoa already joined by Sengiku, and Ami Shido who have already spent a lot of time fighting for Enoa. The fight is against the other Dei ex Machina as a rift formed between them when the Propator, the overseer of this world, disappeared. This causes chaos in Eden, but despite that Enoa continues to carry out her duty to reconstruct the human psyche even at the cost of going against the other Dei ex Machina.
From the beginning the narrative uses an abundance of jargon that can be hard to follow along. Thankfully, Crymachina keeps a log of all pertinent information and events, which requires constant use to better understand everything. Crymachina then throws in one confusing twist after another and makes it worse by over-explaining why these things are happening. It works against what it wants to do as the unnecessary exposition and copious amounts of jargon are exhausting to follow and take away from the emotional stakes of the characters.
Leben, Mikoto, and Ami carry out missions to help Enoa confront the other Dei ex Machina, enter their networks, and control their bases of operations. The frustrating part is the first time entering a network area will lock the player into using a certain character. Only after completing it will the player be allowed to choose one of the other two. This especially becomes an issue halfway through when characters start to fall behind the recommended level for the area. Experience points are shared by all three and upgrading becomes a grind, having to redo areas repeatedly to get each character to a suitable level. Even being a couple of levels below an area’s recommended amount increases the challenge to an almost unfair difficulty.
Adding to the tedious nature of the gameplay is the area design. It follows a formulaic design that deviates in only a handful of areas. Drop into a network, go forward through a of couple sections of enemies, and then face a final boss at the end of the area. Initially, it’s good that each area does not take long to clear, especially if the character is adequately leveled. However, the required grind, even after only a few hours of gameplay, starts to wear on the player. It’s the same metallic areas, with the same gray color palette, and the same formulaic structure. The only redeeming quality of these environments is the effects. The lighting and effects are able to add some color and dynamism to otherwise dull-looking levels.
It’s not all bad for Crymachina’s presentation though. Sakuzyo put together a beautiful soundtrack with a great collection of sounds and styles to create something memorable. Firstly, there are numerous tracks that feature vocals, which adds an extra emotive layer to them. There’s a blend of thumping techno beats, drums, and strings that are equally effective as an emotional touchstone or an adrenaline-fueled track. The highlight though are ones that are atmospheric and filled with ambient sounds which are reminiscent of the legendary Japanese composer Yuki Kajiura.
Thankfully a fast and fluid action combat design helps to negate some of the monotony. Combat is combo-focused with light and heavy basic attacks, but successfully continuing to combo can stun an enemy, leaving them weak and open to significant damage. It’s fast, flashy, and constantly in motion. Being able to dodge around enemy attacks at a distance and quickly close in on them for a flurry of attacks is always thrilling to pull off. Much like the convoluted narrative, combat includes too many ideas and feels quite busy. A character can be equipped with auxiliary weapons that include extra attacks and bonuses, but they are difficult to use in the heat of combat due to having to meet certain conditions first. Enoa can assist the player with several useful powers, but to use them the player has to scroll through a menu as the action continues to play out. Crymachina’s combat is best when it is continually moving, but using Enoa’s assists takes away from that.
What also gets to be too much of a chore, is upgrading. Crymachina constantly gives players new gear, attachable items, and perks that become too cumbersome to manage. There are over 60 auxiliaries with various functions that can be combined in a number of different ways. The problem is most of these don’t have too much of an effect on what the player does and ultimately comes down to numbers going up. There’s no tangible effect on how a player engages in combat. Also, the amount of experience gained after each area always feels small compared to the number of different applications for them. Experience is shared by the three characters and there are many attributes to level up. It can take numerous completions of an area to reach enough experience to upgrade. It is frustrating to never feel adequately rewarded, especially when it is necessary to keep up with the recommended level of a new mission. Even the most optimized characters will have a hard time punching above their weight if they are underleveled.
Crymachina always keeps the focus on its characters though. Characterization is a bit simplistic (one likes movies, one likes video games, etc.) but their personalities make for fun dialogue, especially when it comes to specific relationships. Mikoto and Ami have solid rapport from their time fighting for Enoa, while Leben and Enoa’s relationship develops naturally as the story progresses. It makes for the most emotional parts of the narrative, especially when there are strains in those relationships and how they work to repair them. Leben and Enoa’s relationship growth is the most emotional storyline with a satisfying payoff. It’s a shame that the convoluted story and overuse of jargon take away from the dynamic characters.
Crymachina is continually plagued by its imbalance. The emotion can be impactful, especially with the relationships forged between the characters, but it is bogged down by a convoluted story. Combat is snappy and fast, but slowed down by an excessive upgrade system and grueling grind. Lighting and effects are gorgeous and colorful, while areas remain repetitive and bland. It takes too much work to get to the good of Crymachina and only those desperately itching for a sci-fi action RPG will enjoy completing it. It’s a shame because the concept it uses to explore humanity is an interesting one, but too many issues dampen its emotional punch.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Fast and snappy action combat
Watching relationships grow between the characters is satisfying
Soundtrack is wonderfully ambient and also adrenaline-fueled when needed
Excessive amount of grinding that feels unfairly rewarded
Area designs are dull and repetitive
Characters can become severely underleveled very quickly due to shared experience
Convoluted story and overuse of jargon