Whenever we think of the NES the legendary games that carved out the modern gaming landscape we still enjoy come to mind. Super Mario Brothers, Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, Castlevania, the games that still benefit from new releases to this day. Unfortunately in the wake of those heavy hitters many games that were just as good have been lost and forgotten by time. Conquest of the Crystal Palace is just one of many such games that were never able to find their audience.
Conquest of the Crystal Palace was released by Asmik (there’s a publisher I haven’t thought of in years.) in 1990. Developed by Quest, the future creators of the Ogre Battle and Final Fantasy Tactics series, this is as far away from those games as possible. You play as Farron, a denizen of the Crystal Palace which has now become overrun by demons lead by Zarras. With your trusty dog Zap by your side it is now your job to defeat him and restore peace to the kingdom. Although set in feudal times the game is an interesting pastiche of modern day elements, such as TV reports. That blatant disregard for history serves the game well as it incorporates many elements from different genres all in a well crafted package.
In many ways the Crystal Palace resembles the Mystical Ninja series. Not so much game structure but its infusion of RPG elements. An action platformer you have a choice of 3 different gems at the start that will boost your health, attack, or jumping skill, although these will become irrelevant early on. The money dropped by enemies can be used in the shops run by intrepid reporter Kim. Here you can purchase many items, such as extra health, a dog whistle, extra lives, and jumping shoes. Our plucky shop owner will also inform you of boss tactics via news reports on the TV. Accompanying you through the levels is Zap, who can be called on at anytime. Zap will attack enemies and also collect loose coins but has his own life bar. The large varieties of items and weapons along with Zap are needed to battle the hordes of enemies you’ll face since the game puts up a decent challenge.
The rank and file enemies pose little threat and serve as little more than walking money bags. The platforming involved in navigating the levels is where they’ll trip you up, as the popular 8-bit tactic of enemies knocking you back into instant death pits is here in full force. The major difficulty spikes occur during boss fights and after level 3, where the game becomes bat shit insane and throws everything and the kitchen sink at you in a desperate plea to introduce you to the game over screen.
Alleviating the pains the latter half of the game will put you through; the production values are stellar, with excellent graphics and a very good score. The gigantic bosses in the second half of the game occupy half the screen real estate and are a visual treat. The setting of the game wasn’t all too common in the 8-bit era so the distinctly Japanese terrain and graphic design helped the game stand out from its contemporaries. The Japan inspired music fits the tone and period of the game very well and never become repetitious. When you put all of this together it’s frustrating that COTCP isn’t more popular.
When you put all of this together it’s frustrating that Conquest of the Crystal Palace isn’t more popular. So why isn’t it more popular? Honestly I don’t know. Perhaps a lack of marketing? Even in this day and age where forgotten gems are unearthed every day very few have bothered to play this game. That god awful box art sure as hell isn’t helping. Don’t let that keep you away though; this is an excellent action platformer that deserves to be remembered as fondly as the best on the system.
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