What does it mean to be a real human? This question is at the core of Crymachina, an action RPG set in a world where humanity died out long ago. NIS America is bringing us this emotional sci-fi tale from developer FURYU.
Humans Never Change
Crymachina opens as Leben wakes up in a robotic body. The last thing she remembers is dying, cursing the world and everyone in it. It’s explained that it’s been two thousand years since, and humanity was wiped out by war not long after she died from a disease that killed almost the entire population.
They’re now on a spaceship, the last hope of reviving humanity launched in the final days of the war. Leben, Mikoto, and Ami were born as personality data, described as the souls of long-deceased humans brought back to life. Guided by Enoa, one of the eight machines given control of the spaceship, they aim to collect ExP to become a real human and ensure their safety against the machines who are unable to harm anyone they recognize as such.
It’s an interesting idea. Leben’s initial hatred of humanity causes her to clash with the others and gives her no motivation for the goal at first. She’s only held back by her adoration for Enoa, whether due to her nature as a machine or her angelic appearance.
At first, Crymachina seems very straightforward. They have a goal, several of Enoa’s ‘siblings’ that work against them, and even a mention of Leben being the ‘Chosen One’. A few hours in, we find it isn’t as simple as it seems.
We learn of various factions with their own reasons to stop or work with Enoa, sudden twists, revelations through memories gained, and numerous times where characters are deceived. There’s a lot to process and the story never seems to slow down. When a game starts throwing up diagrams to explain things, you know it’s getting complicated.
While there were a few predictable story elements, it managed to surprise me several times. If I hadn’t been very carefully paying attention and reading the additional lore in documents, it would’ve been even more. Beyond a complex plot to satisfy sci-fi fans, it has plenty of emotional moments with hints of romance too.
Yuri in Space
While Crymachina has a sci-fi serious plot, it dedicates a lot of its runtime to moments spent with the characters. When they’re on missions, they sometimes chat in the background. Between them, they spend time on casual chats about everything from their thoughts on plot events to their ideal date.
The dynamic between them is great, and over time they begin to think of themselves as a family of sorts. This is shown through moments like Mikoto teasing Leben or panic when it looks like one of the others is threatened. While they do act as a family unit, they often split into pairs.
Leben, as mentioned, isn’t a fan of humanity generally and loves machines, perhaps a little too much. At first, she has a somewhat harsh personality but softens over time. By the end of Crymachina’s story, we can see some notable growth in her character and her feelings toward others. Enoa is still her favorite though and it’s often implied that she likes her more than she’s willing to admit.
Enoa is a machine and has no emotions, or so she’d insist. She certainly acts rather human at times though, despite being very soft-spoken. She often treats others like children, saying “good girl” and saying they deserve gold stars. Her progression throughout the story is perhaps the most interesting, especially when it comes to the idea of what it means to be human and how she grows closer to Leben.
Mikoto and Ami have some great moments and a few surprising traits, despite Leben taking center stage. Mikoto is a tough movie buff who is prone to quoting movies and wants to live in a cool way, while Ami appears as family-orientated and polite, while still being unabashedly outgoing about her love for Mikoto.
Relaxing in the Imitation Garden
Crymachina essentially breaks down into two sections: the Imitation Garden, which is your base of operations, and the levels.
While the plot mostly moves forward through scenes shown during levels, much of the story is told via very short cutscenes accessible from a menu in the Imitation Garden. Some scenes where they discuss plot-related issues are longer, but there are quite a lot of short slice-of-life ones too. While it doesn’t apply to all, some felt too short with only a few lines exchanged. Many of these are optional and only unlockable if you find certain items in the levels, which felt like a good reason to explore and complete extra levels.
The more casual moments in the Imitation Garden were used well to showcase the personalities of the characters and the dynamics of their relationships. Things like seeing how much Ami loves Mikoto and the rest of her family or how Leben slowly opens up to the rest of them through these little moments made some of the more hard-hitting moments really have that emotional impact.
Beyond the cutscenes, this is also where you can read the documents, which contain a lot of worldbuilding and lore. Some parts are only slightly connected such as descriptions of personality data used for enemies, but it also explains the history of the world, some of the thoughts of the main enemies, and hints at the truth behind the mystery of what actually happened in the past.
Most levels are fairly short with a clear path forward towards the end of the level. If you’re the type to just go from A to B, your experience with Crymachina may feel simple at times as while a few levels throw in minor puzzles on the main path and some basic platforming, the majority are just a case of going forward, killing a few sets of enemies along the way, and then a boss at the end of each level.
If you take the time to explore, there are often extras to find, whether these are the aforementioned documents or equipment tucked away in a hidden corner, switches to find to unlock secret challenging enemies, and more challenging paths with moving lasers and platforms to overcome with some equipment at the end. That said, a lot of these are the path to very high-level bosses, which are often not possible during the early game. The first level’s hidden boss killed me in one hit when I first found it and I had to wait until near the end of the game before I could have my revenge.
Even a lot of the levels themselves are hidden away. There’s a mechanism in the Imitation Garden to enter a code to find levels. Codes can be guessed, but clues for many are available in documents. There are only a few variations on these hidden levels that repeat, but they’re a good place to grind and collect new equipment. Completing the same levels repeatedly seems to give fewer points to level up your skills after the first time, so these are helpful.
If you would like some hints on finding these hidden bosses and levels, check out our guide here.
The levels themselves aren’t amazing, but there’s enough variation to keep things entertaining. In terms of aesthetics, it’s set out into separate ‘servers’ with a few levels each and each server has a style of its own. Some are more distinct than others such as an ice-themed server, while others feel more like generic spaceship levels.
Hacking and Slashing
Crymachina has you fight robotic enemies using three characters with hack-and-slash combat. Leben is fast and light, Ami is slightly slow with heavy attacks, and Mikoto is a happy medium. Each uses different weapons too and feels fairly unique beyond their speed and strength, with little differences like Ami having a ranged weapon that’s more useful than the others due to being able to stun enemies. You’ll find yourself using all of these as story-related levels have set characters for the first run.
It’s a fairly straightforward combat system. Hack away at enemies with light and heavy attacks, occasionally use special to increase damage, fire an attack and recover, and try not to die. Hammer away enough at them and you’ll be able to knock them into the air and on the ground.
Trying not to die is very level-dependent. There is some skill involved with watching for indicators of enemy attacks, dodging, and countering with the right timing and it can be incredibly satisfying to wear an enemy down while avoiding attacks. But just five levels can make the difference between needing to use all your skills to dodge around constantly and eke out a victory against a boss or just hitting attack and spamming special power-ups until they die. Levels are capped depending on progression, so it never gets too easy in the newest story levels. Finding an optional level 90 boss at level 70 can be frustrating though as attacks just won’t hurt them, no matter your skill.
Near the end of Crymachina, this became even more apparent. I had characters who were ten levels below the enemy and were barely effective. I ended up grinding in a level 90 optional zone for the last 2 of the 20 hours before I reached the final boss, just carefully taking out normal enemies and ignoring the boss to level up. The postgame area takes a huge difficulty leap too. Luckily you can manually assign experience and skill points, which have to be spread relatively equally during the main game, but in postgame can all be assigned to your favorite if needed.
It is worth noting that the enemies themselves aren’t always the smartest. I’ve seen a few instances of them firing beams in the wrong direction or backing into a wall. They do teleport towards you which mitigates this a little and it’s not too bad. The more notable bosses often have an extra gimmick or two, like having additional unbeatable allies who use ranged attacks or area attacks. This helped to make sure I was paying attention and kept things more interesting than just dodging the boss and attacking.
The combat is certainly fun here. It’s reasonably light depending on the character, but not floaty. Despite being simple, there’s enough to keep the player entertained. I do feel that level affecting it so much does reduce how engaging it can be at times though.
Crymachina’s art style for sprites isn’t typical for anime games, but it’s certainly eye-catchingly beautiful. It has a lot of detail and the slightly in-human look matches well with the hauntingly eerie vibe that the spaceship can give off at times and the theme of Crymachina. The models look great too. I’m certainly a fan of the character design as well, with Leben’s Sailor Moon-esque hairstyle being a highlight. The environments do look good, but as mentioned, some do come off as generic-looking. As a bonus, a very basic photo mode is included.
In terms of performance, I had no issues. This was playing on a PlayStation 5, but I didn’t notice any dropped frames, slow down, or anything of that nature.
In terms of audio, haunting is again an apt way to describe it at times. Some of the vocal tracks used as background music wouldn’t be out of place in a slow horror movie. It stands out even more than the art style does, which says something as music doesn’t often catch my attention.
The voice acting is only in Japanese. Each performance fits the character well. Leben’s disdain for humanity, Enoa’s moments of emotional growth, Mikoto’s tough personality, and Ami’s gentle nature all come through well here. Whilst Enoa is the standout performance, I was impressed by Mikoto’s voice actress throwing out frequent movie quotes in English like “a bit of the old ultraviolence” with clear pronunciation.
With an emotional sci-fi adventure plot, a great dynamic between the characters, and fun hack-and-slash gameplay, Crymachina has a lot to offer. There are a few areas that let it down, but it’s still certainly worth the buy.
CRYMACHINA IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Reef Entertainment for a PlayStation 5 review code for this title.
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A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.