Crystalis Week: The Miyazaki Connection

Crystalis gets ideas from many sources, but it most blatantly plunders Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky. That’s OK, since about half of the video games made in the early 1990s owe some inspiration to Hayao Miyazaki’s films. It’s easy to see where Crystalis found its post-apocalyptic jungles, its giant floating tower of destruction, and even the windy village in which the hero awakens.

There’s a long-running rumor about several games based on Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, that cherished post-apocalyptic epic about a princess befriending giant insects. As the rumor goes, these Nausicaä games, released in the mid-1980s, let the player shoot the benevolent bugs. This enraged Miyazaki so much that he despised all video games henceforth and refused to let any of his future films be tarnished by such adaptations. Not even Castle in the Sky, which is practically a video game already.

Well, that rumor probably isn’t true. The part about the Nausicaä video games was debunked by Hardcore Gaming 101’s John Szczepaniak, who documented the ‘80s Nausicaä titles and found no evidence of bug-slaying. Perhaps Hayao Miyazaki disliked the games for other reasons, but I think a blunter explanation can be had: Miyazaki doesn’t let his films become video games because video games are a product of this dissolute modern era, just like smartphones, the Iraq war, and children who have never seen a fish gutted before them at the marketplace.

But there’s another game where the player kills insects straight out of Nausicaä. That game is Crystalis.

One subplot in Crystalis has the player trekking through a swamp in search of a lost child from a village of dwarves who all look more like rabbits. The toxic, bug-infested jungle is pure Nausicaä, and at its end the player summons and fights a boss. It’s a multi-eyed creature resembling the Ohmu, the misunderstood giant insects at the center of Nausicaa’s story. The Ohmu aren’t entirely nice, as they apparently destroy cities of civilians once provoked, but both the manga and anime maintain that the creatures are ultimately compassionate and intelligent.

The Crystalis version of the Ohmu is just a monster, though, so the player kills it, saves the dwarf village, and gets a new magical doodad with the Ball of Fire. If Miyazaki ever saw this, he sure wouldn’t like it. He might find it an insult to life itself.

One doesn’t even need to play Crystalis to see that the game features such a blatant facsimile of those gentle Nausicaä doodlebugs. A shot of the swamp boss sits clearly on the back of the box.

In fairness, Crystalis does more with its pilfered tower. The floating fortress of Castle in the Sky is an ancient superweapon and a giant tree, and the heroes must both destroy it and rescue it from conniving villains. The tower in Crystalis meets a similar fate, but it’s a more recent creation, deliberately built by apocalypse survivors to stand in judgment over the human race. It’s ultimately just another vagrant superweapon too powerful to exist, though, and it’s a shame that Crystalis doesn’t give its heroes the chance to preserve the tower…or let it wipe out all civilization. RPGs have gone to darker places, after all.

Plenty of games have Ghibli references, but they’re normally less violent and with less obvious imitations. For example, you’ll see an aptly pacifist Nausicaä tribute in Mr. Gimmick, a Sunsoft action game that’s charming, highly inventive, and so hard it’s no fun whatsoever to actually play. In the third stage Gimmick meets up with flying bugs in a Nausicaä-esque crystal cavern, but the bugs don’t attack him. They just flit by overhead.

On the other hand, Mr. Gimmick turns the adorable star of Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro into an enemy. That’s more disturbing than anything Crystalis does.

1 comment:

  1. ArnoldRimmer838:15 PM

    Funny you say in the alt text that the Totoro looking guy in Gimmick feels like he should be a boss. It seems like originally he was supposed to be, since he does appear alongside the other bosses in the intro as one of the girl’s dolls come to life. The actual boss of the third stage, that snail-like creature, isn’t even in the intro at all. Guess something got shuffled around at some point in development.