Created in 2008 by a company named Lillian whom I have no knowledge of, Twinkle Crusaders is a school romance (with some elements of fantasy shonen) Visual Novel with high production values and a turn-based tactical battle mini-game.
Being a Visual Novel, I guess I should write something about the story, but for this game particularly I really don’t care that much so I’m going to steal the plot synopsis from VNDB.
“Sakura Synn is a hard-luck high school student. One day, he becomes student council president of Ryuusei Academy, a position which he thought is given free meals from the cafeteria, as he has been raised in a poor family and is in need of money.. But his job as president includes getting rid of mazoku (denizens of hell) that appear in his town as well. Also, he is informed that his father was the former Maou (king of demons) and he is supposed to succeed to his position. He has to fight against mazoku as the president but he is the Maou. Well, will he be able to keep it a secret and enjoy his school life?”
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, the real draw of the game, at least to me, happens to be the battle system. There are a lot of non-gameplay focused VNs where the creators add in “gameplay elements” in order to counter the tedium that can result from just reading text constantly, but Twinkle Crusaders is different because the gameplay is actually good instead of being a giant time-waster. (cough Koihime Musou cough)
If I had to compare Twinkle Crusader’s system to another game, the closest is probably Grandia’s battle system or perhaps what will result if one were to attempt to create a turn-based fighting game. Characters appear on “timeline” bar (like Grandia’s IP bar) and when they reach the “ACT” line at the left, they are able to perform one of the three actions.
1) Attack – Duh.
2) Charge – Delays their turn in order to temporarily raise their level for their next action (essentially a short turn power boost)
3) Unison – Delays the user’s turn until the next teammate, where they will team-up to perform a combo attack.
Being attacked causes the victim to be “pushed” back on the timeline, and thus there is a basic balancing act on how much you should charge up and how much you should go on the offensive. If you never build up power at all, you will usually find yourself not being able to break through tough enemies. On the other hand, having too many characters focused on powering up generally means the enemy will wreck all your plans and then proceed with his own.
That’s not all, though! Just about every action whether it’s attacking or getting attacked builds up the EX Gauge, which works like a Super Meter in most fighting games. After an attack, there is a “timing” system (think Super Mario RPG) where pressing certain buttons in time will expend meter from the Gauge to use a character’s EX move, which range from many effects like AOE, knockback, status effects, healing or barrier effects. Building a team of characters with moves that synergize with each other or just dealing with whatever random characters you’re dealt with is part of the fun of this game.
There are many other elements to the battle system, such as an Element weakness/strength chain, stun gauge (think dizzying in Fighting Games) and Rumbles, which occur when player and enemy forces reach the ACT line at the same time and thus a conflict in turn order occurs which is resolved by comparing levels and elements.
As such, the system happens to be simple to learn (you take at most only 2 actions max on a character’s turn) and yet hard to master (but which of those actions are the best at the moment?)
The creators evidently knew they had a hit on their hands, because starting from the 2nd game onwards, each Twinkle Crusaders game has a separate “sandbox Battle System” mode where you can play around and create your own battles outside of the confines of the story.
And to top it off, they even managed to include cross-over characters from other games and anime, including some rather famous ones such as Rin (Fate/Stay Night) or Shana (Shakugan no Shana)! Even if you don’t know anything about the original characters (or Japanese for that matter), that might be enough to drag some of you people in.
Now, here’s the annoying part: There isn’t a singular “best” version of the game available. Each release has something unique to them and I’ll try to summarize the differences between them.
1) Twinkle Crusaders (PC) – The original game on the PC. Probably a little primitive by now (least amount of characters and only 1 EX Move for each character), and if you don’t care about H-Scenes I would pass this version up.
2) Twinkle Crusaders GoGo! (PSP) – Upgraded PSP port of the first game. This one has the biggest improvements changes in the battle system and a lot of added content, such as additional heroines and playable characters.
This is also the only version of the game with Anime-crossover characters (such as Shana or Taiga (Toradora)) and also the only version of the game with multiplayer support, though the chances of you finding someone else with the game to play with is… uncommon. My suggested version if you’re squeamish about sexual content, want portability or really want to see the Anime cross-over characters in action.
3) Twinkle Crusaders Passion Star Stream (PC) – Fandisk “Sequel” of the first game. Contains a main sequel story continution and several sidestories. Lots more playable characters added to the system, but unfortunately the Anime cross-over characters are removed. However, in their place, several other Visual Novels cross-over characters have been introduced, such as Tsubame from Majikoi. Suggested if you only care about the gameplay or if you’re a huge fan of the VN cross-over characters.
The “Sandbox Battle System” mode called “Starlit Brave” is only available with the Deluxe edition of the last two games, so if you want to buy it, be sure to get those versions!
My suggestion would be to get either one of 1/2 and then 3 for the full experience. If you only care about the latest version of the gameplay system, then just 3.
Twinkle Crusaders is a bit overshadowed due to the titans of Alicesoft and Eushully’s games such as the Rance series, but I hope I did my part in getting the word of this gem out to all those who would be interested. It’s not deep, thought-provoking or life-changing, but some light-hearted flash fun never hurt anyone.