Crimson Shroud Review
As great as the DS was with its masterful RPG line-up, there's been a lack of must-have JRPGs on the 3DS. I mean, there's Kingdom Hearts 3D, but that's more action RPG. What else does the system have for JRPG fans like myself?
Fire Emblem is not an RPG! It's a tactical RPG. When your game has more in common with Advance Wars or XCOM than Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest in terms of mechanics and limitations, it should not be filed under "RPG" as its primary genre. Next:
That doesn't count, it's just Guardian Heroes with more X chromosones and less clothing! Then again it's better than the actual sequel to Guardian Heroes...
Ugh. So where was I? Oh yes, JRPGs. Thankfully we have a new dungeon-crawling RPG candidate with Crimson Shroud. However, before we get into the title, I think it's time for some backstory.
Backstory (You Probably Don't Care About!)
Crimson Shroud is actually one game from a four-part compilation called Guild01. It was released in Japan on May 31st, 2012 as one title, while in Europe and North America, they're releasing all the titles separately as standalone games on the Nintendo eShop, with three of the four released as of now and no word on the final title. Why exactly they decided to release these games one by one here in North America, i'll never know, though if I had to guess i'd say it's because Guild01 sold poorly in Japan and selling the whole game worldwide would be too risky so they decided to cut their losses and release each game as a standalone experience one at a time. The sales figures seem to support this as it only sold about 40,000 copies in Japan, which makes me wonder why they decided to announce a sequel a week before the game was even launched in Japan. Anyway, each of the titles is a collaboration between Level 5 and a revered Japanese developer. For example, Liberation Maiden is designed by Suda51, the insane mind behind No More Heroes and Killer 7. As for Crimson Shroud, Level 5 designed it internally while collaborating with Yasumi Matsuno. Who is Yasumi Matsuno you may ask? Oh, he's only responsible for Final Fantasy Tactics, several of the Ogre Battle titles and Vagrant Story!
Ok, having Level 5 on board already set the standards really high for this RPG, but now you have Yasumi Mitsuno too? Well, let's see if Crimson Shroud shines as bright as it all-star cast.
The story is told like you're in a game of Dungeons and Dragons, with the dungeon master detailing the world. That's what I would say if I knew any more about Dungeons and Dragons or if the game actually had any depth to its plot. It's not immersive in the slightest, nor is it very interesting. It's just, there, with a ton of text to boot. There's some sort of search for the Crimson Shroud which involves magic, but the magic existence plot point doesn't really go anywhere except it was here or.. something. For a game with so much dialogue, it's surprising how little you actually get out of the plot besides "do this because shut up you're a knight who was sent to do this" and it isn't helped by it being narrated by someone else. Now I can put up with reading a ton of text, heck I enjoy it so long as the writing is interesting, but I can't stand a narrator that just takes out any connection you have to these characters and just details the most meaningless things. I can only think of maybe one game that worked with a narrator and even then I think it would've been better off without it.
I mean, do you think this review would be better with a narrator?
Level-5 has a team of talented writers, they've proven they can tell a good story, as anyone who's played Dragon Quest 8 or any of the Professor Layton games will tell you. However they've also shown a lack of attention to story in favour of other aspects as seen with Dragon Quest 9's multiplayer and White Knight Chronicle's... mediocrity. Crimson Shroud does not live up to their high standards of plot and character development nor those of Vagrant Story. The world isn't engaging, the characters are bland and the motivation is at best, vague. It fails to, you know, motivate you! I think the best way to summarize the issue is show don't tell! Don't tell us someone's face cringed in fear, show the fear on their face instead of making them a still, lifeless character stand! Underneath this there might have been an interesting tale to be told but ultimately, it's dragged down by its awful choice of how it executes said story. I know that this is how it's done in a table-top RPG, with the dungeon master telling the story but tradition is one thing, quality is another. We'll get into more into that later but for now, let's see what makes this table top RPG so special.
As just stated Crimson Shroud is a table top RPG that takes things back. Way back to the dungeon crawling write your stats on paper RPG. But unlike a lot of classic RPGs based off of this foundation, Crimson Shroud has an incredibly deep combat system that's fun to experiment and a great challenge to utilise to its full potential. Dice rolls are featured prominently throughout the game. I mean, they're on the title screen.
Die are rolled to determine encounters, fog of war, bonus damage, skills, just about everything in battle revolves around rolling the dice in one way or another and you can earn more dice to power up by performing combos. It's a great way to encourage the usage of dice instead of hoarding the best, though you'll want to keep a few twenty-siders for some of the more challenging boss fights later on. The random nature of the dice is the key defining aspect of Crimson Shroud, it's what keeps the game interesting and from even getting slightly stagnant. Crimson Shroud also does away with tedious level grinding of old by making stats based on equipment bonuses instead of levelling up. In reality, all it's doing is trading one tedious grinding for a new slightly less tedious grinding. Instead of constantly looking for monsters to get you coin and copper, you'll be constantly grinding room to room for better gear and items to combine them with to make even better gear. That being said, the game rewards more skilled players with more points for a more strategic encounter which allows them to choose more of the spoils, though I can see some people seeing it as yet another of the many restrictions this game places on you. It's better than getting an S rank or a ranking that only shows you that you did good rather than reward the player for doing good like other games choose to, it feels much more rewarding than just sticking a letter on what you've accomplished and gives you an incentive to improve your strategy beyond choose attack, magic and heal. The random nature of the table top design combine with the even more random nature of the die you roll always keeps the battles intense, for better or worse. So does a rather dumb design choice: When you move from one area to another you lose Magic Points. Why? Because the game didn't feel like it was challenging enough, I guess. That or they explained it briefly but you couldn't be bothered by the narrative. Point is it makes no sense and it punishes you for exploring the dungeons, as in the main idea in a table top RPG! If it was food like, say, the Ultima games, that would be understandable, but as it stands, there's no reason for it. Speaking of table top, I have to ask: Level 5, how dumb do you think we are that we can't figure out if that's a 9 or a six on a six-sided die? Do you have to dot mark those too? Oh and as for minor mistakes and nitpicks, for a game with such deep strategic mechanics, it's mind boggling that they give you the option to hit yourself or your allies with your own attacks and magic attacks. Just... why? Healing or support option? Makes sense. Attacking? Just... why? You never have to hit yourself or anyone else to knock some sense into them throughout the entire game so why include it, it's just asking for trouble if someone's not paying attention. Also, it should have been mentioned when the story was discussed, but the word font is eye-straining, they should have had either a back-drop or a better outline choice. Also, one final complaint, and this one really started to bother me, why did they decide to do this follow the line stat idea on the top screen? Not only does the touch screen display stats and bonuses just fine but it makes the screen look more cluttered to look at.
Crimson Shroud walks a fine line between frustrating and fun. It's not the kind of game that will hold your hand to the end but instead pushes you into a pit with a hungry lion with little to no preparation. There's this addictive nature to adventuring that it captures from the good ol' fashioned dungeon crawlers RPGS. Unfortunately, it also nets in several of the gripes that a lot of Japanese RPGs should have abandoned a long time before Western RPGs began to not only equal them, but in many respects, surpass them.
Finally, the presentation, which like the rest of the package, has its highs and lows. Just looking at it you can probably guess what my first problem is: the graphics are merely existent. That's the nicest one can say for them. There's some neat touches like the Level 5 logo at the bottom that makes it seem like they're actual marketed action figures. However, that's the major issue with the presentation. It's stiff, it's boring to look at, it doesn't wow you with fluent animation or good framerate when in motion (although the framerate never buckled when I played), it doesn't even look very good standing still! It's basically just a bunch of still frames. Give Vagrant Story some credit: It moved. And for the time it looked pretty solid for a Playstation title. By today's standards, Crimson Shroud isn't just lazy, it's laughable, it's almost too pitiful to complain about that it saddens me. Look, I get what they were going for. It's supposed to be like you're experiencing a round of Dungeons and Dragons with action figures, I get why it looks so simple and motionless. I gave it a chance. I really wanted to like the aesthetic more than I did. But at the end of the day, it just felt lazy and unimpressive from a technical standpoint. If a game is going for a certain style, at the very least its aesthetics design should match its proficiency given the systems capabilities. I'm not saying I need every game to be a graphical masterpiece, but this game does not even give you the slightest impression from the visuals. Even in motion I doubt Crimson Shroud would be some eye-catching technological breakthrough for the 3DS given the bland and low-quality environments there are to see but at least there would be more to look at than action figures I made when I was five. And that's a shame because the character art looks really well done, it reminds me of the classic Yoshitaka Amano and Akihiko Yoshida's work on a lot of Square's earlier titles.
Character models are serviceable at the very least but environments are incredibly grey and completely forgettable. What does make up for this much-less-than eye pleasing part is the music. Oh me my may, the soundtrack is beautifully composed. It's downright magnificent, right down to every single note. With all the talk of magic in the game, there's no better word to describe the music than purely magical, it's an enchanting sound that offsets any negatives I have about the presentation. On the whole, Crimson Shroud is flawed but an impressive compilation piece to say the least.
Crimson Shroud is going to be one of those love it-or-hate-it titles for the 3DS eShop. And yet, somehow I find the nerve to say i'm in the middle. On one hand, the old school approach could have been handled better what with the tedious hours of grinding, the uphill difficulty and the downright terrible narrative. On the other hand, it has some incredibly deep and intelligent strategy design for combat that rewards you as you improve and tweak your approach to battles. Nevertheless, Crimson Shroud earns its score of seven out of ten. It's not the must-have RPG for the 3DS that i'm still hoping for but, and I hate using this as a compliment, you could do worse for RPGs on the 3DS than Crimson Shroud. Until next time, game on my friends!
Final Verdict: 7/10