When people think RPG they think big long epic quests and huge 50 to 60 hour adventures. To be fair, this is what RPGs have often been promoted as. Often the length of a game was touted as a feature on the back of the box: this game will take you 90 hours to complete, there is just so much packed in it, you’ll never play another game as big or as long or as epic as this. That can all get a bit much at times. If every game you play is a 50+ hour odyssey you don’t get a lot of time to play anything else. Don’t get me wrong, I love big meaty long RPGs like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest or the Tales games – but sometimes something a bit smaller and more bite sized is required. Instead of reading a huge three volume fantasy epic, you’d rather read a simple short story that’s just about a group of adventures on a small quest into a dungeon. So, given the bite sized RPG format, does Crimson Shroud leave you feeling satisfied or craving for a grander adventure?
Enter Crimson Shroud, designed by veteran Japanese Strategy RPG designer Yasumi Matsuno (of Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy XII fame). It was originally created as part of the Japan-only 3DS compilation Guild01, which also contained other recent eShop releases Liberation Maiden and Aero Porter. Instead of being a huge 50+ hour epic like his previous titles, Matsuno has crafted a smaller sized adventure, a tale that can be completed in less than 10 hours.
Crimson Shroud presents itself as a table top RPG, everything in the game is displayed as it would be if you were playing one in real life. The characters are all designed to look like very well crafted figurines right down to the base attached to their feet (it even has the Level 5 logo at the bottom of the base). Given that all the characters in the game are designed like this, they don’t animate at all while on screen – however that is not to say they are completely static. If one of a character performs an attack or is hit in battle, they will move or shake slightly, and if they are defeated, they will fall backwards. Also, your party will change poses between scenes and any weapons you equip will be represented on the character model. It gives Crimson Shroud a completely unique look and as the models don’t need to animate, they can go the extra few steps to make them a lot more detailed. The look can be a bit jarring at first but once you get into the game it works really well and just adds to the experience of playing a table top RPG in digital form.
As you start the game and are presented with the quick tutorial, you are placed into the roles of three Chasers as they begin searching the ruins of an ancient castle. Giauque, the leader and your main combat character, Frea, your token Mage and Lippi, your Archer, each have their own abilities and characteristics. As the game goes on, you learn more about their history and what bought all three together.
You’re not given many details at the outset of how or why your trio of merry adventurers are in these ruins. However, as the quest goes on, more of the mystery unfolds and you learn not just about the main characters but a bit about the world and its history. To keep with the table top RPG feel, all the text is presented as if it’s being written out by a dungeon master, giving intricate descriptions of the surroundings as you enter a new room or the dialogue between two characters. The fact that this is not voiced is disappointing; as I think having it read out to you would just enhance the feeling that you are actually playing a table top game. That said given it’s a small budget downloadable game, some things need to be forgiven.
Combat in the game is about as old school as you can get, it’s completely turn based with order of turns determined based on your characters speed related stats. You pick an action from your list of abilities be it magic, use an item or attack and then choose a skill after that. Each character has their own unique set of skills and magic they can choose from, with certain ones being determined by the equipment the character is currently equipped with. You’ve got your usual range of magic types, from attack spells to healing to buffs and debuffs – it’s all there. The twist in combat comes with the dice rolls as certain skills or spells in the game will require you to roll dice on the bottom of the screen for the spell to get its desired effect. Say for example you want to cast a spell on an enemy Goblin to make him less likely to hit you, you use the dice on the bottom screen either with the stylus of the Circle Pad and depending on your score you’ll either achieve the desired result or fail. You can also acquire extra dice to use to power up your attacks or make you more likely to hit and so on. It’s a neat little twist to the game and while the act of rolling the dice is something the game could do itself, it’s just a neat little touch that does so much more to add to the atmosphere to the game.
A difference from usual RPGs is that there is no levelling up, all you get from winning battles is loot such weapons, armour, various consumable items and sometimes a few key quest required items (Chapter 2 hint hint, you’ll thank me later). Weapons and Armor can be melded together with items of the same type to make stronger equipment, so if you have 2 Broadswords, you can meld them together to make a Broadsword + 1 and so on. This is how progressions in the game is carried out so if you choose to, you can grind to your heart’s content to get stronger loot which you will need in the later parts of the quest. However for the most part grinding is a non-factor in Crimson Shroud which only helps to have the game progress at a nice brisk pace and not have to slow things down just so you can get past the next boss or whatever. Also as a result of the lack of level grinding the game will progress as you wish it, if you want to hang around an area for more weapons your welcome to but you can always move forward. It’s quite a refreshing touch and just shows how forward thinking Crimson Shroud is.
There are only a few issues I can find with Crimson Shroud, the aforementioned lack of voice work for the dialogue is disappointing. With regards to length, I finished the game at around 7 hours and while there is a New Game+ and a New Game++ mode I can seem some people would be disappointed by the short length. That said I’d rather a game leave me wanting more then to over stay its welcome however Crimson Shroud does really have you wanting more. Another slight issue is with one of the chapters in the game, the goal isn’t made overly obvious to you and it is easy to miss what you need to do, I had to look up an FAQ just to figure out what had to be done.
One last issue would be the fact that it’s a very straight forward game, there isn’t anything in the way of side quests or exploration in the first play through, but this does change in the New Game + modes. In this regards Crimson Shroud sort of reminds me of The Last Story on the Wii. While The Last Story did have a few side quests and extra things to do around town, for the most part you had one main quest and that’s it, there is no real deviation it’s somewhat the same in Crimson Shroud. Also similar is that instead of telling a large epic story of a world torn asunder, it’s telling a more condensed tale. It gives you a small group of characters to get to know, some of their history and a little bit of a why they are on this adventure. It really feels like they have taken the RPG formula and streamlined it into something easier to digest.
I thoroughly enjoyed my roughly 7 hours with Crimson Shroud, it did leave me wanting more, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think there is a lot of potential in this formula, a short story format RPG, a nice quick tale you can play over a few sessions and not have the usual fatigue that can come in when playing more larger RPGs. Crimson Shroud accomplishes everything it sets out to do, it tells a fun little story & presents it in a completely unique fashion for a JRPG. I found it to be a very backwards looking yet forward thinking game. It’s an amazing homage to Table Top RPGs yet feels fresh and new, it would have been all too easy to artificially lengthen the game with excessive grinding and dungeon crawling just for the sake of it but they didn’t. I won’t lie and say I wouldn’t have minded it to be a few hours longer however I also feel like the game is exactly long as it needs to be. The ending does leave you wanting to know more, there are a few unanswered questions the story brings up and I’m hoping that even though Matsuno has left Level-5 he will still continue to work on this series and if not wherever he ends up he continues to make games in a similar style. As I said I see a lot of potential in more RPGs of this manner and with the download services like the eShop being more and more prevalent we have a great outlet for them. I would place Crimson in the top tier of 3DS eShop titles and it’s easily the best thing to come out of the Guild01 games. Don’t let it short play time fool you, it’s worth every single cent.