Level 5 has gone out on a limb to help develop and publish a handful of smaller titles for the 3DS; a few that are quite different from the norm. One of those games is Crimson Shroud, a role-playing game for 3DS. However, it’s not the type of RPG you may have become accustomed to. It does have turn-based battles, yes, but this game is presented in a slightly different way. Basically, your characters are like miniatures that would be used in a table-top RPG, and they move around areas similar to what you would see in a table-top RPG. Read on to find out if this strange digital experiment fused together properly for maximum critical entertainment.
System: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Level 5
Developer: Nex Entertainment, Level 5
Release Date: Dec. 13th, 2012
ESRB: T for Teen
The basic premise of Crimson Shroud is that your group of adventurers must find an object for one of the game’s factions. The relationships between the factions of the game is slowly revealed throughout the game via beautifully hand-drawn cutscenes. There are some interesting conflicts of interest for certain characters, and the plot is developed on a regular basis to keep momentum. There are a few surprises along the way, and multiple endings might have you coming back for a second crawl in the dungeon.
The opening of the game contains the foundation of the story, and accompanying it is some fantastic music. The bulk of this work contains the sound of violins, harps, and a few wind instruments. There isn’t much animation in this game, so it relies heavily on verbal descriptions and the music to create an atmosphere. The music is moving, engrossing, and to put it bluntly, it’s probably the single best element here. It’s no surprise, however, considering that Hitoshi Sakimoto is the one laying down the notes. His work in video games spans decades and includes Valkyria Chronicles, Radiant Silvergun, Vagrant Story, Gradius V, and dozens more. Though the music is noticeably (and arguably) the best part of this package, it doesn’t mean that the sum doesn’t add up to something great as well.
This game is like an RPG and a book fused together. Characters will speak to each other like they do in a typical RPG, but there’s also a stronger focus on detailing their thoughts and reactions through text. Descriptions of areas and of the characters’ current well being helps us to feel as though we’re in that world, and that it’s alive. While in a game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I can see snow and water on the ground, and I pass through spider webs as though they almost aren’t there, Crimson Shroud gives descriptions of these types of things. Was that spider web I just passed through sticky? I didn’t really think about that. Was the water I just stepped in cold? I don’t know, and my character didn’t seem to react to it. In Crimson Shroud, I know that the water my characters are stepping in is cold, because the game called my attention to it. The writing and localization is well above average, here.
Battles are infrequent, and often you should be prepared for a long, grueling fight to the death. Aside from basic attacks, your actions usually have an element attached to them. By not reusing an element, and by avoiding the use of an element that “beats” the previous one, you can keep a combo going that adds bonuses to your attacks, and also gives you die. For each time you keep your combo going, you’ll receive an even better die. These die can increase the effectiveness of an attack or spell (including healing spells), or increase accuracy, making them quite useful. The game constantly keeps you weighing the benefits of continuing combos, or using a desperately needed spell or skill. Although it’s just an added touch, rolling the dice around with the stylus has a nice feel to it. You can flick the dice and watch as they realistically bounce around and come to rest.
I really enjoyed the game as a whole, but there was one element that wasn’t as consistent as I wanted it to be. The visual presentation is sometimes underwhelming. The game could probably get away with looking great with the current polygon count it has, but the textures are, at times, very blurry. Considering the pedigree of the team, I would think that perhaps there was simply a lack of time, or that the engine that they’re working with didn’t allow for greater visual clarity. It’s too bad though, because it’s the one part of the package that, at times, feels a bit out of place. Considering some of the things that I’ve seen on the 3DS, and the fact that there really aren’t that many areas in this game to begin with, I expected more.
There is no proper way to compare gear in Crimson Shroud. After you’ve received new gear, it would be great to be able to easily compare the stats of your current and new gear. Many RPGs do this. Instead, this game simply shades stats red, blue, and neutral. Neutral is unchanged, red is lower, and blue is higher. However, how many points higher or lower are those stats? If the new armor has greater defense in one area, but lower defense in another area, how can I decide what I want to use unless I know the specific stats? You have to check everything manually, and though it’s a minor chore, it causes more confusion than it should.
As for the battle system, there are a few quibbles. It feels as though it’s just hitting its stride when ::BAM:: you’re already at the end, despite having just earned new great abilities. The “meld” system that allows you to tack on abilities to armor and weapons was also very underused. Additionally, if you happen to forget how to use the combo system, the only way to do that is to physically move your adventurers to the very beginning of the game, and there’s no indication that that is how it’s accomplished. Why isn’t there a tutorial section in the menus?
Overall, Crimson Shroud is a great success in the experiment of bringing table-top RPG elements to a standard video game RPG. It has a great pace; each room brings descriptions of the world, dialogue between characters, back story, intrigue and/or a tough battle. The combo system adds a bit more strategy to the well worn turn-based battle system that’s been around for decades. Perhaps its partially due to the type of game that it is, but Hitoshi Sakimoto’s soundtrack is one of the best that I’ve heard in a long while; it really brings Crimson Shroud’s world to life. While the textures in the visual presentation are sometimes a letdown, they shouldn’t hold you back from playing this unique gem. I’m glad that Crimson Shroud was allowed to be created. Level 5 took some of the best minds of the video game world and gave them the freedom to create something different in a small package. However, it’s too small. The game can be bested in around 10 hours, and I’m ready for more. Whether as a downloadable title, or a full retail package, here’s to hoping that Crimson Shroud gets a sequel.