Review by Alexandre Trottier
Game – Crimson Shroud
Developer/Publisher – Level-5/Nex Entertainment
Version – 3DS eShop
ESRB Rating: ‘T’ – Teen
Price – $7.99
Release Date – 12/13/2012
Obtained – Purchased from the 3DS eShop
*NOTE* THIS GAME IS ON SALE UNTIL MAY 30th FOR $4.99, A PRICE I MORE THAN HIGHLY RECOMMEND YOU PURCHASE IT FOR. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS GREAT DEAL!
Crimson Shroud does a great job of replicating the fun of tabletop RPGs both aesthetically and from a gameplay standpoint, minus the calculations. Pick up a set of Crimson Shroud’s virtual dice – odds are, you’ll have a great time.
A thousand years ago, the world of Crimson Shroud was said to have been blessed with magic by God himself in the form of artifacts known as “gifts”. These gifts endowed their owners with magical powers, and soon enough people began to replicate them in order to use magic for themselves. A theologian named Natanael believed that these gifts harbored far more sinister secrets than they appeared to, and since then people have sought the first legendary gift to know for themselves, the Crimson Shroud.
The game puts you in control of Giauque, a member of the mercenary group known as Chasers, and his two companions Lippi and Frea. They have been hired to track down a monk named Andolay Cleantis, who was said to have unearthed an ancient, forbidden manuscript that could lead them to the Crimson Shroud. The game follows them in their journey through the Sun-Gilt Palace of the Rahab, which was abandoned long ago, and is now full of traps, goblins, and deep, dark secrets.
The story is incredibly well-written, and the localization is spot-on. The narrative is intriguing – mysteries galore, an excellent plot twist, and dark themes evenly sprinkled with comic relief. As with many fantasy novels, the various terms and names make it a bit difficult to follow at first, but as it unfolds everything becomes clear. The characters are well-developed, likeable, humorous at times and genuinely interesting. Crimson Shroud is about 50% gameplay and 50% story, and the latter half is definitely worth your time.
Gameplay and Controls
Because Crimson Shroud is essentially a tabletop RPG crammed inside your 3DS, it features typical RPG troupes – a variety of different stats, turn-based battles, weaknesses and resistances, and several different in-game “systems” that can affect the flow of battle such as combos and “fog of war”( which decreases accuracy for a period of time). At first, all of these different factors can be overwhelming, but as the game progresses the player familiarizes themselves with them and they will for the most part become second nature.
There is no “leveling up” in Crimson Shroud. All stats are bolstered through better equipment, which is obtained by defeating monsters, opening up treasure chests, combining pieces of equipment and imbuing them with magic to increase their various properties. As such, there is very little reason to grind in the game, and the player can focus on progressing the story.
There is one glaring example of “grinding” in the game, in the sense that you must fight a group of enemies multiple times, and it presents the only major design flaw I found in the game. If you do not want it to be spoiled, please continue to the next paragraph, but I can assure you that it will make progressing past the second chapter nearly impossible – it never explains what you need to do, and it must be completed in a very specific order. Gamers who don’t understand what to do could spend hours travelling around in circles, tearing out their hair in frustration. There is a specific item you need to obtain by battling a set of enemies in the “Geyserm Waterway” of the second chapter, and it can only be obtained under certain conditions. You must kill the enemies in the following order: Archer A, B, Mage A, B, and then Skeleton. Not only must they be killed in this order, but there is a random chance that these enemies will even appear. In some cases, you will get four archers and a skeleton, or three archers, a skeleton, and a mage. It takes time and patience to accomplish, and I cannot fathom why a game that is otherwise so concise, directed, and EXCELLENT, could make such a blunder. If you keep this in mind as you play the game, though, you won’t have any trouble and will certainly see past it and enjoy the rest of the game.
The tabletop RPG element of the gameplay comes into effect through dice. Various actions will require that you roll dice, from avoiding battles and lowering an enemy’s stat to seeing how many turns you will be vulnerable for when a group of monsters launches a surprise attack on you. The accuracy of regular attacks and skills are determined by the computer, but you have the opportunity to allocate dice to your moves in order to increase their attack power or accuracy. These dice are added to your inventory by stacking up combos – essentially, many attacks have an element associated with them, and when you use different elemental moves in succession, they form combo chains. The implementation of the dice mechanic keeps the game feeling fresh, and makes the player feel like they have more of an opportunity to push the odds in their favour(that’s Canadian for favor) than they would in a typical RPG.
Unlike other RPGs, where battles become progressively easier as you level up, the battles in Crimson Shroud will always have the player on their toes. Even a gang of goblins poses a threat to your team. Rather than mindlessly mashing buttons, this forces the player to think about each battle strategically, and put thought into each action. Although battles are time-consuming and difficult, there aren’t very many of them in the game, as it is only about 7-9 hours in length, and the player will generally know how to and be able to avoid the less important ones as they desire.
The Sun-Gilt Palace of the Rahab is navigated by moving from room to room on the overhead map on the touch-screen, and actions you take in each room are reminiscent of a choose-your-own-adventure novel, despite the fact that the story as a whole will not change as a result of your decisions. Rather, they are usually smaller decisions like whether or not you will open a chest, or if you want to try to avoid a group of enemies. Just as in tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, there is a narrator who relays the story to you in the form of on-screen text. When you’re not battling or customizing your characters’ equipment, the game feels like an interactive novel.
Gameplay-wise, Crimson Shroud is an absolute delight for RPG fans, aside from the one aforementioned design flaw. The combat is deep and engaging, with plenty of unique elements that you won’t experience in other role-playing games. Level-5 did an excellent job of conveying the feeling of playing a tabletop RPG while still preserving the foundation of a video game. Although the game is only 7-9 hours, it feels like the perfect length. The gameplay doesn’t have time to become tired and boring, and if you’re still itching for more there is a new game plus mode to delve into once the game ends that adds more rooms to explore, and a different ending.
Visuals and Sound
Not only does Crimson Shroud play like a tabletop RPG, but it looks like one, too, which makes it all the more charming. All the characters in the game are represented by unmoving figures placed in different scenes. Each figure has the word “Crimson Shroud” etched onto the front, and as you defeat enemies they will topple over, revealing a “Level-5” logo underneath. They wobble around and rotate in battle, and change visually as you alter their equipment, but the figures themselves remain unmoving. Cutscenes will occasionally feature beautiful hand-drawn sketches in the background, and the map you drag around has the appearance of a sheet of paper. Although the graphics themselves are far from being the best available on the 3DS, the aesthetics and theme are charming and consistent throughout the game.
The only faults with the visuals of the game I could find are the locations of the health/mana bars on the top screen. They’re always switching places, as the camera moves dynamically around the battlefield. This can become a bit confusing to look at, so the player is better-off looking down at the touchscreen. As well, it can be hard to tell what stat boosts an opponent might have, as text scrolls by fast and it’s cumbersome to check the battle log every time you want to know something.
The music in the game works well with what’s going on on-screen. When you’re in the middle of a battle, it is grandiose and radiates the energy and strength of your party, and when you’re exploring dark caves it becomes atmospheric – you can hear the wailing of distant enemies and the sounds of the cavern. The soundtrack is excellent, and you can even buy it (although it’s more than double the cost of the game!).
Final Score: 8 out of 10
If you manage to avoid the frustration of the second chapter, Crimson Shroud is an excellent game. The story is great, the gameplay is unique and exciting, and in 7-9 hours it doesn’t have time to tire the player out. If you want more, there’s always new game plus mode, which boasts more content and story! For eight dollars, Crimson Shroud is a great addition to any gamer’s 3DS library.
+ Great, compelling story
+ Beautiful soundtrack
+ Unique, fresh gameplay that doesn’t tire itself out
+ Charming aesthetics
+ Well-priced gaming experience
-Obtuse progression in the second chapter is incredibly frustrating if you don’t know what you’re doing
Alexandre Trottier has been playing tabletop RPGs almost all his life, though most of them were of his own design. He loves any game that involves rolling dice (and even more so if he can sneak some loaded ones into it while nobody’s looking). For some reason, nobody likes playing Monopoly with him. You can find him harassing people over at the NintendoFuse forums, or follow him on twitter @NF_Alexandre, where he hardly does anything at all. He’s also got a Tumblr (if you’re into that sort of thing).