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The Ten: Updated Wednesdays-Fridays-Sundays

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Sorta Fresh" Review: Crimson Shroud

Live by the roll of the die.
I am a sucker for RPGs- it's a love that has developed over years of flitting between games like Pokemon and Paper Mario to Final Fantasy and Xenoblade. So news of a bite-sized RPG for the 3DS certainly intrigued me- especially since the 3DS eShop doesn't really have that many quality RPGs (yeah, yeah... Denpa Men, we'll get to that soon). This isn't just some obscure developer, though. The director is Yasumi Matsuno, of Vagrant Story, Tactics Ogre, and Final Fantasy Tactics fame. In doing what he does best, the man decided to try out a minigame-sized RPG- which kind of begs the question: how DO you make a minigame-sized RPG?

Crimson Shroud is the story of three Chasers, each with their own unique abilities and assets, hired to uncover the truth about a mysterious plot that may or may not involve the eponymous Crimson Shroud. The story and pretty much the entire game plays out like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign- essentially, you choose to enter specific rooms and a text box will appear letting you know of the surroundings. You may also get the chance to elaborate on some plot points and the personae of the main characters in dialogue trees, and specific rooms will always have battles in them. The characters are fairly well-developed and the lore is very nice, there's even a couple of illustrated moments that really enhance the atmosphere. I enjoyed the light role-playing, and the several instances where the dice puns roll are a nice break in character and only add to the experience.

The game itself is pretty straightforward, which is pretty much expected- there's only one dungeon, and within, the entire story is told. Each of the three sections of this dungeon feature a boss battle, and there are plenty of mini-bosses and additional encounters to be had all around. However, you can backtrack to any of the areas you've been to before, and areas with roaming footsteps usually mean there's some important stuff going on. However, what EXACTLY is so important is the real question- and how to get whatever it is that IS important is the real challenge. The game has a knack for being a bit... obscure, in the way you're supposed to obtain rare enemy drops. Usually, the foes traipsing around the dungeon rooms with footprints will drop some valuable loot, but sometimes they need to be defeated in a certain order in-battle, or fought more than "x" amount of times. The game never really explains any of this, so it's up to you to figure out what combinations and death orders will yield the most valuable rewards. However, this mechanic is only used once later in the second part of the game, and finding a handy guide will allow you to bypass this portion quickly. The "sidequest-loot", or various chests that are locked by certain mechanisms you can only break with special item drops, are all optional. The loot within is very valuable though, so it may be in your best interest to pick it up.

The visual aesthetic of the game may be sort of low-key and simplistic, but for a minigame RPG, you can't really expect much more. The board-game style of the character models is evident throughout, down to their feet  being pasted to a cute little base. Of course, the character models don't move, and the charm of the game is watching them tell a story with only a few posed characters. The music is absolutely brilliant, however, and you can tell they put more assets into that portion rather than the graphic design. Don't get me wrong, the visuals aren't bad, and once you become accustomed to the neat aesthetics, you'll enjoy them quite a bit. But the music... if there's one thing that will get you pumped up, it's listening to the awesome tracks in this game. Really, the entire game uses variations on the same theme, but they're all so epic that you can't help but enjoy them, and become immersed in the battles.

And dear me, are the battles fun. The board-game elements come full circle as you use your three party members to fight off legions of foes, utilizing dice rolls to increase the probability of your attacks landing and boost the damage dealt. They're all rolls, of course, so even if you choose a multi-sided die, you could end up getting a mediocre result. However, you can add any amount of die to an attack, so your chance to deal more damage can be a whole lot higher. There's an elemental combo system, tons of equipment that will help or hurt you against certain enemy types, and magic and skill sets that you can use to buff your teammates, or debuff enemies. The battles can either be long, tedious affairs if you don't equip yourself correctly, or you can breeze through them- either way, it takes a careful balance of MP and skills, which are awarded to you every few battles or so and continue to stack throughout the game.

All this in addition to a neat melding/crafting system and some pretty brutal boss battles, and you'll be enjoying a story playthrough of about eight or nine hours. However, the real impressive move is that you can replay the game three additional times, in which enemies become harder and abilities and equipment become better. Where the initial playthrough could be a walkthrough of the the game's mechanics, the subsequent New Game + are much more tasking endeavors and will have you enjoying the game for many more hours.

In comparison with the other Guild01 titles, it just seems as though Crimson Shroud really surpasses them in every way- in its replayability, lengthy campaign, mechanics, and presentation. It may not be the prettiest game on the eShop, but it does what it tries to do with unique flair. It is just an extremely well-made game, and maybe it's the RPG fan in me, but I could go on all day about this title. Despite it's difficult-to-grasp chapter 2 progression point, the entire experience is just plain fun. I highly recommend picking it up- you're in for a unique treat that you don't see all that often on a digital shop.

Final Verdict: Though it may seem like an important part of the gameplay was lost in translation, Crimson Shroud delivers an addicting, engaging RPG experience that will provide a very impressive amount of playtime- even for an eShop RPG. Come for the battles and thrilling music, stay for the extended New Game + and charming dice tactics.

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