One of the more surprising Atlus pick ups this year is Crimson Gem Saga. The sprite based PSP RPG stars Killian, a hardheaded soldier stuck in second place, and Spinel, a sly thief who is anything but modest. Ironnos developed the game as a sequel to Astonishia Story in Korea, but Atlus explains the two games are very different and field a question about elves in bikinis.
How did Atlus hook up with SK Telecom and Ironnos to get the rights to Crimson Gem Saga?
Aram Jabbari, Manager of PR and Sales: Crimson Gem Saga was a title that caught our eye, what with its lush visual design, smooth animations, solid game design, and satisfying RPG gameplay. We’re thrilled to be able to work with SK Telecom and Ironnos to bring it to North America.
Can you set up the story?
Devin Curry, Editor: The story centers around Killian von Rohcoff, a young man who’s just graduated second in his class from a prestigious military academy. It seems like Killian is always runner-up, always a bridesmaid and never a bride… you get the idea. With no plans or prospects, Killian ponders his immediate future. Fortunately, the academy’s headmaster takes pity and gives him a letter of recommendation to join the elite Excelsior Force.
On his way to meet the mercenaries, Killian encounters the beautiful elf Spinel, a thief and self-proclaimed treasure hunter, and his life will never be the same again…
Why are people fighting over the Crimson Gem?
Clayton S. Chan, Project Lead: It’s old and ancient, so naturally people want it. But it’s so old and so long forgotten that people don’t actually realize what it is anymore. There are rumors of some kind of object of power, but very few people know what power it holds, or why it’s got that power.
How is Crimson Gem Saga connected to Astonishia Story?
CC: The way the two games connect is a bit unusual, that’s probably why the name’s changed. If they were to have just called this Astonishia Story 2, I think people would have been very confused by the first couple chapters of the game. The easiest way to describe this is that new characters will encounter some of the characters from the first game, and everyone will get swept up into events that began in Astonishia Story.
OK, so how is Crimson Gem Saga totally not like Astonishia Story?
CC: The battle system in Astonishia Story was more of a strategy RPG, a la Arc The Lad: Twilight of Spirits. This is more of a traditional RPG, so it’s much easier for standard RPG fans to grasp. That’s the biggest gameplay reason Crimson Gem Saga is totally not like Astonishia Story.
AJ: With all due respect to Astonishia Story, it simply cannot compare to Crimson Gem Saga in terms of visual fidelity, animation quality, and overall artistic design. The character sprites and world detail in CGS are dripping with style, lending the game a vibrant, comfortable atmosphere. This is all complimented wonderfully by the sensational dialogue provided by our localization team. I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who could play both games and say they’re in any way comparable.
Is Atlus’ translation of Crimson Gem Saga different from the English one in Asia? Did you use the same voice actors?
Richard Rodrigues, QA Lead: Well for starters, the English translation that was done for Asia didn’t have English voice actors, so we definitely didn’t use the same ones.
There are few common threads between the two translations; the Atlus localization is brand new. As is often the case with overseas translations, the English translation for the Asian version included more grammar and spelling mistakes than native speakers here in the States would be comfortable with, in addition to some odd usage of slang which were edited out.
So, basically our editors came along and Atlus’ed it up, and the difference is really worlds apart.
There are so many different translations of Crimson Gem Saga. Did you get a chance to see all of them? Which one was yours based on?
CC: It was loosely based on the Asian version. About as much as a “based on a true story” movie is actually based on a true story.
DC: One of the nice perks was that Clayton and I got to play the game in English (or at least an English-like language) and get a feel for the characters and story before beginning the editing process. This definitely came in handy later on whenever we needed to refer back to something. Also, it was awesome to get paid to play the game at work; as editors, that sort of thing is not usually in our job description.
CC: Just to clarify a bit, usually, our translation/editing process involves the translators playing through the game, and then the editors have a lot of running back and forth to do whenever they have a question. This time, we were both clear on most of what was happening. (Though some of the stuff in the Asian version was kind of unclear.)
Did Ironnos give you any guidelines about how to localize the story or adapt the world?
CC: I don’t think they were quite aware of how…unorthodox the translation of the game script in the Asian version was. I don’t think they expected us to really have that many questions because it was in English, so they didn’t give us a whole lot of guidelines. We kept the story intact, while making sure we did our best to make the characters come to life here as they were intended to do in Korea.
There was actually one pretty hilarious moment when we were having trouble understanding a particular plot point, and I guess our contact figured that the easiest way to explain everything would be to draw a picture rather than try and express it in text. I get this email that basically says, “This picture should answer your questions.”, and it’s this image that looks like someone drew in MS Paint. It completely made sense after seeing the drawing, but it also made me bust out laughing.
I hear Atlus improved Crimson Gem Saga over the other versions. Can you tell us more?
CC: Typically, we don’t really have a lot of opportunity as a localization company to change a lot of system-related functionality. But we do still try and make changes in the localization process that we feel will improve the overall experience.
For example, when we first received the voice script from the developer early in the localization process, we realized that there wasn’t a whole lot of voice in the game. Generally in America, when you hire a voice actor they come in for fixed blocks of time. You’re going to be getting charged for an hour if they record 3 lines in that hour, or if they record 150 lines in that hour. So we asked the folks at Ironnos if they’d be ok with me adding some extra voice work to the game, since it made sense to use all the time we were paying for. They agreed with my suggestion, and I think gamers, especially people like you who have played one of the other versions, will find that the end result is that we’ve provided you with an improved product.
Additionally, we really tried to make the world come alive through the editing process. One thing that is apparent going through the Asian version of the game is that while there is an ominous impending threat, the NPC dialogue tries to make fun of itself and RPG conventions in general. The humor didn’t really shine through all that well, so we made sure that it did. If you like the tone of what you’re seeing in the screenshots we’ve released so far, I imagine that you’re going to find this to be one of the funniest games on the PSP. (Interact with as many objects and NPC as you can!)
How does the battle system work?
RR: At its core, it’s turn-based. Before entering any battle, you’ll want to have your formation set, which allows for any combination of four party members and grants the front character an increase in attack and decrease in defense while doing vice versa for the back character. When you’re about to trigger a battle, you’re going to want to know about the ambush system. Simply put, it’s a high-damage bonus attack that can start off a battle, and you can either be the one to deliver it or receive it. When an enemy spots you in the field, an exclamation point will appear above its head. After a few seconds, the exclamation point will disappear and the monster will charge you. If you sneak up on an enemy from behind before the “!” ever appears, you’ll score an ambush. If the battle starts after the enemy charges you, then it’ll likely get an ambush (but not necessary). If you contact the enemy while the “!” is still there, then no ambush for either of you. This adds a great deal of strategy before you even get into a fight, as the ambush bonus can often make the difference between an easy victory and a hard-fought skirmish.
Once in battle, you have the following options: Attack, Skill, Item, Defend, or Escape. Attack allows you to go for a physical hit with your equipped weapon on a single enemy. This typically does pretty low damage when compared to your skills. However if you score a critical hit, you might have the chance to go for a Critical Combo by hitting the X button when an on-screen prompt appears (it only lasts for a brief fraction of a second). That’ll score you an extra hit which will do even more damage than the first, as well as the chance to continue your combo should you score a another critical. A three-hit Critical Combo is usually enough to finish off any enemy—save for bosses—even at full health.
Skills are what you have to spend MP on, and they include your typical means of doing massive damage, as well as actions like healing/resurrecting, stat buffs/de-buffs, and status inflictions/curing. With the exception of doing massive damage, all of those things can also be done through items, which are useful for when you’re running low on MP, or haven’t learned certain skills yet. Defend can be really useful, not so much for its damage-reduction aspect, but because it’s your only means of changing up the turn order (outside of dying and resurrecting, that is). And the reason you’ll want to change up the turn order is to setup your Combination Skills, ultra powerful attacks/support skills done by multiple party members (they must appear next to each other in the turn order to use and utilizing MP from all those involved).
Escape should be pretty self-explanatory, but I guess I can tell you that you’ll randomly have either a one in three or one in two chance of succeeding, and if you fail, the only consequence is the wasted turn.
Your typical enemies are limited to the Attack and Skill options, and most only have a few different skills. Bosses, of course, tend to have some more unique abilities. Also, while enemies can score Critical Combos, they lack the ability to work nicely as a team and as such have no Combination Skills.
Some other random notes about battles that tend to differ RPG-to-RPG: elemental weaknesses and strengths do come into play, your speed stat only affects the initial turn order (so in other words, quicker characters aren’t going to be getting more turns in battle), there’s no limit on how many items you can bring into battle, there’s all sorts of equipment that grants cool battle bonuses, you only have access to the very slightest knowledge of enemy stats (and even that’s only after obtaining a certain item), attacks can hit either a single enemy or all of them, and oh, a personal favorite of mine: there are no misses.
Along time ago I played the Korean demo which was brutal. As soon as a monster spotted me I was dead and they run fast! Is the US version just as hard?
RR: This brings us back to the whole ambush system. In the original version of the game, getting ambushed could often mean you were dead before you even had a chance to act in battle. The game can seem hard at times, but really, you just need make sure you’ve picked up all the nuances of the battle system, and you need to know when to suck it up and grind when you’re in an area you’re too weak to take on. With that in mind, most players shouldn’t have too difficult a time clearing the game.
CC: We actually downloaded the same demo you played. I played through it while Devin was at the same basic point in the full game, and he was a much higher level than the player was with the demo version, and he hadn’t really been grinding or anything, so it did seem as though there could have been more favorable balance for the player. I will say this on the matter of ambushes: if you’re in an area where the monsters are higher level than you, you’ve got to make a quick decision. Either you bolt for an exit to get out of harm’s way, or you bolt for the enemy so you can tag it before the “!” disappears. Learning this will be key to reducing the number of times you get one-shotted. I’m sure you’ll also find being able to save anywhere is a much appreciated feature of this game.
Are we going to see a Crimson Gem Saga demo in the US?
AJ: It is something we explored, considering the availability of a demo in the game’s original region. We felt—and the original demo reinforced this—that a short snippet of gameplay failed to do the game justice, and didn’t effectively convey the play experience to interested gamers. It seemed akin to trying to sell someone on a novel by giving them a very small excerpt from the middle. Consequently, we opted not to pursue a demo for the North American release.
What’s up with female elves and thieves fighting monsters in bikinis? Wouldn’t armor be useful?
CC: I don’t know what you’re talking about. Elves have always gone into battle dressed that way. Since there are no elves among us today, our entire known history of elves goes back to the ancient tomes of Gygax. These works clearly show that when elves roamed the Earth, their women knew but one manner of dress when going into battle: minimal. So it’s clear that the good people at Ironnos and SK Telecom are simply striving to be as historically accurate as possible. Now, your second point, that armor would have proven useful, could have merit. Neanderthals didn’t have much in the way of armor either, and as we know, both they and elves find themselves currently extinct.
As far as female thieves, all you need to do is familiarize yourself with Dave Barry’s theory on L.I.B.F, and that should answer any questions you have on the subject.
RR: Armor would certainly be useful to defend against a solid hit, but I’d just like to see you try and score a clean hit on an elf who bounces around in nothing but a bikini the way Spinel does. Sometimes, the best defense is crippling your opponent’s ability to focus on offense.
This year it looks like Atlus is going beyond Japan for games with titles like Trackmania DS (Europe), NeoSteam, and Crimson Gem Saga (Korea). Is Atlus expanding their global reach?
Clayton: We’re always looking for quality titles, no matter where they originate from. I guess just based on the fact that we’ve published games from all these regions that were new for us you could say that, yes, Atlus is expanding its global reach. I think we can all agree that this is…
*rubs hands together*