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Killian, the proud protagonist in Crimson Gem Saga, can’t catch a break. He rolls out of bed late, sneaks into his academy graduation, and finds out he’s just salutatorian. Disappointed, he takes a gig as part of the Excelsior Force and winds up collecting dusty old stones against his will.

 

At the beginning, Killian’s headstrong stab first ask questions later antics can’t move the story. If Crimson Gem Saga was only about Killian you would spend hours rising the Excelsior Force ranks. Spinel, a mischievous treasure hunter, keeps the story rolling. The two meet when Spinel is confronted by past “partners” she left for dead. Desperate for help, Spinel acts like a damsel in distress and Killian rushes to her aid. She returns the favor by stealing his wallet.

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Crimson Gem Saga has a turn based battle system. Picking fight to strike does little damage unless you’re lucky. Score a critical hit and “X” flashes on the bottom of the screen. You have a second (maybe less?) to hit X and follow up with a second strike. Now, if you’re *really* lucky and the second attack is also a critical hit, you can do a devastating follow up attack by hitting X again. Aside from being alert to hit X, this system is mostly based on chance.

 

To avoid the randomness and deal a decent amount of damage you have to use MP consuming skills. Killian starts the game with Justice Blade, a stronger hit. It’s good for killing the mosquitos you meet early on, but not useful when facing a group of slimes. Cross Blade is the skill you want. This attack hits every enemy… twice. It’s an expensive skill to use, but Crimson Gem Saga refills your HP and MP whenever you gain a level. For the first few levels I mainly used skills. Battles move much faster when starting the fight with Cross Blade and finishing up crippled enemies with Spinel’s Shadow Strike or Henson’s magic. Otherwise you end up in poking matches where the enemies barely scratch you (if you’re wearing the best armor) and still take three or four hits each to kill. Henson, the party’s whiny mage, has to use magic every round. His attacks are worthless.

 

At the end of each battle you’re rewarded with experience, items (plenty of potions!), and skill points (SP). Crimson Gem Saga puts all of your available SP in a common pool. You can spend all of the points on unlocking skills for Spinel, if you want to.

 

Before you can learn anything you have to reveal skills first. Crimson Gem Saga has an odd system where all of the skills are initially hidden behind question marks. You have to use SP to find out what they are. After you reveal a skill you have to spend more SP to learn it. Perhaps, Ironnos wanted players to develop their heroes blindly. That’s not my style. I like to plan my characters. To counter the system I revealed as many skills as I could, filled in a skill tree on a sheet of paper, and then reset the game. Fortunately, Crimson Gem Saga lets players save and load the game anytime. An archaic system, but this way I didn’t waste any skill points.

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I wasn’t crazy about sneaking around monsters when I played the demo, but I like doing it a lot in the full game. None of the fights are random and stealth another element not often found in RPGs. Goblins act like patrolling sentries. Wait for them to turn their backs and you can run past them or tackle them to start a battle with an all out attack. If you’re spotted a “!” appears over the monster’s head. Very Metal Gear Solid. Now you have a choice: sprint for the exit or face the enemy by running into it. The monster freezes in place for a few seconds, which gives players a little time to make a decision. If an alert monster gets the jump on you it strikes the entire party for some serious damage. This usually meant three of your party members were instantly killed in the Korea-only demo. Crimson Gem Saga isn’t that unfair. You can survive a surprise attack.

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