At its core, despite all the dicework, battles, and its incredible 3D effects, Crimson Shroud is more or less an enhanced visual novel. Text scrolls across the still image, telling a tale of about three adventurer’s pursuit of the eponymous ancient treasure, the Crimson Shroud.
The writing is excellent in both Japanese and English—the game provides both language options—and though the characters aren’t exceptionally deep, they are sufficiently rounded for a short story.
And Crimson Shroud certainly is short—or at least, a single run through it is. I managed to finish one in 6 hours, although it’s well within your power to finish in 5.
However, the game expects at least one replay, as the New Game+ unlocks new areas and expands the story for a second ending (that probably settles on a better conclusion now that we’ve uncovered more of the story), easily doubling the playtime for a total of maybe 15 hours. I actually like this layout, since like with many fantasy stories and their own special histories and terminologies, there is a lot of information in the beginning that is fairly unclear until you’ve immersed yourself further into the world. Starting over from the beginning clarifies everything nicely.
The game is separated between exploration, event sequences, and battles. While exploring, you can access your menu and change equipment. Unlike most games, there are no levels—all your stats are determined by the equipment you have. In addition, each piece of equipment has up to two slots for magic, which determine what spells your character can use. This doesn’t mean that characters don’t grow as they fight more battles, though. With enough battles, they learn more skills, which stay with a character no matter the equipment.
This is also the time you explore the map. As you get further in the game, you open up new areas. These areas are available to you throughout the game, even from different chapters, and sometimes you can unlock new dialogue and replay battles.
Sometimes, during event scenes you’re presented with choices. While these choices don’t affect the storyline, some allow you to view optional scenes that explain more of the back story while others govern whether you open chests or encounter enemies. Many of the battles are optional, and you’re given the option to avoid them. This is where the dice come into play.
True to the tabletop RPG format it’s based on, dice rolls are used to determine events. For example, if you try to take an item, a high enough dice roll will let you escape scotch-free. A low dice roll will unfortunately get you sprayed with poison that will last through the next battle. In addition, before a battle, you’re often informed of whether you’re fighting under special conditions.
For example, during ambushes or surprise attacks, you roll the dice to determine the number of turns you or the enemies are frozen. During close-range or long-range battles, you roll the dice to determine the number of turns all melee or long-range attacks are penalized. Finally, there is a special condition called the Fog of War where every attack’s accuracy is slashed until you’re offered the opportunity to roll every few turns. If the roll turns up high enough, your accuracy returns.
The dice are even more prominent during battles. They determine the success of debuffs, the amount of MP you recover with the skill Meditate, and you can even use dice you’ve collected by stringing together combos to boost the strength or accuracy of attacks. Sometimes, it’s annoying to have the success of your attacks based on what is essentially luck, but after a bit of thinking I decided to look at it just as an interactive visualization of the probability calculations that take place behind the scenes to determine whether your attacks hit or miss.
Each character gets two moves per turn. You’re allowed to use a skill, and then you’re allowed to take any other action. This adds an extra level of strategy, since your enemies follow the same rules and have the opportunity to deal double damage or stock MP and buff your characters in the same turn. This makes battles slightly unpredictable, but also pretty fun.
After the battle is done, you’re rewarded with the spoils of your victory. However, not all the items are automatically retained.
Depending on your performance in combat, you’re given a certain number of points. Each item you can take costs a certain number of points. If you do well, you can easily keep all your spoils. I’ve personally never had any trouble except for in boss battles, where someone or another inevitably dies.
Overall, I really enjoyed Crimson Shroud. The still action, even in battle, never really bothered me, as it reminded me of an old-school RPG where there was only limited animation (except in 2D, not 3D) or of a tabletop RPG with figurines. The figurines are beautifully designed, and I like how the graphics change instantly to reflect changes in equipment.
Every battle was also a challenge in itself. While not too difficult, if I’m not careful, I could find myself cornered (it happened once). While this can be frustrating in many games, I thought it worked perfectly in this game because there were no levels and no random encounters to account for. Overall, this consideration makes Crimson Shroud feel well-balanced, with just as much emphasis placed on gameplay as writing and story.
Crimson Shroud will be available on the Nintendo eShop tomorrow for $7.99.
Food for thought:
1. I’ve never seen text displayed so well in 3D. It doesn’t hurt my eyes, and they don’t jump out obnoxiously.
2. This is a personal habit of mine, but I enjoy being able to compare the localization with the original. The writing certainly is florid, and it’s really fun seeing the jump from pure translation to giving the writing its style.
3. I really wish more characterization happened during the game. I personally feel that this was partially hindered because of the stylistic choice of using a second person point-of-view in telling the story, but it’s also because the story is heavily plot-driven. This is a Yasumi Matsuno game.
4. I may like the luck aspect of the game, but I can’t say I appreciate the fact that one of the story events requires a random drop from a monster…
5. If you decide to play a game a third time, I believe no new areas are opened, but you gain access to some new chests if you’ve seen the “other” ending. Items and equipments (except for Key Items) and Skills are retained in the New Game+. All monsters are also stronger. In addition to new areas and chests, you’re also given the ability to fast-forward through previously-read text.