Published on December 31st, 2012 | by Cliff Bakehorn III, Contributor
Crimson Shroud Review
Developer: Yasumi Matsuno/Nex Entertainment
Release Date: Dec. 13, 2012
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Price: $7.99 (via Nintendo eShop)
Review Notes: A code for the game was received for review purposes.
A ‘Role’ of the Dice
Crimson Shroud is the third and final North American release in Level-5’s Guild01 series. Designed by Yasumi Matsuno (Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics, FF XII), this role-playing game is also the cherry on top of the series.
Rather than working around the traditional Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG) ropes, Crimson Shroud is based on classic tabletop role-playing concepts – dice rolls, dungeon master-style dialogue, and more. Matsuno’s little eShop project is decidedly short-and-sweet, and definitely far more complex than I had originally expected.
Crimson Shroud is driven largely by its text-based dialogue, from its plot to the exploration of the environments. Even without a lot of past experience with pen-and-paper RPGs, I can say with confidence that the exceedingly descriptive text does a solid job as a substitute for a proper “dungeon master”.
Indeed, the charm of the tabletop style is what holds it all together – from the characters, designed as plastic figurines; to the deep battle system, with its complicated elemental “chaining” system and all the various buff and de-buff skills. For those not familiar with the terms, buffs usually provide additional skills or attributes to a character, and de-buffs hinder in the same manner.
Alas, I’m getting ahead of myself – in Crimson Shroud, it’s the narrative and the little details that really shine.
The Dice Tells the Tale
Crimson Shroud is meant to be played as a “short story” rather than a long-winded epic. That being said, the progression of the game is decidedly slow, but the pace feels ‘right’. The plot revolves around a trio of adventurers who are searching for the titular Crimson Shroud, an elusive artifact said to have great power.
Throughout the game, their tale unfolds without the use of flashy cut-scenes – the text does all the storytelling, and to my attention-deprived surprise, it is very compelling. The protagonist, Giaque, is a “Chaser” – something of a treasure hunter mixed with a mercenary. Giaque is accompanied by his trusty companion Lippi, and a mysterious, young ‘Qish’ woman named Frea.
The background details of these characters, including how they came to be involved with each other, are explained in 100 percent skip-friendly “Reminiscing” scenes; I always appreciate the option to skip through text but Crimson Shroud managed to capture my interest and effectively ‘pulled me in’ to its lore.
Speaking personally for a moment, there were actually several fundamental concepts that would have normally turned me away from Crimson Shroud. For example, basic exploration is limited to pointing-and-tapping on the touch screen and reading through the flowery, adjective-loaded text. Instead of meandering through the corridors and spotting the details on your own, you’re spoon-fed all the sights and sounds: Crimson Shroud’s dialogue fills in all the gaps and presents the little details that you’d normally take in with your eyes and ears.
What makes this all so impressive to me is that your imagination suddenly becomes part of the game’s design; you aren’t dazzled with flashy 3D cut-scenes, instead you’re provided with the means of painting your own picture of your surroundings. Again, I normally don’t have the attention span to facilitate such game design choices, but Crimson Shroud really pulls it off.
Moving on, the game isn’t all reading and resorting to the dictionary; the battle system and character development are two major aspects of Crimson Shroud that are nearly as unique as the tabletop theme.
The turn-based battle system should be familiar enough to RPG fans, but its underlying complexity rears its head after just a handful of encounters with the first simple foes. In my memory, I have never played a role-playing game with such an emphasis on “buffing” and “de-buffing” to turn the tide of combat: the process of properly ‘setting up’ your squad is instrumental to winning or losing almost any fight.
Moving on, there are ‘chain’ bonuses that are based on the elemental attacks used in battle. Some magic skills and attacks are based on: fire, ice, earth and so on…using different forms of magic is the only way to increase your current ‘chain’. Doing so rewards you with bonus dice rolls and other benefits. Even with the right preparation and attention to your elemental chain, a single ‘miss’ or a ‘fault’ on an important dice roll can have a dramatic impact on your chances. This may sound frustrating, but at the end of the day, I felt like the combat system rewarded proper strategy – something that doesn’t seem to be common these days, even in the best modern JRPGs.
Character development is handled in an interesting way; Crimson Shroud features no experience points, leveling-up, or progression of ‘base stats’. Instead, your performance in combat is directly tied to the spoils you receive after each fight.
Basically, the better you fare, the more you’re allowed to collect. Your equipment can be “Melded” between battles by using special consumable items called ‘Pure Azoth’ in combination with identical pieces of equipment, or even magic scrolls that can imbue elemental properties. This ‘melding’ system is one of the only methods of character development, but nonetheless allows you to power up your repertoire. Your magic skills in Crimson Shroud are bound to your equipment – you can actually lose your abilities if you aren’t mindful of what you’re using and melding.
Fortunately, all three characters can also acquire some basic “Skills” which are permanently added to their move-set. These Skills seem to be obtained at random, usually after a tough fight – again, there may be a lack of experience points, making it difficult to anticipate the growth of your characters, but the idea of “grinding” isn’t completely missing from the game. Many of these skills aren’t damage-inducing attacks, but generally work as buffs or de-buffs. On the other hand, Skills can be used before attacking (or vice-versa) in combat, so you can still work to ‘set up’ your party, even if you don’t rely on magic.
Ultimately, though I feel like Crimson Shroud is indeed one of the eShop’s better downloads; its difficult learning curve and hardcore pen-and-paper theme might be a deterrent for those looking for a traditional turn-based role playing games.
If you aren’t worried about reading a lot of dialogue or relying on dice rolls to determine a certain degree of your success, you should actually find a lot to like about Crimson Shroud. Not only does it end a particularly strong year for the Nintendo eShop (in terms of its high-quality releases), it also serves as the cherry on top of the Guild01 franchise, and definitely the defining part of Level-5’s mini-series.
+ Love the pen and paper RPG theme and game design
+ Battle system is deep, including dice rolls and elemental ‘chains’
+ Player’s imagination becomes part of the design due to descriptive dialogue & lack of cutscenes
– The progression of the game can be very hard to follow due to lack of direction
– Lack of level-up system is a strange choice; obtaining new Skills feels very random.