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Crimson Shroud Review

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Crimson Shroud

Crimson Shroud

Image © Level-5
Role-playing games developed in Japan—usually called “Japanese RPGs” or simply “JPRGs”—are an interesting specimen. Whereas early computer role-playing games developed in the West adopted the complex statistic balancing and heavy narrative of pen-and-paper RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, the first JRPGs, including the likes of Dragon Quest, typically focused on presentation and left stat management to the computer. Even today, Western RPGs generally leave stat augmentation in the hands of the player while JRPGs are more interested in building up a world and characters for the player to interact with.

However, Level-5’s Crimson Shroud for the Nintendo 3DS is a JRPG that literally takes the genre back to its basest Western roots. Dice are as important as swords, and vivid descriptions of your surroundings come at you through text. Even your warriors are little figurines that shake and jump as they execute commands. At the same time, Crimson Shroud tells a compelling tale through its three protagonists. The game’s marriage of Western and Japanese role-playing tropes make it one of the most interesting offerings on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. It’s a shame it’s over so quickly.

Developer: Level-5/Nex Entertainment
Publisher: Level-5/Nex Entertainment
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: T
Compatible With: Nintendo 3DS
Price: $7.99 USD

GOOD: Unique battle system. Intriguing story and visual style. Great soundtrack.

BAD: Short. Battle system might be too complex and/or slow for some people’s tastes. Directions on where to go and what to do next can be vague.

THE BASICS: In Pursuit of Ancient Artifacts

Crimson Shroud’s story follows three adventurers, Giaque, Lippi and Frea, as they spelunk deep into a ruined castle to find ancient and powerful treasures. They’re quickly drawn into a conspiracy revolving around the “Crimson Shroud,” an artifact buried within the castle that is unimaginably powerful.

Crimson Shroud was designed by Yasumi Matsuno, an RPG developer known for high-quality, story-heavy games like 1997’s Final Fantasy Tactics and 2000’s Vagrant Story. Like in Matsuno’s previous works, Crimson Shroud’s tale unfolds carefully and elegantly; it’s complex, but unburdened by clichés. The English localization is expertly handled by veteran wordsmith Alexander O. Smith, and the overall story is a pleasure to chase.

Crimson Shroud’s narrative purposely offers a lot of description in order to emulate a real table-top role-playing session. If you’re not a fan of reading text off a screen, you might find it difficult to follow along with the game.

GAMEPLAY: Roll the Bones

Crimson Shroud’s table-top influences mean you’re going to quickly get acquainted with multi-sided dice. You must roll for initiative for nearly every spell and skill you perform, so the outcome of battle relies on luck almost as much as skill. Moreover, you can throw die to enhance attacks, buffs, or healing spells.

Not familiar with table-top RPGs? Don’t let that keep you away from Crimson Shroud. Though the battle system initially seems frighteningly complex, it’s quite easy to get the hang of. Also, your party’s health is restored at the end of each fight, which helps keep the difficulty manageable.

Crimson Shroud still might take some getting used to if you’re comfortable with JRPGs. There are no experience points or gold drops. Instead, defeated enemies leave behind supplies, including weapons and armor that grant skills and spells as well as alter your stats. Equipping your party successfully means balancing said skills and stats: A seemingly unremarkable weapon might be capable of dealing devastating to minotaurs, a bonus that can prove to be the difference between life and death when you’re in minotaur country (it’s a big country).

Then there’s the issue of spells and skills. Is it worth unequipping a “weak” staff in favor of a stronger one if the trade means you lose a handy spell that’s embedded in the item?

Crimson Shroud is a game that you need to move through carefully, a point that may scare off some potential adopters. Fans of slower, more thoughtful games will have a blast, though there are a couple of weak points that are as obvious as a skeleton’s grin. There is a great deal of back-tracking, which means a large number of repeat encounters with enemies. There is also a specific instance where a dropped loot item is necessary in order to proceed—but you’re not given any hint as to what that item is, or where you can find it.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND: Suitably Static

Not to give anything away, but at some point when you’re playing Crimson Shroud, you’re going to stop what you’re doing and realize that your characters are not moving in the manner of normally-animated RPG heroes. Giaque, Lippi and Frea are actually represented as figurines—the very same type that come with some table-top RPGs. The figurines hop, shake, and change positions whenever necessary, but none of your crew actually comes out swinging their weapons.

Crimson Shroud’s graphics emphasizes the title’s roots, and the uniqueness of the visuals further cements the game in its own niche. The characters’ subtle movements also compliment the game’s expansive and descriptive narrative.

Crimson Shroud’s orchestrated soundtrack is atmospheric, and a perfect accompaniment to your adventure. The battle tunes are especially stirring. There’s no voice acting, which might disappoint adventurers who enjoy listening to a Dungeon Master drone on.

CONCLUSION: A Short but Fruitful Journey

It’s heartening to see the RPG genre take a chance with the likes of Crimson Shroud. It’s unfortunate the game can be completed in under ten hours (though a “New Game+” option lets you go through the adventure again with a higher difficulty), but it’s still well worth the price of admission, particularly if you’re up for seeing something different out of your RPGs. Hopefully, Crimson Shroud won’t mark Matsuno’s last go with this unique dice-based battle system.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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