During the past year, the eShop for the 3DS has been on the rise with some mini-blockbusters, proving that small developers can do big things. Yasumi Matsuno is anything but a small-time game maker, as he is responsible for some of the most prestigious franchises in the industry, such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Ogre Battle. As part of the Guild01 series from Level-5, Matsuno has produced a new gem by the name of Crimson Shroud, which takes elements from Dungeons and Dragons and traditional JRPGs, blending them together for one rich experience. Does Crimson Shroud prove to be one of the greatest releases for the platform, or is it just too niche for it’s own good?
Crimson Shroud starts out strong, putting the player in the role of Giaque and two other heroes, who are deemed “Chasers”. A chaser is a being who is paid to retrieve items or individuals for a price – and Giaque and his team are going big, joining together on a quest for the Ultimate Gift known as the Crimson Shroud. The story is simply enchanting, as each sequence of dialogue features clever writing from Matsuno himself – which shapes this team’s motives, strengths, and weaknesses as the proceed on this adventure.
Even though the writing is beautiful to a degree, it’s not really the writing that makes this narrative so unique. You see, Crimson Shroud plays a lot like a table-top RPG – dice rolls and all, and has a Dungeon Master of sorts detail every event as it happens. We have seen many RPGs blend their story telling with gameplay, but this title in particular makes the whole concept it’s core in order to create a truly engaging experience. That being said, I can easily say that this type of storytelling will not be for everyone, as those unfamiliar with tabletop gaming are sure to be thrown into new territory with Crimson Shroud due to the constant narration and rather slow pacing as a whole.
Imagine you are playing a tabletop game, and a band of goblins are huddled up – prepared to cause mayhem for the next walking target. You could perform a roll to see if you can pass by unnoticed, or you can aim for a surprise attack – rolling the dice to see how many turns this group of foes stays stunned. That is really what the core of Crimson Shroud is all about, and that’s just the basics. Players move to each area by using the map on the lower screen, where a specific amount of new locations are able to be selected based on the current objective. Once you pick a destination, our three heroes’ game pieces (yes, all of the characters are made out of traditional figurines) will then move upon the new setting, where a battle or story sequence will take place.
Combined with the Dungeon Master’s narration, these methods make everything feel like a legitimate table-top session, where every move you make is affected by a roll of the dice. You see, whenever a choice needs to be made, the player must give their dice a shake (which are made up of your standard 20-sided, 10-sided, 8-sided, 6-sided, and 4-sided die), and then roll a number to determine the outcome. This dice-rolling gimmick is also incorporated in the battle system at times, which most will feel right at home with.
The entirety of Crimson Shroud’s battles are executed like a turn-based RPG. Once the fight begins, players will take turns amongst all involved participants, dealing damage and performing defensive maneuvers with attacks, magic, and skills. Attacks are standard fare, as the weapon that is currently equipped will determine how much damage is dealt on the said foe. Magic allows for powerful elemental attacks to be cast – which can raise the stats of your squad, greatly harm an opponent, or cause a status effect to be placed on the enemy of your choosing. It’s a well balanced system in place, and the way the player learns skills makes the gimmickry behind Crimson Shroud even richer.
As battles are won – weapons, armor, and other loot will be dropped that can raise specific offensive and defensive stats. Yes, this kind of thing happens in all RPGs, but in Crimson Shroud, you’re choice of equipment is essential when it comes to increasing the power of your squad. Instead of leveling up, the player must rely on item acquisitions to improve their stats and gain new skills. Skills make each character unique, as they allow for certain abilities to be used during battle, alongside your main attacks. Some of the time, these techniques will increase HP or MP – with a dice roll determining the size of the gift in battle. Skills can also be used offensively, with rolls coming in to raise the amount of damage delivered or add a status effect to an unsuspecting enemy. This means that luck does indeed play a part of the complex battle mechanics offered – but also increase the amount of strategy the player will have to apply to be victorious.
If I had any complaint to make with Crimson Shroud as a whole, it would be the world layout. After completing a battle or clearing out an area, the path you’re on can come to a dead end at a moment’s notice. Every chapter has a specific chain of objectives that need to be completed before moving on, and if you move in the wrong way, these dead ends will show themselves often – requiring a lot of backtracking to be done in order to find whatever you may be hunting for. This does add more exploration, but it also increases the number of battles you will have while in a chapter. This means that if you go in just wanting to see the story and fly through the enemies at a quick pace, you are sure to grow tired of the tediousness involved. I personally felt the extra amount of exploration was a good thing, as gathering loot is so pivotal to getting stronger that most are going to want to improve their characters as it stands, as large bosses will prove to be even larger dead ends if your equipment isn’t up to par.
Visuals and Audio
This is the make or break part of Crimson Shroud: the graphics. Giauque, Frea, and Lippi have no animation – which proves to be the same with all of the bosses and enemies within the entire game. As mentioned earlier, this is due to the fact that all of this cast are indeed figurines, crafted as such to capture the game’s whole “Tabletop” gimmick at hand. In my opinion, this choice was a superb one as there is a certain charm that these figures embody, and they still look quite nice, despite the fact that wobbling is about the only true movement you will see them demonstrate. As for the environments, most are rather small and detailed, still representing the board game design in full form – fleshed out with detail and dark, majestic tones. If you go into Crimson Shroud looking for a fully featured JRPG, blossoming with color and life, you’re going to be disappointed – as that isn’t what this game tries to present itself as. Crimson Shroud is a tabletop game made accessible as a single player experience, and even though it may be different in terms of visuals, it’s best feature is that it holds itself to it’s own gimmickry to ensure it’s targeted audience will get the most from the journey within.
As far as a soundtrack goes, expect nothing but greatness. There may be little to no animation – but the melodies within Crimson Shroud are sure to please all as they bring each encounter to life. In fact, I would say this might be the best selection of tunes we have seen in a portable RPG in years, as the variation and quality of each track do wonders at building up excitement during battles, and bring out the emotion in the text driven story.
There isn’t any doubt about it. Crimson Shroud is not for everyone. The battle system may be familiar aside from the leveling mechanics involved, but fans of tabletop games will be the ones that take the most out of this adventure. Even though it’s different, this is the game that all 3DS owners should at least try. I remember when I was young and not really into role playing games, as I just wanted action and platformers for a quick fix of gaming. A little game by the name of Pokemon Red then came into my life, and turned me into an avid RPG fan – which is a namesake a still carry with me today. Crimson Shroud that kind of title. This game is the perfect introduction for those who want to get into the realm of tabletop games, as it’s easy to learn and carries enough familiarity of other genres to please any crowd. Is it perfect? Not quite, but those who roll the dice on this digital release are sure to find one intelligent and enjoyable adventure that may just unlock the floodgates to something bigger.