Crimson Shroud from developer Level-5 is an example of a little game that packs a big punch. Although it sports a tiny price tag of just $8, it is a legitimate JRPG featuring a concise 6+ hour campaign and a rich, addictive combat system. Part of the developer’s acclaimed Guild01 project, this Yasumi Matsuno headed gem is a highlight of the eShop and an excellent pick-me-up for even jaded genre fans.
Crimson Shroud presents the unique premise of being inspired by old-school tabletop RPGs. Because I’m unfamiliar with the genre, I can’t say with certainty whether or not it warrants that comparison. What I am sure of is that the game involves lots and lots of dice rolling. The game’s story is presented entirely in text and except for battle cries there is no spoken dialogue in the game. There are also no cutscenes, though you’ll occasionally be shown different pieces of art. This does not hurt the experience but instead it adds to the game’s unique charm, giving it an almost visual novel flavor.
The tale of the Crimson Shroud itself – or the source of the world’s magical “gifts” – is interesting and entertaining, if not remarkably deep. No versed JRPG fan will have many quarrels with doing lots of reading, and you should be prepared for just that when picking this game up. Back to the dice, you’ll occasionally have to roll die to determine the success of certain in-game actions. These instances were few and far between and presented situations such as “roll a 7 or higher to dodge the arrow”.
The game’s visuals maintain its unique demeanor. All of the character and enemy models are attached to some kind of base or stand. This makes them all look like elaborate pieces from some sort of board game. Because of this, none of the characters or enemies move independently of their bases but instead they jump, jerk, twirl and tilt to indicate that they’re attacking, being attacked, casting a spell, etc. When a character is knocked out or when an enemy is defeated, their piece is knocked down chess style. The act of moving from one place to another is completed simply by selecting a location on the map.
The static appearance of the character models combined with the lack of voice acting give the game a very peculiar flair. It might take a bit of getting used to, but I definitely can’t call this quality a negative. The character portraits, maps and inventory are all artsy and pleasing to look at. The environments are cute though not extremely detailed. The game implements the console’s 3D function sparingly and the experience seems wholly intact if played in 2D. Lack of voice acting aside, the game is very easy on the ears. I enjoyed the battle theme and just about all of the music in the game.
I was also surprised at how well the sound effects were implemented. You may never see Giauque actually swinging a sword or Lippi actually firing an arrow, but the sounds of these actions were spot on.
Crimson Shroud’s biggest draw is its combat system. This is where you will spend lots of time casting die. The system is essentially turn-based and you’ll frequently need to roll die to determine the success of spells, skills and items. When the roll doesn’t go in your favor, you’ll waste a turn with a failed attempt to incapacitate or poison an enemy. Failed dice rolls can be irritating at crucial moments but they add an element of chance or excitement to each turn.
Characters and enemies do not have levels in this game. This means that from the start of the game until the end of the game, everyone’s base stats will remain the same. Your character’s stats and abilities are only augmented by their equipment. Equipping a certain weapon or accessory will not only improve your character’s stats, but also enable them to use a new magic spell or skill. This doesn’t mean that you can’t grind to strengthen your characters; only that you’ll be grinding for new equipment as opposed to traditional experience points. It helps to avoid getting too attatched to the capabilities of any single piece of equipment because eventually it’ll be outclassed by a stronger piece and you’ll lose whatever skill or ability it granted when you remove it.
You can, however, feel free to get attatched to the characters skills. Many of the skills are similar to the different magic spells and attacks, but they are attached to your character instead of attached to their equipment. These are useful because you’ll be able to use them regardless of what gear you have equipped. Battles are tactical affairs that’ll have you hurling buffs and debuffs to effectively dismantle the tougher opponents. Using specific kinds of elemental magic in succession will result in combos which yield bonus die. These die can be applied to your techniques, either increasing their accuracy or their effectiveness. They can also be cashed in later at the end of the battle to give you a shot at more equipment.
There are several different kinds of weapons, armor and items in the game and you have a pretty spacious inventory to work with. Early in the game you earn the ability to meld items together. This allows you to create stronger, more effective equipment. For example, two Battle Axes can be combined to create a Battle Axe+1. You can also combine spell scrolls with weapons and accessories to endow the equipment with the spell. This is exceptionally effective when used properly. A spell scroll to lower your opponent’s accuracy can be very helpful in the heat of battle, but combining the scroll with a piece of gear will give you permanent access to the spell. Well, permanent access until the gear is outclassed, that is.
Summarily, combat and character outfitting are satisfyingly deep and very addictive.
Moving through the game is very straightforward and linear, although one point in Chapter 2 leaves you in search of a key without even a general clue to how to find it. Once you complete the game, you can run through it again on new game+. The enemies are noticeably more challenging and are outfitted with better equipment, dealing more damage and having access to more powerful magic. If the game wasn’t challenging enough for you the first time through (which is unlikely, in my opinion), new game+ should satisfy your difficulty craving. You can also discover different items and equipment than on your first play-through. So far I’ve played the game for a little more than nine hours and I’m halfway through my second play-through. That’s more quality, engaging entertainment than the price warrants.
My complaints about this title are few. I wish there was a lot more of the game. Not just because it’s fun but because there is so little of it in general. The enemy variety is very modest, the tiny maps leave plenty to be desired and the whole experience just seems to end too quickly. Some decent side-quests or perhaps some substantial post-game content would have done wonders for fleshing out the game. As it stands, if you were adequately challenged on your first play-through, there aren’t a lot of reasons to come back to it. Also, failing to get a high enough die roll in crucial spots can make the novelty of the dice mechanic seem thin, especially if you fail repeatedly.
These faults are worth mentioning , but they do little to deface this charming game.
In summary, the accomplished names behind this game are not just for show. Crimson Shroud is a compelling and utterly addictive JRPG that is not easy to put down for long. The price is right, the production is tight and the entire experience is one that genre fans should thoroughly enjoy. It has some minor issues but nothing strong enough to distract you from its deep, layered game-play systems and fascinating characters, lore and narrative. There are no doubts about it – Crimson Shroud is worth playing. It is one of the finest titles the eShop has to offer and perhaps one of the best original titles to hit the platform yet.