Crimson Shroud was originally released alongside three other games as apart of a compilation cartridge known as Guild01. For the North American release, rather than bundle them together in the same package as originally intended, three of the four games are being unleashed separately as individual downloads on the Nintendo eShop. Crimson Shroud is the third of these, behind Liberation Maiden and Aero Porter (as Rental Bukiya de Omasse is not announced for release at this time) and is probably the one I looked forward to the most.
The game is headed up by Yasumi Matsuno, best known for his work on Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and the Ogre Battle franchise. Between that pedigree and the fact that it’s a turn based RPG was enough to hook my interest. Even the character designs look as though they’d fit right into the universes of other titles he has worked on. But that’s where the similarities end.
Unlike traditional JRPG’s, Crimson Shroud functions much more like a tabletop RPG in the vein of D&D, which might be a bit off-putting for those purchasing it on the reputations of Matsuno and Level 5 alone. Even the aesthetic plays into this fact, as each character is represented as a still figurine, complete with a base attached to the bottom of their feet. The models themselves fit right in with their PS1 brethren, but the characters don’t move much save for the occasional bouncing and tipping as if invisible hands were guiding them into some pretend play fight. In other words, while I personally enjoy the artistic direction and the character designs, understand that a lot of people may find the lack of fluid movement as a bit of a shock compared to what they are used to.
Further, unlike the previously released Liberation Maiden, Crimson Shroud does not contain any voicework and instead relies on a heaping helping of text in which to move the story along. In that regard, it functions more like a visual novel or a Dungeon Master reading to you, but with the occasional turn-based battle breaking up the brisk story. At least the music is an aural delight, managing to be pleasant without delving into repetition the way that a lot of RPG tracks do.
The game lasts four chapters, though within that span of time, a very solid narrative is woven in that effectively introduces various races and religions within the Crimson Shroud universe while simultaneously building tension within its own plot. The story opens with a man named Flint questioning an injured Qish woman, Frea, as to the whereabouts of a “Chaser”, Giauque. Chasers are not something that follows an alcoholic beverage in the world of Crimson Shroud, as you might think, but rather operate similarly to mercenaries in that they get paid to perform a task, usually by some noble. As the prologue concludes, you begin to experience Frea’s recounting of her path down misfortune, only told from the perspective of Giauque.
Giauque and Frea are joined by Lippi on a quest to explore ancient ruins that are rumored to contain the Crimson Shroud, the mythical source of magic in the world. As you explore the ruins, you are drip fed exposition that explores the backgrounds of each of the characters as well as reveals bits and pieces of the true purpose of your quest. The amount of plot you take in is proportional to how much you decide to explore, as some information is only revealed by visiting (or re-visiting) particular rooms. Despite how short the game is for an RPG (it can be cleared in 5-10 hours), the story is incredibly well paced and manages to reveal much about the game’s world in such a short time while not burdening the player with useless details.
The characters have no levels in Crimson Shroud, so the three you are given cannot be customized beyond their gear and as such, are pigeon-holed into specific roles. Despite that, gear you pick up provides individual stats that can be boosted as well as skills that are only gained by wearing that equipment. Mixing and matching different equipment as well as melding two identical pieces together, will let you build your characters as you see fit. You can also meld new spells or skills into your gear to gain access to things that aren’t available naturally.
Dungeon navigation is done by an overhead map on the bottom touchscreen and simply tapping a room will move your party there. As you enter a new room, you may be treated to bits of story, a clue to your next destination, or an enemy encounter. Depending on the circumstance, you may be asked to roll some dice to determine what happens next. For example, a failed roll may result in no actions for your party for a set number of turns, or lack of accuracy for all characters, friend or foe. Dice rolls also play into standard combat, as certain skills may require you to roll a certain number in order for them to succeed. There’s also a combo system at play that rewards you with bonus dice for stringing together skills and spells of various elements. These in turn can be used to up the damage of other skills should you want to unleash something particularly devastating. And rolling is as simple as picking them up with your stylus and “flinging” them around (though alternatively, you can use the confirm button to do this for you). Being so menu driven, the controls are easy to figure out as the majority of it is using A to confirm or B to cancel.
The mechanics may take some time to get used to and the pace at which you grasp what is happening will ultimately determine your enjoyment with this game. While Crimson Shroud generously sprinkles multiple tutorials into the gameplay as new things are introduced, there are a number of things that go unexplained, such as elemental weaknesses and how to effectively read the statistics of your equipment (though RPG and tabletop veterans can figure it out easily enough on their own). Also, in one chapter of the game, your progress forward is halted until you obtain a specific item from an enemy encounter. However, not only is this useful piece of information not explained, but the enemy that drops the item will only appear by fighting the monsters in that fight in a specific order. Even then, their appearance is not guaranteed. Luckily, this is not a common occurrence and your goal can usually be identified by exploring rooms previously visited in earlier segments of the game.
You’ll also find that during your first few boss battles, the overwhelming urge to grind for gear will begin to consume you. This is not always possible, and even though the enemies may seem ridiculously overpowered by allowing them to out-heal your ability to inflict punishment, a simple change of gear or tactics can be a complete game changer. It’s nice to have an RPG that relies on actual strategy to succeed rather than muscling your way through it by gear farming, though that crushing feeling of self-defeat that you feel the first few times you fail hard can be tough to get over.
Upon completing Crimson Shroud, you are treated to a New Game Plus that unlocks additional content as well as stronger enemies to face, giving you ample reason to return following your initial playthrough. Honestly, not a bad deal for $8, especially considering the adventure is concise and doesn’t suffer from the same kind of content padding that plagues its retail counterparts. To say that the game inspires me to try pen and paper RPG’s speaks volumes for the game’s quality, especially given the low production values of the project.
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Final Score: Good Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Crimson Shroud, the third of the Guild01 titles to release in North America, is arguably the most interesting of the bunch as it tries to bridge the gap between eastern and western game design, while also applying a touch of tabletop RPG to make the traditionally behind-the-scenes dice rolls into, well, actual dice rolls. The combat is complex despite the short adventure, though the difficulty will be in understanding what isn’t explained rather than what is. If you can look past the lack of voicework and characters that are represented as figurines, you’ll find an interesting tale wrapped up in D&D style adventuring. Being such a diversion from Yasumi Matsuno’s previous works, the game isn’t recommended for everyone. If the tabletop trappings aren’t enough to turn you away, then you’ll find that Crimson Shroud is one of the better Nintendo eShop releases to come around this year.