[Review] Crimson Shroud

crimsonsh-logo1Legendary game designer Yasumi Matsuno (Vagrant Story, Tactics Ogre, FF Tactics, FF12) returns on the 3DS with his latest project, a short and sweet dungeon crawler  / tabletop RPG homage released back in 2012 while he was still working with Level 5. Here are my thoughts on it after two full playthroughs.

Crimson Shroud was originally released as one of the games included in the collection Guild 01, but is now available as a separate eShop download. The story, in a nutshell, concerns three adventurers-for-hire: the warrior Giauque, the rogue Lippi and the young sorceress Frea (serving as your permanent three-member party for the entire game), who are hired to enter an old, decaying ruin to search for an ancient tome that might be connected to the legendary “Crimson Shroud”, one of the oldest magical artifacts (so-called “gifts”) left in the world.

Crimson Shroud -the game, I mean- is basically supposed to be an homage to tabletop roleplaying games, most notably Dungeons and Dragons — all characters appear as little figurines (meaning they don’t actually move in cutscenes or battle, but rather awkwardly wobble around) progressing on the labyrinthine map with a blueprint straight out of any DnD campaign worth its salt, while the story itself is told via carefully phrased narration aimed to simulate what it would be like to sit at a table and listen to a game master ramble in eloquent prose. The game was localized by veteran Matsuno translator Alexander O. Smith, so if you liked the fancy archaic dialogue of, say, Final Fantasy 12 (another previous translation work of Smith), you’ll feel right at home in this game as well.

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Speaking of Matsuno and his inseparable companions, the soundtrack -much like in various other Matsuno titles- was once again provided by Hitoshi Sakimoto, a renowned composer with a large array of video game/anime soundtracks under his belt — Final Fantasy 12, Vagrant Story, Romeo x Juliet (anime), the entire Valkyria Chronicles series — the list could go on and on. He’s one of those “love it or hate it” type of composers, and if you heard some of his previous works, you probably won’t come across anything remarkably new in here, either, nor will Crimson Shroud change your mind about him. I do greatly enjoy his style, but that’s just me — from this soundtrack, I would recommend listening to the first minute of the track “Sinner’s Requiem”, that one happens to be my personal favorite. In a nutshell, Crimson Shroud oozes the classic Matsuno style in terms of visuals, music and narrative — as such, you can expect a fairly serious tale with a unique, dark fantasy vibe.

Gameplay-wise, Crimson Shroud is a simple affair: you move from room to room, looting chests and vanquishing foes as the story unfolds in short cutscenes and narration. It does need to be mentioned, though, that the game doesn’t *really* play like a tabletop RPG: there is no elaborate rule system and not much actual choice in terms of the storyline — instead, it merely attempts to give back the general atmosphere associated with such games. Even dice rolls only really have an effect in combat.

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Oh yeah, the dice rolls. Get used to waggling your stylus (or analog stick) around, because dice rolls constitute one of the more important aspects of combat, whether its determining the success of a buff or the possibility of lifting the Fog of War during a combat encounter, and so on. Combat itself is at the core of Crimson Shroud, since this is pretty much what you’ll spend most of your relatively short playthrough doing. It’s basically a classic turn-based affair with a number of fairly interesting twists, such as the ability to form chain combos by casting spells of different elements one after the other (but making sure that the two neighboring elements in the chain don’t cancel out each other), as well as the possibility to improve your accuracy and/or damage output by assigning dice to them: for example, if your chance to hit a foe is at the value of, say, 65% and you assign a d10 to it, it becomes 75%. Simple enough, but it can make a difference. Of course, you don’t have an unlimited supply of dice, either; you earn them by performing the chain combos mentioned above. Other situation-dependent aspects may also complicate battles, such as close quarter combat (giving a penalty to ranged attacks for a few turns), Fog of War (reduces accuracy), ambushes (you’re unable to act for a few turns until you get your bearings), and so on.

One final thing to mention is that unlike in a variety of other JRPGs, your spells and skills are mostly (with a few exceptions) bound not to characters, but to pieces of gear — in other words, equipping a certain kind of sword or helmet will give you a certain ability, and once you remove it, the ability is also gone. The way to circumvent this is via the crafting (melding) system, allowing you to fuse spellbooks to equipment in order to fit them out with the spells of your choosing. Of course, spellbooks are dropped by enemies as loot or found in chests, so you don’t have an infinite repertoire of them, either. Unless you grind, which is something we’ll come back to later.

All in all, as far as turn-based battle systems are concerned, Crimson Shroud boasts of a pretty solid one, all things considered.

crimson-shroud_007Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, and as such, I have a few complaints. The first one would be the relative lack of any real challenge during the game’s first playthrough. If you take care to equip and/or craft decent gear and use a healthy amount of common sense in battles (abusing buffs and debuffs to strengthen yourself while crippling your foes, things like that), you shouldn’t have any major problems with Crimson Shroud, maybe with the exception of one specific battle in the final chapter that is, for lack of a more fitting expression, a complete bitch on your first try, and easily one of the most brutally tough battles in the entire game once the difficulty level is raised in New Game+.

Indeed, there is a New Game+ feature — while one playthrough will last you roughly 8 hours, you can start your game anew at a noticeably harder difficulty, gaining access to extra locations not available on your first run, as well as an alternate ending (Edit: And a commenter has reminded me that I spoke very little about the characters and the story… mostly because there is not much to say. Look to the comments section to see what my thoughts were on the plot.) Despite skipping all the previously seen cutscenes, my New Game+ run still lasted me another 8 or so hours (due to the increased difficulty, longer/tougher battles and a bit of grinding thrown in there), which means a total of 16 hours for two playthroughs, and that’s if you follow a walkthrough to know where to go and when. With that said, I do strongly recommend completing the game twice if you wish to savor the full experience. For one, you get the extra scenes + different ending. But more importantly, you also get a somewhat increased difficulty level, offering a decent amount of challenge (well, at least towards the end) compared to the relative walk in the park that was the first playthrough.

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Basically, if you haven’t played New Game+, you haven’t *really* played Crimson Shroud. The final few encounters of NG+ seriously put my skills to a test (for those of you that have played the game: it’s the battle against the three Witch Kings in Chapter 4), and I actually had to make sure to have the most optimal gear/spell combinations as well as the necessary buffs and debuffs for the job, and it still took me a few tries. And there’s one subsequent battle after this which almost lasted an entire hour. So yeah. Good times. Bottom line: for those looking for a bit of extra challenge and a taste of how intense the combat system can really become when you’re fighting for dear life and praying for that accursed Zombie Dragon not to decimate you with its AoE breath attack… well, in that case, definitely give NG+ a shot.

Unfortunately, this brings me to my second grumble, which is the grinding. Since the only way to improve your equipment is to combine it with an identical one (for ex. Composite Bow + Composite Bow = Composite Bow +1, etc.), and post-battle loot drops are kinda random in my experience, you might find yourself going back to previous, repeatable battles in order to grind out the necessary gear and/or spellbooks. Of course, this hardly becomes a problem on your first run, but NG+ requires you to have pretty good equipment by the end. There’s even one point in the story where such grinding is *mandatory*, since the key item you need in order to advance the story is a random drop from a regular enemy. I believe I spent a good hour trying to get it. It was basically a very silly moment in an otherwise really solid and enjoyable game… I’m not entirely sure why it was thought this would be a good idea, but it didn’t particularly sour the experience for me, so in retrospect it’s not a huge deal.

All in all, I very much enjoyed Crimson Shroud and can only recommend it — it offered two full playthroughs, a genuine Matsuno-esque atmosphere, really fun turn-based battles and a decent amount of content. If you have a 3DS and are into RPGs, there is little reason not to pick this up.

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22 thoughts on “[Review] Crimson Shroud

    • Well, the grind only really comes into play on NG+, as I’ve mentioned above the first playthrough is fairly easy so you can pretty much get through it with whatever gear you find. As for that one bit with the mandatory grind, just grit your teeth and endure it, haha. :p I didn’t spend more than maybe an hour, hour and a half doing a few repeatable battles, so it’s really not as bad as in other games.

      Hmm, I’d probably give this a solid 8/10, I think.

    • Well, the game is really short and focus is mostly on battles, so the characters and the story aren’t terribly fleshed out. The narration / backstory are well-presented (especially if you enjoy O. Smith’s prose) and the whole thing has that certain medieval feel to it that you’d expect from a Matsuno game, but in all honestly there’s not much to the plot or the characters — it’s fairly simple, really. There’s a small twist at the end, but that’s about it. The primary reason to play CS is for the gameplay and general atmosphere, so don’t expect deep character development or a complex storyline.

      With that said, though, I enjoyed what little the game showed me of its world and characters, so I’d love to see a sequel that expands upon it.

    • Because on the whole I don’t think it was a very good translation (I was less experienced back then), and it’s not something I feel I can proudly display on my blog anymore. Just reading it made me want to rewrite the entire thing, and I think a VN like Muramasa deserves better than my half-assed summaries.

      • I’d still like to finish it, since I already started. I’ll gladly read a newer summary if/when you decide to do one in the future, but for now, maybe you can upload a .rar here or something (I was on Tyrant arc chapt. 4)? It’s just pretty disappointing to get cut off near the end of the plot like that.

      • I see. I apologize for cutting you off near the end, but I really wasn’t sure if people were actually reading the summaries anymore, and I figured it would be no big deal if I removed it, seeing how it wasn’t even that good to begin with.

        Anyway, I’ve temporarily made the entire Tyrant route + Janen Hen (fandisc) available for you, so you can start here and follow the links inside to get to further parts: https://gareblogs.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/full-metal-daemon-muramasa-plot-summarytranslation-tyrant-part-4/

        I never actually deleted the summaries, I merely set their visibility to private in case I ever wish to re-write them. Just lemme know once you’ve finished so I can know when to remove it again.

  1. I finished reading, if you want to make it invisible again. I really think you shouldn’t, though. Maybe add a disclaimer. Even if it’s a bad translation, it’s still fairly detailed and immersive, and a very dedicated piece of work.

    • Thank you. I dunno… I’ll consider it. It’s just that I tend to be very critical of myself nowadays so when I see some of the stuff I wrote in the summaries I kinda wanna punch myself. :p But I’ll take a few days to think about it, and maybe add a disclaimer or something instead of making it private.

  2. Thanks for your continued work on game reviews. But I take it that by this point, you’re not interested anymore in reviewing more Innocent Grey titles?

    • Yeah, at the moment IG titles aren’t a top priority for me. Of course, I won’t say that I’m *never* going to do another IG game again, but if we’re looking at short-term plans it’s unlikely.

      • That’s too bad, I was looking forward to a detailed review of Caucasus or the like. If you liked Aji Sanma’s performance as Touko Kuchiki, she plays a heroine in Caucasus, for instance. Kei Mizusawa, who played Yukari Tokisaka in the KnS series, also plays a heroine in Caucasus as well.

      • Oh, I did really enjoy Aji Sanma’s performance in KnS, so that’s good to hear. If it’s any consolation, if I do play another IG game in the future, it’s gonna be Caucasus. (well, unless a new KnS is out by then…)

  3. Yeah, the vast majority of eroge seiyuus rarely if ever have a large amount of success in the mainstream anime genres. Kei Mizusawa’s has both a good voice and is quite experienced, but sadly the most she’ll get for a long time in terms of mainstream anime exposure is going to be the anime adaptation of Walkure Romanze (which didn’t even focus much on her character, Celia Kumani Eintory). Then again, I could say the same for many IG seiyuus.

    A new KnS? Wouldn’t you want something else than crushing tragedy? Caucasus doesn’t look to have as much as KnS, anyway.

    • Yeah, if I remember correctly Innocent Grey themselves said that Caucasus is for people who’d like to have a game that’s not as heavy on the despair as their other titles (as in, you can actually save the heroine you wish to save). Which is good, I mean even I need a breather sometimes, haha.

      • I wonder if the seiyuu of Tsuzuriko Yosomiya (a fan favourite) from KnS1 got a more substantial role in later IG games. Her fate in that game is set in stone, and I’m sure a lot of her fans would have liked to see her in a main heroine’s role in a later game.

        I’m sure that Caucasus was written to be lighter; however, the switch to a nameless protagonist doesn’t bode too well for me–he’s supposed to have a history with one of the heroines, Souko Kirihara, but she can’t really refer to him by name and reminisce about their past doings if he’s supposed to be a player avatar. There’s also the time window that Caucasus takes place in. Am I supposed to believe that this nameless protagonist can believably charm the pantsu off of these heroines, only one of which he has a previous history with (Souko again), within the space of three days, in ways that don’t completely strain my suspension of disbelief?

        If you wrote a detailed review of the game I’m sure it would answer all our questions regarding Caucasus.

      • “Am I supposed to believe that this nameless protagonist can believably charm the pantsu off of these heroines”

        I’m sure he finds a way. VN protags always find a way.

        Also, Tsuzuriko is a fan favorite? Huh. I never cared for her much. Team Orihime over here.

  4. Oh, I’m a fan of Orihime Tsukishima from KnS1 too–her story as a tragic character had a lot of potential and should not have been set in stone, in my view. It helps that I’m a fan of her seiyuu, Kei Mizusawa (who also played Yukari Tokisaka in both KnS games).

    Sure, VN protags “always find a way,” but it’s up to the writers to make it believable or not. Anyone can get all the mindless nukige they could ever want, since it’s regularly produced by the terabyte-load. The real praise-worthy eroge titles are those whose writing works well on all elements, including the 18+ ones.

  5. Pingback: These Level-5 Games Are On Sale on the 3DS eShop Right Now | The Sun Rising Blog

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