My random visit to the Australian eShop last night made me stumble upon Crimson Shroud for the very first time. One trailer and $10 later I was playing the game, total love at first sight. This one completely slipped under the radar for me, but little did I know that this was a game practically made for me, and better yet, a spiritual successor of sorts to one of my favorite games.
Crimson Shroud is part of the Guild 01 compilation for the Nintendo 3DS, a compilation of three unique (four for Japan) games developed by separate talents. It includes the quirky anime robot action title Liberation Maiden by Suda 51, which I acquired because well, it's about a high school student who becomes the president of Japan after her father's death and also happens to pilot a giant robot to protect her country (need I say more?). Then there was Aero Porter by Yooto Saito which wasn't really something I was interested in. Finally, wrapping up the trio is Crimson Shroud, developed by none other than Yasumi Matsuno.
Yasumi Matsuno has worked on some of my most cherished video game experiences. My first encounter with his work was the excellent Final Fantasy Tactics for the PlayStation, and years later Vagrant Story, and that to me is perhaps the best thing he has ever created, not to mention it was so very criminally underrated and deserved so much more success. What I immediately loved about Vagrant Story was that it was presented as a dark and mature Western fantasy, with a gripping and well written plot, unique narration and dialogue delivered in a hauntingly beautiful medieval prose, and intensely vivid characters that were unlike typical Japanese anime culture tropes. I also loved the aesthetics, as its art style resembled a highly stylized and edgy Western graphic novel, with equally stylish and mature character designs.
The core gameplay of Vargant Story was a pure RPG at heart but unlike contemporary RPGs in execution. Vagrant Story offered perhaps the most methodological combat system that any RPG has ever seen, and it had far more compelling intricacies that added substantial depth to typical RPG gameplay. The strategic depth it offered in its seamless turn-based combat system that took place in real time was amazing, and the limb targeting system made it unlike any RPG, Japanese or Western. I loved this game, and so it was painful to never see a sequel or successor to it for all these years. That is, until Crimson Shroud.
Now Crimson Shroud and Vagrant Story are vastly different role playing experiences, but at the core they are very much alike. Crimson Shroud immediately greets you with a highly whimsical and poetic dialogue written in old medieval English prose, it's all text but it really creates this unique atmosphere that sinks you into the game's dark Western fantasy setting. The vivid and highly stylized art style and character designs stand out immediately, they are very akin to Vagrant Story and carry a ton of unique flair and aesthetic detail. I haven't played a lot yet, but the soundtrack is marvelous, a rich and powerful score that has some dark and brooding undertones but at the same time majestic. The diverse soundtrack even has a standalone release spread across 2 CDs, and I can't wait to hear more of it as I play and perhaps pick up the CD itself (and the artbook if there is one).
Crimson Shroud is a tribute to table top role playing games that were played with dice, notebooks, and thick manuals. In fact, it's perhaps the best video game tribute to that Dungeon and Dragons style of role playing games, and there have been numerous unsuccessful attempts in the past at translating that experience into a video game, even during the Atari days. The progression is text based with animation stills, with characters presented as board game pieces and even the world presented in a rather simple board game like fashion, but even so you forget these little nods to table top games and find yourself very immersed into the setting. While it stays faithful to its source material and influence, it does so while being a great RPG video game first and foremost.
The combat system is turn-based like most contemporary Japanese RPGs, but it's perhaps the most deep and intricate turn-based battle system you will ever experience. Like Vagrant Story, Crimson Shroud offers a very deep and methodological combat experience, but not pretentiously so, and while it may seem complicated at first, the systems in place are sound and defined, and soon become second nature. If anything, the combat system and even character building foundations featured in the game will please fans of Baldur's Gate more than fans of Final Fantasy.
The core combat system makes each turn a carefully calculated decision, demanding proper use of skills, magic, and turn order, and even adding a real-time dice rolling element (you literally pick up and roll dice) to create a little unpredictability in the flow of battles. Even outside combat, the character building and world navigation have intricacies that demand careful execution, not to mention you will also get to make choices and decisions during the story narration. The best part is, the presentation and flow is nicely streamlined, as it trims out all the unnecessary presentation fluff thus allowing the flow of the game to be smooth and effective, but still visually interesting.
Crimson Shroud is a pure role playing game, and pretty much as pure as it can get. It's an honest and loving tribute to the pre-video game era of role playing games, but at the same time it's a well designed and sound video game in its own right. It's a deep and rich experience offering very satisfying and rewarding challenge. For just a mere $10, RPG fans can't go wrong.
Above everything else, Crimson Shroud is a true labor of love from a man who is truly passionate about RPGs and essentially created his most ideal one with Crimson Shroud. Check out the eShop trailer that made me immediately hop on the bandwagon.