I wonder if anyone remembers how much of a big deal the 3DS’s library of digital titles was. It had a massive collecting of old and new titles that quickly grew and caught peoples attention, to the point where Guild01 was created. This was a compilation pack of indie games made by different familiar faces. These titles included Goichi Suda’s Liberation Maiden, Yoot Saito’s Aero Porter , Yoshiyuki Hirai’s Weapon Shop de Omasse and then possibly the one I was the most excited for: Yasumi Matsuno’s Crimson Shroud.
Matsuno is known for fantastic titles like Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre and Vagrant Story to name a few, so there was no surprise what genre he was going to tackle here! Working alongside with Level 5 and Nex Entertainment, they created this RPG with the influences being taken directly from a traditional tabletop setup. As someone who is very much into RPGs, both through tabletop and video games, I was ready to virtually roll my dice and get sucked into a traditional session on my train rides.
“He who receives a gift, sells his liberty”
The story tells about three characters seeking the origin of the “gifts”, which they believe has to be related to the Crimson Shroud. You play as the ex-soldier and “Chaser”, Giauque, with your party consisting of an old companion and archer named Lippi, and the mysterious female Qish known as Frea. All of you have a form of this “gift”; a magical element that has granted each of you special abilities, such as Lippi’s unusually strong eyesight and hearing, and Frea’s ability to cast spells. Together, you have come to the Sun-Gilt Palace of the Rahab, an old castle that is now in ruins. Hopefully, this place contains the answers you seek.
We have a simple tale taking place in just one location with few characters in it, which is a plus in many aspects. By being a novel in a sense, Crimson Shroud becomes focused on telling one progressive story, which in turn adds lore to the place you are in and makes it more focused on the party’s journey. Thanks to having few characters that each gets to shine, it lets their relationship grow with reflection upon memories and discussions about their current events. I love this, as it lets the characters establish and grow with the story, making them and their journey memorable. It is simply wonderful to see limitations being accepted, where a title goes for quality over quantity.
The characters are likeable with enough depth to be intriguing and the backgrounds of how they met and about the castle itself are engaging, devastating and even heartwarming at times. This makes it easy to be sucked into the setting as the story is strong and believable, similar to an actual campaign. In fact, if you have any experience with RP, you will definitely feel right at home thanks to an excellent DM giving wonderful descriptions of character’s emotions or the environment’s subtle details. The writing is overall excellent and has enough flavour text to be immersive, but never becomes overboard with exposition or to the point of pretentious.
However, while it is all well told, how you experience everything is just through dialogues. There are no flashbacks or historical events that will be played out or experienced, all are simply told to you through dialogues or monologues. None of the events are showcased with solid visuals to truly make you constantly involved. For example, there was one occurrence where the party found the bodies of fallen citizens and it was such a shame that they could not have added something to the story, such as having their attires representing their hierarchy.
While more visualisation of the story could have gone a long way, what is told here is excellent. Each area and character have descriptions popping up when highlighting them, weapons have neat notifications, and there are even fun remarks that subtly breaks the fourth wall. I also really enjoy the small setting, with traditional yet entertaining beasts to slay, areas representing households such as a chapel, and the focused story. I simply believe more could have been done to play out this tabletop story, even with the clever limitations of miniature figurines.
Story Score: 7.5/10
A simple, yet entertaining session
The game is broken up into chapters, each taking you to a new floor of this palace. Despite this, you are able to revisit previous places should you wish to do so. On the bottom screen, you will be able to choose which highlighted room to visit and will automatically go towards there if you touch one. Meanwhile, the top screen will showcase what events occur. Some parts will give you the option to listen to lore or decide if you want to open chests, but these are minor aspects that can be quickly forgotten due to how quick they come and go with little interactions. However, the game becomes immediately interesting the moment a battle occurs.
Through this turn-based RPG, your party basically consist of a balanced setup which should be familiar to any veterans: a warrior, a ranger and a mage. Each character will be able to attack, use magic, a skill, an item or end their turn. In each turn, you can either use one attack or magic, and one skill before your turn ends. The turns can also be effected by subtle decisions, such as utilising a strong item for less options or end a turn earlier for the possibility to act first the next round. Before any action, you will be able to see the amount of damage you will cause or heal, and the chance to actually preform your action successfully, helping to plan out your strategies nicely.
Attacking normally as the warrior or ranger will fill up their magic points for using skills and magic, while Frea can use a skill called meditate to gain some of her MP back. You can use potions for this as well, but since there are no stores in this game, you are relied on the items you acquire from battles or chests. Because of this, it is important to consider how to utilise your resources, adding to the fights tension.
Some attacks will require you to roll the dice for hits or for bonuses, which is done by the touchscreen. This is a lovely addition and adds to the immersion of actually playing a tabletop RPG. However, what truly makes this setup unique, is how you acquire the dice bonuses. These bonuses can be used for adding more strengths to your action or better chance at executing it, and the bonuses ranges from a d4 and all the way to a d20. To gain an extra die, you will have to execute combos. You see, each skill and magic has an element to it, and by using different elements, you can build up a combo upwards to six. When it reaches its max, it will restart and give you a stronger die to possibly collect if you can make more combos.
The eight elements range in earth, fire, air, water, lightning, ice, light and dark. Using neutral or the same magic in a chain will break the combo, so you must choose wisely between gaining combos or using a worthwhile spell or skill. Including this, you will also have to consider the order of elements being used as one type can trump another one, which will also destroy a combo. It might sound complicated, but it is easy to get a hang on after one fight and is an entertaining addition to the strategy to think of whether it is worth risking a die for using an important ability. You can also redo a mistake by using another element in the same turn, so you are not fully punished should you need to use another spell or skill.
However, enemies can also affect this combo with their own abilities, so you must be aware of their attacks and even learn from their tactics! The fiends in Crimson Shroud add to the battles by being different and interesting in their approaches, not to mention providing a good difficulty curve that starts out challenging and becomes very hard towards the end, which is a plus. This truly makes the combat exciting and a joy for how unique it is! Should you fall in battle, you can restart it and try again, giving you some room to breath when fighting stronger encounters.
There are sadly only seven types of normal enemies, which will eventually make the fights repetitive. Luckily, the combat never becomes dull due to the fun concepts, and the lack of diverse types of enemies is also helped by that Crimson Shroud has no grinding needed for gaining experience points. This is because you do not level up in this game. Instead, battles can reward you with new skills, items, equipment or spells to be combined with outfits. You see, spells are not learned in this RPG and are instead represented as items to be attached to your attires. Each equipment can hold two spells, with the second one being replaced if you meld a spell into it. This is a great implementation for making mages not overpowered and for forcing the player to partake in tough decisions.
What also makes this an exciting inclusion, is that you can meld together equipment of the same type to make a stronger version of it. For example, melding a shortbow with another shortbow will create a shortbow +1. Though you can claim and find a decent amount of general items, what you can take with you is a different story. The better you perform in a battle, the more barter points you will acquire, which is basically your carrying capacity at the moment for the items you find after a fight. This is also well implemented, as you might have to make difficult choices on what to take with you and should you struggle, you can use the precious bonus dice to get more barter points.
Crimson Shroud is very good at providing many risk vs reward-systems, while also throwing in a bone at you to not make them feel overwhelming or too harsh. The battles are the main events and, while you will meet up with the same enemies, the game also provides varied challenges in the form of different terrains and through your own luck. For example, you can get a surprise attack on enemies with a good roll, a fog will lower your accuracy, melee attackers struggles for multiple turns when enemies are far away, and so on. All events are based on the roll of the dice you make, so this adds some tenacity and uncertainty, making fighting the same enemies more interesting. Even if you will get tired of skeletons goblins and minotaurs.
Due to having chapters involved, Crimson Shroud provides a linear experience with little to do outside of combat. You will find treasures, segments for storytelling and might have to revisit a room after finding an important item, but that is about it. The only issue I have here outside of the little involvement, is one section where I had to get a torch from a fallen enemy. I had no idea I needed to do so, as I figured I could just take one of those standing around. This was not a terrible thing, but it made for one small grind which is a shame as battles are not short due to their difficulty. Thankfully, random encounters are not present as there are specific areas dedicated to fighting enemies.
The unfortunate repetition and having nothing to speak of outside of the combat makes Crimson Shroud lacking in its package. Surprisingly enough, this is all made up for by the entertaining combat. Every roll of a die is exciting, there are many aspects to create strategies, minimal amount of grinding and no random encounters, are just a few of the highlights of this game’s strengths and focus. More variety in enemies could have gone further, but for an adventure taking anywhere between 6-7 hours, it knows how far it needs to go. I just wish it could have gone further to make it stand stronger and more diverse.
Gameplay Score: 7/10
This is a solid tabletop collection, however…
Making this RPG into an actual tabletop setup is a novel and an adorable idea, and the developers did it well here. All the characters are still figurines on pedestals, with flashing colours and nudges representing attacks, hits and defeat, which is fitting and cute. It makes the concept more immersive, while still holding true to what can be provided in a tabletop game and I love the small touch of Level 5’s logo being under the characters’ pedestals. The main characters will change in poses and the fire in torches are actually fire, but it is not too distracting and rather helps to give some variety to the setting without going overboard.
Adding to this charm is the drawn map containing only two colours with impressive details to make it interesting and appealing as an old historical artefact. This is also carried over to some of the cutscenes, as they are done through similar style that comes with tons of minor details as well, making them feel old and adding to the original tabletop atmosphere. Both through its medieval setting, and the fact that the oldest examples of rules cyclopedias did not have colourful pictures in them. Of course, this being on the 3DS means it has 3D implemented, and it works great here to make the figurines feel real. Though it is not needed, as Crimson Shroud looks good on a 2DS as well.
The art style for the whole game is lovely through mixing western and eastern takes on the RPG genre, similar to Yasumi Matsuno’s previous work. Characters are clothed in armours that feel believable and inspired by European history, though their facial designs makes them more eastern, which is a nice connection. The naturalistic and environmental sounds add to the immersion, the grunts and sound effects of spells and attacks are appropriate, and it all overall provides to the tabletop atmosphere.
Not to mention, the music is fantastic with some strong and bombastic orchestra for battles, violins giving peaceful areas a sense of safety, and even the strange el-guitar is fitting as it adds to the uplifting and heartwarming friendship shown between our trio. It is a lovely soundtrack that contains variety and memorable tunes. I would not have expected any less quality when the composers consists of Hitoshi Sakimoto, Mitsuhiro Kaneda, Azusa Chiba, Kimihiro Abe, and Masaharu Iwata
However, it seems almost like the developers wanted to represent what a common DM would have of set pieces, such as walls, textures and enemies. I say this, as there are a lot of parts reused throughout the game and it makes the castle forgettable. There are a lot of ruins and dungeons that are similar in each room, and the simple decorations of chests and bookshelves do little to distinguish them from each other. The same goes for the enemies, as there are seven different types you will meet throughout the series, with most being familiar and generic, as well as one final boss I will not spoil. Because of this, the journey becomes quickly repetitive and uninteresting visually, despite how wonderfully it tries to recreate the setting. The atmosphere the style provides helps, but more creativity was needed.
Presentation Score: 6.5/10
Replay the same story?
There is actually a new game plus mode after beating the game, which provides a couple of more areas, stronger enemies, and new loot. This is a decent idea, but it is rather strange to not have these rooms and more drops in the main game to add more to the main campaign. It truly could have used more and replaying the game for a better experience, is a strange setup. The good ending is also only acquired through NG+, which I find almost like being robbed. I played through your game once, why must I do it again for the actual ending and a slightly better experience? At least the difficulty is higher and you will carry over the abilities you had from the previous game, but this is hard to tackle on right after the first run.
Extra Score: 5/10
Crimson Shroud is a good introduction to tabletop gaming and something veterans will find entertaining. However, it is limited in its concept of traditional tabletop setting, both in its gameplay and its presentation. This makes it hard to get fully immersed in it. It does represent how much assets a general DM can afford in real life and how far such creativity then can go, but with a video game, more could have been done to make this experience less repetitive and even more exciting. Still, rolling the dice is entertaining, the combat is fantastic and challenging with a lot of strategies to it, and the game focuses on its best parts. It is kinda like a single session trying to finish a story in one go: it is entertaining, but definitely not a full worthy campaign.