howl /// Friday March 29 09:27 2013

http://level5ia.com/blackbox/us/crimson-shroud

Nintendo 3DS - Crimson Shroud

Where, What, How?

Crimson Shroud is part of a collection called "Guild01" that was released in Japan and published by "Level-5". It was a collaborative effort bringing 4 different designers together and unleashing their imagination and passion upon us. Its three other games are "Aero Porter", "Liberation Maiden" and "Rental Bukiya de Omasse" (which has not been released to the western territories). The "Guild01' compilation itself is not available outside of Japan,  but thanks to the power of digital retailing the west gets to buy and play these games from the Nintendo eShop.

First Impressions

Crimson Shroud oozes atmosphere and it's readily apparent that there was a strong vision for the game from the start, making its rather odd combination of visual elements work. In case you are unaware, Crimson Shroud is played like a tabletop RPG (dice and all) with miniatures. Every character is modelled as a miniature with a stand complete with the proper die cast logo's on the side and bottom. The environments are constructed in a similar fashion with an open air walled design reminiscent of how you would construct an environment to play miniatures on a table. 

There is very little animation to the characters, they take on different static poses and have very limited movements during combat. An invisible god-hand moves the miniatures around as if it was playing with a bucket of army men. The miniatures drop from the sky when they arrive to the field, fall over backwards when they die, jump and rock when they are hit and do a head-but when they attack an enemy near or far. This visual design gives the game a charm that lifts it above its rivals and makes you take notice.

It also doesn't hurt that Crimson Shroud has a rather outstanding soundtrack for a downloadable title from a compilation, with strong supporting ambient sounds that really help to set the mood.

The cut-scenes use the same miniatures and environments that you play with, completing the immersion. Some concessions are made for the sake of common sense but they are few and far between. The 3DS touch screen is used very effectively for your dice rolling and it a has great looking and rewarding effect when you shake them up and let em roll. The 3D itself, while not breathtaking is used to good effect and does not strain the eyes all that often. I was able to play Crimson Shroud with the 3D on the whole time without complaint.

Mechanics

In one sense Crimson Shroud is a classical turn based RPG consisting of encounters and hidden dice rolls, on the other it lets you perform those dice rolls and lets you have the fun of them. You move your team of three (a melee warrior, a roguish ranged DPS and a magical caster) around a dungeon map exploring and having encounters with various groups of enemies. Everyone's turn, heroes and enemies alike, is determined by their "speed", the faster their "speed" the quicker they get to have their next turn.

Each character get 2 actions a turn consisting of a combination of "Attack", "Magic", "Item" or "Skill". Choose wisely as performing one action can stop the use of another, I won't spoil all the fun in working out the combinations. Many "Magic" and "Skill" based actions involve a "dice" move where you have a group of d4 to d20 dice that you roll to gain a high enough score to successfully perform the action, or have the dice determine how many points will be applied to it.

Speaking of dice, you have two sets of them. One set that you use for your "dice" moves and another set of bonus dice that you earn by performing combos (you can have up to 10 bonus dice). Didn't I mention combo's? Each "Magic" and "Skill" has an associated element. When heroes and enemies alike perform moves in a row, an element will be added to the combo meter (up to 6 elements can be chained) and your combo meter will rise, granting you bonus dice that can be used with your actions. Elements cannot repeat in the combo and elements may cancel the previous element added to the combo causing them to fall apart. A careless "Magic" or "Skill", from yourself or an enemy can ruin a good combo and fetter the attraction of dice to your party.

Where the dice system really shines is that it allows your actions to be augmented, regardless of whether they require a dice roll or not that can increase their effect, damage or accuracy. Before you take your action, you have a chance to pick up your bonus dice and add them to the accuracy or effect/damage portion of an action where you get an extra roll of the dice to add the result to the action. Since you are rolling the dice you must brace yourself for the fact that it can all go dreadfully wrong, resulting in an action having no effect and losing your bonus dice. Great rewards can come with great risk.

You like stats? Good because you have 28 of them, from the normal such as HP (health) and MP (mana) to the sublime such as resistance against damage from Liches, Demon's and Minotaur's  You don't have levels, you gain your strength from the treasure that drops from encounters or that you find in chests. No stores will be found, you must subsist on your drops alone. The closest thing that you will have to shopping is that when you successfully complete an encounter you earn "Barter Points" that you use to select the treasure that you may loot from the encounter. You even get to trade in your bonus dice to earn more "Barter Points" should you not have enough to buy those treasures that you desire most. 

You want to craft? Well you can't, but you can "Meld" your existing equipment with identical items or spells to enhance them. Does the list go on? It sure does so play the game for yourself and find out more!

Encounters themselves may be affected by dice rolls too. Should you be ambushed, involved in a ranged or close quarter fight, perform a surprise attack on an enemy or get caught in the fog of war, you get to roll your dice to see how much of an advantage or disadvantage that you will have. Your 3DS can be a cruel dungeon master at times.

The Long Haul

Crimson Shroud is very Japanese, our story starts in the middle, is in many pieces and we are left to put it back together with flashbacks, reminiscing and some good old fashioned problem solving. You play as a Chaser, an expert at find people and things. Employed to find someone that has gone missing, someone whose knowledge could change the course of the world and reveal the true origins of the "Gifts" within it. 

Crimson Shroud is in fact very story focused as should be expected from a tabletop RPG. Having completed the entirety of Crimson Shroud, it's not good for me to talk about the story itself in any more detail. What I will say is that the story is self contained and actually has an ending that makes sense, which hasn't been the case for every Japanese story that I've read or watched.

The game itself is not all that big when one steps back and looks at it as a whole. There are 4 chapters, with a limited set of locations, and the game proceeds in a quite linear fashion. However Crimson Shroud makes up for this with the pacing of the story, interleaving with the action of the encounters to give some gravitas to your progression. There is however something that some may consider a flaw in the design of Crimson Shroud itself.

Without giving too much away, there was a point In chapter 2 where I needed an item to progress, and this item was a drop off of a encounter which doesn't always drop. I was left, wandering the dungeons wondering what the hell I had to do to progress. In my wanderings I deduced what the most probable course of action would be and just went back to the logical location of where the item I wanted should be and thankfully it decided to drop from the encounter that was there. It also had to purchased with "Barter Points" as well. Crimson Shroud definitely isn't for those that don't  pay attention to what it is they are doing.

This leads into the methodology, of how the game is lengthened, some might even say "padded", by requiring some bouts of backtracking to gather items that were obscured from view by either magic's or the rotting corpses of previous encounters. It did exasperate me a little at the start but once you see the pattern of it, it's quite simple to predict what you need to do and where you need to go.

I completed Crimson Shroud in about 7.5 hours and discovered that you can continue into a "New Game+", where your characters start the game again with all their acquired loot and a boost to the encounters difficulty. So those that want to keep the magic of Crimson Shroud alive may do so, armed with your prior knowledge.

Final Opinion

Crimson Shroud is a strong title for a compilation and has a refreshing take on a genre that I have been getting tired of recently. It is a RPG at heart that has all the tropes that define the genre, it just expresses them with a style that I have not been accustomed to for computer based RPG's.

I firmly believe that the computer RPG genre needs a shake-up to refresh it. What that should be, I do not yet know. Crimson Shroud isn't the title that does it, but it does show that there is still some new places where we can go for an RPG, even if you maintain a firm grip on the tropes that define the genre.

Crimson Shroud is a sparkly little "die" in the Nintendo eShop that is well worth your attention, even if you're not into tabletop RPGs. One play-through has been enough for me, but then I have been quite a busy person of late.

Edited // Sunday May 05 16:43 2013 // Updated title image. ///