We typically associate Koei with its historically-themed action and strategy games, such as its Dynasty Warriors franchise or the upcoming Samurai Warriors. However, the company is hardly a one-trick pony. Take, for instance, Crimson Sea. Originally released about a year ago, this Xbox-exclusive action adventure game is set in a far-flung future that's in danger of being overrun by the threat of mutons--swarming, monstrous, insectlike creatures. Crimson Sea combined some role-playing elements with lots of pure, fast action and ultimately delivered a good, solid gaming experience. Now it's got a sequel that's just a couple of months away from release. Xbox owners may feel a bit miffed at Crimson Sea 2, though, as this sequel happens to be exclusive to the PlayStation 2, instead. Yet despite the PS2's relatively weaker processing power, Crimson Sea 2 still looks as though it's going to push tons and tons of bad guys on the screen at once, which should make for some intense combat.
Recently, we got our hands on a near-final Japanese build of Crimson Sea 2 and have since sampled some of its gameplay and mechanics. Koei is known for its historically-themed games, but it's also known for taking an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude with its sequels, so let's just say fans of the first Crimson Sea are going to find themselves in pretty familiar territory. At least at first. Players will once again reprise the role of Sho, a spiky-haired hero who wouldn't be out of place in a typical futuristic anime. Sho is equally adept using ranged weapons and blades, and much like in the original game, players will be able to use his battlefield experience to make him especially proficient with the weapons of their choosing. Additionally, Sho is a wielder of neo-psionics, which is basically magic. Right off the bat in Crimson Sea 2, Sho can use a time-shifting ability that slows all his enemies to a crawl while he continues at full speed. Take that, Max Payne.
The role-playing elements come in to play in considering how to upgrade Sho's abilities, which can be done on the fly even in the midst of a dangerous mission. Whether you choose to focus on guns, blades, or neo-psionics is yours to decide, or you can play it safe and put some points into every category. Still, given the up close and personal nature of the game's level design, it's hard to resist getting Sho's swordsmanship boosted as quickly as possible, since his sweeping blade combos can seriously damage hordes of enemies.
Sho won't be alone in his adventures this time. You'll meet his new, female counterpart, Feanay, who's got nice, blue hair (naturally) and doesn't seem to want to be hampered by much clothing. She has a few of her own special abilities, as well as a wicked pair of energy blades. She'll take center stage in some of the story mode's 60-odd missions. Switching off between characters should help keep things lively, as should the overall structure of Crimson Sea 2, which, like its predecessor, will often allow you to choose from multiple missions at a time. However, you can also just hang out at base for a while to study up on the situation, or you can spend some of your cash on new equipment.
For good measure, the game will feature several different multiplayer modes. A co-op mode will allow two players to clear a stage with each other's help. A versus mode will allow them to have it out and see who's the better gun/blade/neo-psionics fighter once and for all. Finally, the competition mode is less directly competitive and tasks players with trying to outscore each other. Initially, Sho and Feanay are selectable in the versus mode, but there's clearly room for some unlockable characters here.
You might think the split-screen action, especially when combined with Crimson Sea's signature droves of enemies, would cause this game's frame rate to take a dive. No such luck. This game runs fast and smooth, come hell or high water. The enemies are also generally bigger, more detailed, and meaner-looking than in the original, so there ought to be plenty of eye candy here...if you consider dozens of slavering monsters onscreen at once to be eye candy, that is. Meanwhile, Crimson Sea 2's soundtrack runs the gamut from quieter atmospheric pieces to some heavy metal guitar riffs, and it all seems pretty appropriate for the theme.
The version of Crimson Sea 2 we played was mostly in Japanese, though the speech is already in English. Indeed, the game looks to be nearly complete. Like its predecessor, Crimson Sea 2 ought to deliver plenty of pure action while retaining the cohesive framework of an RPG or adventure game that keeps you intrigued for the long haul. Meanwhile, the new multiplayer modes and the addition of a new main character should give the game more variety and longer-lasting appeal. Be on the lookout for Crimson Sea 2.