A Mini Matsuno Masterpiece

User Rating: 9 | Crimson Shroud 3DS

Missed the first sale on this game, and kicked myself for doing so. But this latest opportunity to check out Crimson Shroud wasn’t gonna pass me by. Yatsumi Matsuno, Alexander O. Smith…this was not one to miss.

It’s kind of a misnomer to call Crimson Shroud an RPG. By all accounts, it plays like a table-top RPG (TRPG). You have a party, battles are turn based, and the story progresses in a manner most folks attribute to your typical RPG. However, where it kind of counts the most – experience – Crimson Shroud plays more along the lines of a turn-based-strategy game.

That being said, it’s still an incredibly wonderful game. The elements of gameplay and story come together to make for one of the very best experiences I’ve had on my 3DS to date, and that’s including games like Ocarina of Time, Shin Megami Tensei IV, and Fire Emblem: Awakening.

In Crimson Shroud there are three main characters that make up your party, and rather than leveling up, your skills are learned through battle and spells linked directly to gear. Each piece of gear can hold up to two spells, and melding gear ups its stats and/or adds a new spell. At the end of each battle, you’re awarded points that allow you to nab loot left behind. Neither the melding or loot systems allow for you to take everything with you, so you will have to make some tough choices along the way. You can grind for gear, but the pacing of the game doesn’t really encourage it.

One of the most entertaining aspects of the game has to do with the dice mechanics. You’ll roll many sided dice to decide on terrain conditions, fog of war, status ailments, mana regeneration, and on and on. It’s not just strategically interesting, it’s physically satisfying to roll the dice and watch their animations. I know it might be a little thing for most, but for old-school TRPG enthusiasts like myself, it’s a real treat.

There are a myriad of little mechanics, though, that make Crimson Shroud so enjoyable and deceptively deep. A combo system allows for you to accumulate dice that can be added to the outcome of hit accuracy and damage, and with skill usage, characters/enemies each essentially receive two turns each melee round. Surviving battles will require some real resourcefulness on your part, and in terms of story pacing, the game doesn’t hold your hand. You’ll have to carefully soak in each bit of dialogue and text, lest you find yourself wondering around in circles not knowing what to do.

My only minor complaint has to do with party movement. There are what appear to be hidden loads occurring before and after moving to new areas, and it makes navigating the maps a tad slow.

Additionally, the lack of character leveling makes the latter parts of the game pretty tough, and with battles taking upward of 15-20 minutes each, having to redo them two or three times can get frustrating. Beating those tough battles, however, offers a tremendous sense of accomplishment, as you’ll be pressed pretty hard in at least one or two of them.

As fun (and challenging) as the game is, it wasn’t the high point for me. This is a small but masterful piece of work by game designer Yatsumi Matsuno. Though it’s a downloadable game, it feels like a complete experience. The story and dialogue are powerful, and the music is unbelievably moving. Final Fantasy Tactics fans will hear many teases of themes they’re familiar with, an homage to what is inarguably another great and powerful RPG experience by Matsuno. Best of all perhaps is the hand Alexander O. Smith played in translating this mini epic. Crimson Shroud is one hell of a ride.

And when it’s over, there’s a new-game+ to enjoy, complete with additional story bits you won’t be able to see in a single playthrough. The ending was amazing and left me excited to trek right back in for more.

Whatever the budget was for this game, they don’t seem to have wasted a red nickel of it. There are even hand-drawn cutscenes that are simply beautiful, and the story isn’t rushed, nor does it overstay its welcome. Pitch-perfect pacing and expert storytelling make this leaps and bounds above anything else the eShop currently has to offer in Crimson Shroud’s price range.

The character designs are familiar, yet the game takes a very unique approach to giving what are essentially digital figurines surprisingly emotional depth. All of the characters and enemies in the game are static figures on bases similar to what you’d see in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons or other table-top RPGs; however, the camera angles and cuts bring the figures to life and drive home the story’s emotional cadences.

The actual textures aren’t going to wow anybody – that’s for sure – but the production values are still quite pleasing. There are a lot of subtle touches you wouldn’t expect to see in a title like this, such as weapons and shields being represented on your figures each time you switch out gear.

The 3D effect is also a nice feature that I actually found quite doable, a rare thing for me when it comes to most 3DS games. Since most of the game offers little movement outside of dice rolls and attacks, the 3D effect is easy on the eyes. There are some nice layering effects, but a few scenes here and there were less impressive.

At the time of this writing, the game is a mere $5 – sheer insanity for such a finely crafted art/gaming package. If you own a 3DS and don’t yet have this game, you will absolutely need to add it to your collection.