Crimson Shroud snuck out for release on the Nintendo eShop around Christmas 2012, and it quickly became one of my favourite 3DS games. It was created by Yasumi Matsuno, director of Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy Tactics among others, and it’s easily the highlight of the Guild01 series developed by Level-5.
In modern RPGs there’s been a trend towards hiding the mechanics – the virtual dice rolls that determine whether you hit your opponent and how much damage you cause. It all goes back to the roots of the RPG in Dungeons & Dragons, where the dice rolls are actual and the characters are nothing more than hunks of metal brought to life with a little imagination. Modern games like Mass Effect all but do away with the numbers game, and on the surface they look just like first-person shooters – but somewhere under the flashy graphics, the game is still throwing those virtual dice, it’s just hiding the numbers from you.
In a wonderful conceit, Crimson Shroud flips this trend on its head – here you’re actually asked to roll those virtual dice with a flick of the stylus, and the characters are all static models on dinky little stands. But rather than being set on a living room table with a cardboard playing field, the backgrounds change markedly as you venture further into the dungeon. It’s a great idea, and the dice rolling feels very natural – you can even knock dice off the virtual table if you roll them too hard.
Living room D&D succeeds or fails on the strength of the story being told by the Dungeon Master, and in Crimson Shroud the story is a real highlight. The text is sumptuously written, and although there’s a lot of it, it’s always a pleasure to read. Similarly, the battles are tense and exciting, forcing you to constantly weigh up your opponents’ weaknesses and decide on whether to save dice for a devastating attack or concentrate on using magic to strengthen your defence. It gets very tactical towards the end, but even though I have no experience of playing D&D, I picked it up very quickly.
The downside is that often you’ll need to grind to get the best weapons, and there’s a particularly bad part in the second chapter where progress comes down to fighting a gang of skeletons again and again until one of them drops a key. Get past this bit though and the game opens up a lot more in terms of variety, and waiting for that sweet sweet loot to drop at the end of a battle becomes addictive.
I actually enjoyed this game so much that I started a second playthrough on the Game+ mode, which is something I never do. Usually once I’ve finished a game I won’t go back to it, but I just couldn’t get enough of Crimson Shroud. If you’re at all interested in RPGs and own a 3DS, it’s well worth dropping a few pounds on this little gem. Here’s hoping Matsuno-san is working on a sequel.
[As penned by +4 Mage Lucius Merriweather.]