On-the-go tabletop gaming
Crimson Shroud has one of the most interesting lineages on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. Its writer and director, Yasumi Matsuno, was the man responsible for Final Fantasy Tactics, the Ogre Battle games, and Vagrant Story. The game was originally part of a collection titled Guild 01, which was never fully brought over to international marketing. Nonetheless, this gem caught my eye with its shiny dice and tabletop inspirations. It has been such a long time since I indulged in a night of D&D, but this game brought back memories and provided an interesting story that kept me playing even through hours of poor rolls and grinding for enemy drops.
Crimson Shroud itself appears to be a very simple RPG which uses dice to determine your normal statistical outcomes such as accuracy. There are no experience points, but instead stats are completely tied to equipment, which can be melded to gain more power or spells. The game is set up as a tabletop board in which the figurines of your characters move around and do battle with figurines of various monsters. By building up combos with your magic, you can gain more dice, which can be added to power or accuracy in battle or can even be traded for bartering points when deciding what loot you can take at the end of combat. You can even put a bit of a spin on a dice roll to try to make a die fly off the board and hit an enemy or land in your inventory!
The story of Crimson Shroud feels like reading a fantasy novel as the narrator expertly describes each room and situation differently depending on when or how many times you revisit areas. This helps set the tone and pull you into the fantasy world of Giauque and his friends despite the similar-looking rooms and unchanging figurines. Just like when I was a little kid acting out scenes from video games or fantasy books with LEGOs, the figurines on the screen would spin or shake as they cast spells and take damage. When an enemy died, it would simply get knocked over (revealing the Level-5 logo on the bottom of their stands). This game does an excellent job working with its conceptual theme and creating a very unique experience for fans of RPGs.
That being said, the game does suffer from several technical issues. Having the choice to attack or attempt to sneak away was a good idea, but the game forces a dice roll on sneaking that will end up either letting you go, initiating a first strike, or causing you to be ambushed. The only way to get a first strike is to fail your attempt to flee and then have luck take your side for how the battle starts. Because of this, I very rarely tried for a first strike, since I would either leave combat entirely or end up at a disadvantage. Also, the optional stylus controls are exceptionally clunky when having to navigate so many menus that the game is really better off without them at all.
The biggest issue with Crimson Shroud though, is how it unabashedly caters to its target audience while frustrating and leaving other gamers to wander aimlessly through the halls of the Rahab Palace Grounds. At times, you cannot leave areas until you revisit a room for the second time and find a switch or even farm for a rare drop that opens the way. Quests like this cause a five hour game to be closer to a 10 hour pilgrimage. This game is obviously intended for those who enjoy searching every nook and cranny, reading descriptions of the scenery for clues, and just plain grinding. Personally, that element alone gave me a love-hate relationship with the game as it took four hours for me to get a certain item to drop. At the same time, I enjoyed finding hidden switches and playing through a second time so I could really appreciate the subtle hints the game sneaks in when you are not looking (though you can always review any text in the game via the log book).
Much of my appreciation for the frustrations came in the New Game +. With added rooms, puzzles, plot, and difficulty, it was as if the game was no longer taunting me but offering real challenges. Suddenly, this short RPG adventure turned into a much longer quest, one that could even be expanded upon should a sequel ever be made.
Taken in small doses, Crimson Shroud is a great, simplistic RPG with a surprising amount of depth. Since you can save at any time outside of battle, it is perfect for on-the-go gaming, something that does not happen in other tabletop fantasy adventures. The game speaks to a very specific audience, but if you fit in that crowd, then you will find yourself among friends in the musty corridors of Crimson Shroud.
Tested on 3DS