I f there is one thing the Nintendo DS was known for, it was an incredible library of some quality JRPGs almost uncontested in the gaming pantheon. Indeed, it is often spoken of in the same breath as the SNES and PS2, because of the sheer expanse of its JRPG library. It is somewhat of a pity then, that nearly two years into its life, the DS’s troubled successor, the 3DS, has not yet managed to establish a similar reputation for itself. And as Crimson Shroud demonstrates, it is not a cause for worry either. If more developers make games like this on the platform, there is nothing stopping the 3DS from becoming the one stop haven for old school JRPG gaming.
Let’s start from the beginning though, because chances are you probably haven’t even heard of Crimson Shroud. What is it? It is a 3DS exclusive JRPG made by Yasumi Matsuno, the legendary maker of games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, and Vagrant Story, as part of a collection of full fledged games called Guild01 published by Level 5. Level 5 has decided to, against all odds, localize the Guild01 games by bringing them over to the west, but keeping them eShop exclusive only. So yes, the latest from the maker of Final Fantasy Tactics is a game you can only get over the 3DS’s eShop.
As you can see, the game has a lot of pedigree behind it, and a lot of heritage. The question now is whether it rises to its pedigree and justifies it, to which the answer is a resounding yes. Crimson Shroud in one of the best JRPGs in years, and everything about it, from its focus on old school tabletop games that is both cosmetic and mechanical, to its battle system, stand out. It’s a bit rough looking, the story can get confusing and overwhelming, and the game is definitely on the shorter side, but it’s definitely still one worth a purchase, especially at the asking price of $7, which feels like a steal.
It tells a story- a story about an ancient power, the titular Crimson Shroud, and a band of characters with different, mysterious, not altogether noble, pasts, getting together to find it. There is intrigue, as the entire story is told via a framed narrative that suggests that something is wrong, very wrong. The story itself is backed up by some great voice work, a nice translation job, and some lovely music, courtesy of Hitoshi Sakimoto. But overall, the story- which I will still refrain from spoiling for those of you who are interested in it- remains the lowest point of the game, as you find yourself stop caring around Chapter 2, and begin to treat it as nothing more than an excuse to move from one exciting encounter to the next.
And exciting they are. Battles in Crimson Shroud can be long, tense, and often drawn out affairs. They’re turn based, and you have control over every character in your party, each of whom comes with a specific ‘role’ (such as healing/support). The outcome of your actions- your attacks, magic spells, the effectiveness of a surprise attack, special powers- all of it is determined by a very literal dice roll. As in, you are presented with a set of the relevant dice on the bottom screen, and you have to roll them by touching them. It’s an incredibly nice touch, and an even nicer throwback to tabletop role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. Suddenly, Crimson Shroud straddles the great east/west divide, and finds itself appealing to fans of old school JRPGs, and old school WRPGs, all of which were derived from Dungeons and Dragons.
The throwbacks to old school tabletop games don’t end there. Everything about the game is essentially a nod to that style of gaming. The characters all appear on the field as well sculpted figurines, stationary figurines, that, if and when they die, are knocked over. In a neat little detail, you can see the Level 5 insignia on their bases when they do fall over. Excellent stuff.
You’ll be traversing dungeons, deep and dark; you’ll be having lots of conversations that expound on the game’s lore; you’ll be coming across treasure and loot; you’ll even have some choices to make. But in the end, it will all be about the game’s battles, and how it handles them, and you will come away satisfied. At less than a full dozen hours long, this is hardly Matsuno’s most epic or extensive game, but it might just be the one with the most heart behind it. If you have a 3DS and any appreciation for any kind of an RPG, I insist that you go and check out this gem of a title now. It’s brilliance won’t fail to disappoint you.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS.