The second I saw 10- and 20-sided dice on the ad spot for Level-5′s Crimson Shroud I knew I’d have to play it. I’m just that kind of nerd at heart; I spent plenty of time with multi-sided dice with my friends in high school, slaying monsters and gaining levels the old-fashioned way: with a pencil and paper. If you yearn for the days of Dungeon Masters and maps, or maybe if you just want deep, story-driven role-playing (plus a fair amount of dice-rolling), then Crimson Shroud‘s definitely worth picking up.
Giaque is the main character, a blade-for-hire questing for the Crimson Shroud, the relic said to be responsible for originally bringing magic to the land. Along with his partners, Lippi and Frea, they fight beasts and travel through various landscapes searching for the item. The game is like picking up a tabletop RPG, rolling it up, and sticking it in your 3DS; all the landscapes, character models, and villains look like figurines that could really be used on a physical table. That’s not to knock the game’s graphics, though; the game showcases all its models gorgeously, with great 3D to boot. You’re going to be doing a whole lot of looking to play this game; it’s text-heavy, with tons of narrative and plot to sink your teeth into. You’ll learn plenty about not just the current time and place, but how the party members met up, where they come from, and the experiences that cause them to interact with each other the way they do. I definitely didn’t expect Crimson Shroud to offer me the depth that it did, but I certainly appreciated it regardless.
Combat in the game is turn-based, with each character able to take a skill-based action in addition to an attack/magic/item usage each turns. Dice rolls are peppered all throughout combat through special encounter types and spells, while chaining together moves of various elemental types will give you bonus dice to use later. These dice can add to possible damage/healing dealt with a move, or increase the odds of success with a move. It’s a neat little system that can help get you out of a tight spot, and it’s actually sort of fun to physically roll the dice with the D-Pad or Circle Pad. Defeating enemies will drop items and equipment; with no leveling system in place the only way to increase your stats and gain new magic is via stronger equipment.
Crimson Shroud makes its mark with its strong story, innovative combat system, and by simply making rolling dice fun, but it makes missteps along the way as well. Navigating the menu structure is cumbersome; equipment can only be assigned to characters in the Gear menu, while equipment upgrades using the game’s Meld system can only be done in the Item menu. It’s also hard to compare pieces of equipment to each other to figure out which gear works best for a party member; it’s not completely broken, but it’s frustrating enough to drive you away from customizing your character.
The game also makes one near-fatal mistake in the second chapter by halting advancement until you gather a special key, a key randomly dropped by random monsters in one specific location on the map (the Geyserm Cavern, if you’re wondering). The game flows pretty smoothly and doesn’t seem to encourage grinding up until that point; from there it’s a clueless, aggravating shuffle from room to room until you find it. It’s one of the Crimson Shroud‘s few errors but it’s a big one; without researching it online players may end up just giving up on the game altogether.
With that said, you shouldn’t give up onthis game. Level-5 offers up a great venture into the “hardcore RPG,” with Crimson Shroud and it shines with character the whole way through. Have a blast with it. You should experiment with the equipment, laugh at the well-crafted dialog, and thoroughly enjoy the back-to-roots RPG experience the game offers. I’d love to see more titles like it; though Crimson Shroud may not be a critical hit the whole way through, it definitely makes all its checks as a memorable 3DS title.