Crimson Shroud for the Nintendo 3DS is one of four games featured in a compilation effort dubbed Guild 01, put together by famed Japanese development studio Level-5, featuring four titles created by famous and well-loved Japanese developers. Crimson Shroud, the last of the three titles that made their way over to the North American E-Shop, is designed by Yasumi Matsuno of Final Fantasy XII, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics fame, with a soundtrack provided by composer Hitoshi Sakimoto, featuring localization by the ever excellent Alexander O. Smith. Essentially, Crimson Shroud is helmed by a dream-team for Japanese RPG fans.
And the end result really showcases this fact. It’s an excellent title that’s nearly impossible to put down, featuring an excellent fantasy story that’s extremely well written for video game fare, with an equally fantastic soundtrack which stands out as some of Sakimoto’s best work in recent years. The entire thing is wrapped together in a concept that attempts to marry classic video game RPG trappings with more traditional table-top design familiar to Dungeons and Dragons fans, and for the most part that combination really works.
You’ll have direct control over three adventurers, dubbed Chasers in this world. The story is presented via text overlaid on the top screen, typically showcasing a background that displays your characters or the side characters of the game, represented as motionless figurines, complete with square bases that even have a cute little imprint on the bottom driving home the tabletop RPG feel of this world. It’s narrated in a way that feels very much like a games master would present his or her world in a D&D game. And there’s even the element of dice rolls to determine results in combat, typically tied into landing status effects or other bonuses during a fight. I do wish the dice roll mechanic was a little more prevalent, and tied into every aspect of combat, but the way its handled here definitely works.
Gameplay is spread across a series of floors in a dungeon setting. Your party will progress floor by floor, making their way down and fighting against increasingly powerful foes. Crimson Shroud eschews any sort of leveling system in favor of a loot system that bestows skills and magic on characters based on the gear equipped. Gear can be won by winning battles, or encountering treasure chests potentially found in various rooms on each floor of the dungeon. You can also meld matching gear together to create more powerful variations, and can even outfit gear with special abilities provided you have the right materials to do so.
You’ll use the bottom touch screen to navigate the world, along with menu commands both in and out of battle. Typically each floor of the dungeon has a series of rooms to explore, often requiring you to retrace your steps in order to uncover secret locks, keys, or other things. On occasion Crimson Shroud gets a little aimless in its direction, there’s a particular sequence in chapter 2 that seems to stump just about everyone, but for the most part if you’re thorough enough you’ll rarely get stuck.
Combat is simple enough and familiar for anyone that’s ever played an RPG before. It’s all turn based, typically allowing for two moves per turn. Generally this means you can attack with melee, ranged, or magic abilities, and then turn around and use an item or skill that tends to either temporarily boost your stats or hinder the stats of your enemies. Encountering foes in the wild isn’t entirely random; you can get an idea of what room will contain enemies by looking for telltale footprints on the map. Sometimes you’ll get the drop on unsuspecting foes, allowing you a number of free turns before the enemy can fight back, and sometimes that role gets reversed, which does seem to be random.
The combat, while competent, is hardly the selling point of the game. The mechanics in place here aren’t the thing that causes Crimson Shroud to really stand out, despite its unique use of tabletop RPG elements that are rarely seen on the surface level of most video games. It’s really the superb presentation, writing, and music that will sell you on Crimson Shroud, and make it one of the best E-Shop titles available on the 3DS.