While popular table-top diversions such as Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer Fantasy Battle once served as a template for a generation of video and computer games, over time electronic role-playing games evolved, harnessing the capabilities of an emergent medium. While elements like hit points and criticals often serve as reminders of RPG’s analog era, many other elements have been streamlined. One example: the dice roll- once a fundamental factor in determining success of an action, is now buried deep within most game code and subsequently concealed from the player’s perception.
With the release of Crimson Shroud on the Nintendo eShop, director Yasumi Matsuno (Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story) reminds players of the evolutionary trajectory the role-playing game has taken. Blending polygonal figurines, dice rolls, and a narration which evokes the aptitude of an adept dungeon master, Shroud is likely to appeal to players who are conversant in table-top tenets. However, those accustomed to the contemporary rules of CPU-based RPGs may become bewildered by the lack of hand-holding. Notably, Crimson Shroud reminds us of an era when combat encounters weren’t idle pushovers, with each conflict feeling like a hard-fought battle against a nearly insurmountable group of foes.
Players helm an adventuring trio led by Giauque, a mercenary hired to retrieve the game’s eponymous artifact- which is purportedly the source of the world’s magic. Accompanying the melee-proficient brawler is the game’s requisite mage and invaluable healer, Frea as well as Lippi- a valiant master bowman and faithful friend to the lead character. While the team is comprised of well-worn high fantasy tropes, Shroud’s execution ensures the experience is unique. Forgoing any verbalized narration, the title’s storyline is delivered through passages of text, which are unfailingly well-written, revealing none of the awkwardness which can accompany a wordy localized adventure.
Progress through the title’s eight-hour adventure is tracked via a map on the 3DS’s bottom screen. Naturally, Crimson Shroud stays true to its source material, delivering an invigorating quantity of traps as well as fracas with belligerent foes. The game’s narrative presents a pleasing number of branching paths, with players able to optional pursue both flashbacks as well as previously untried paths, which offer the possibility of opening additional story elements.
Unsurprisingly, combat is Crimson Shroud’s pinnacle, with battles compelling players to take a cautious approach to enemy encounters. From the game’s abundant supply of menu options, each team member may attack, utilize items, cast spells, activate a skill, or even execute a multitude of actions. Expectedly, adventures who perform fewer actions during their turn have a quicker recovery time- and with MP contingent upon the quantity of attacks, strategy plays an key role in every fight. No matter what policy players follow, fate is determined by a dice roll- accomplished by a stylus slash or a push of the circle pad push.
Since there is no character leveling in Shroud, party members depend on gear to give them a strategic advantage over the competition. In certain cases, adventure outfitting is a necessity against some of the game’s elemental-resistance enemies. Luckily, the title’s loot system is especially inspired, with the amount of post-battle booty you can carry dependant on your success in battle. While the amount of customization is compelling, there are a few instances where grinding for a particular piece of equipment is almost mandatory. Still, as players dig deeper into Shroud’s depths, the game obliges gamers to exploit every secreted advantage buried into the game’s complex combat system.
Visually, Crimson Shroud’s aesthetics are charming, with each character and enemy rendered as a detailed figurine perched on a wide, stabilizing base. Cutscenes deliver a dioramic perspective on the action, which look magnificent with the 3DS’s depth slider cranked. Unfortunately, animations consist of each figure shaking while deaths are depicted as a model falling over- which can feel a bit underwhelming but updates players on unfolding status of each scuffle. Sonically, the game puts out a nice selection of orchestrated songs that alternate between jubilant fanfares and ominous dirges.
As a reminder of role-playing’s table-top roots, Crimson Shroud is a rousing success, evoking the genre’s core virtues- where vigilant strategy along with the fateful roll of a 20-sider can be the catalyst to overcoming a formidable foe. In execution, the title acts as a history lesson, demonstrating the growth of the genre, while serving as a stimulating adventure on its own merits.