"Tabletop Gaming, Sans Tabletop"
In the ancient times before the rise of video gaming, a role-playing game meant a tabletop affair with several friends. The action was narrated by a living human gamesmaster, and the mechanics of the gameplay were based on a structure involving the rolling of various oddly-shaped dice.
Modern games owe much to these old experiences, even if modern consoles offer graphics and sound far more evocative than a gamesmaster's narration echoing through a basement. Crimson Shroud is a game that explicitly pays back its non-digital role-playing forebears. How successful this is depends on how lucrative you find the concept of a video game pretending to be a tabletop game.
Crimson Shroud is the product of director Yatsumi Matsuno, a veteran of such classic RPGs as Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story. Like those games, Crimson Shroud has a richly developed world and memorable characters. It's the quest for the Crimson Shroud (the original "gift" of magic upon humanity in this universe) and the team of Chasers (effectively mercenaries who take jobs more diverse than just killing people) tasked to acquire it.
Unlike those games mentioned before, Crimson Shroud lacks a lengthy campaign and high production values. Instead, everything is narrated through text and portrayed with inanimate 3D models moving across fields floating through negative space. Animation is limited to crude flashes to show spells or attacks; otherwise, the graphics are literally a digital version of a Dungeons and Dragons table, down to the little miniatures representing the players. Even the die-rolls are visible, forcing players to tap the touch screen to roll dice with unconventional numbers of sides.
In the hands of a lesser director, Crimson Shroud would be little more than an innocuous curio; a bit of nostalgia with nothing to say but how awesome those old games were. Under Matsuno's direction, the game has a bit more appeal, and it uses its intentional idiosyncracies effectively. The narration is entertainingly written, with a mix of overwrought melodrama and deadpan commentary that resembles an actual role-playing night. The battles are also similar to role-playing games, but the way they allow players to add or subtract die rolls to each action adds a unique level of depth in this digital context. These add to an already complex system that allows players to calibrate action percentages to maximize desired results, be it in defense, accuracy, or good old-fashioned physical force.
Of course, this doesn't make Crimson Shroud any less of a niche title. It works very well at being a digital version of a tabletop RPG, but it won't appeal to people who didn't like those games in the first place. Fans of more action-heavy games might be outright turned off by Crimson Shroud, which forces players to imagine the actions of the inanimate, hollow-eyed polygonal miniatures. However, players who remember those games fondly will really love Crimson Shroud in all its meticulously archaic glory. Also, players who can open their minds enough to accept those idiosyncracies might find quite a bit to enjoy, especially with such a low price.
GameDynamo's Score for Crimson Shroud (3DS)
Neil Kapit is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and "La Li Lu Le Lo" agent based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen on www.therubynation.com.
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