Released initially for the 3DS as part of the Guild01 project in Japan Crimson Shroud has since been released on its own in both Japan and abroad. Directed by Yasumi Matsuno (Director of Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together and Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen) it is a somewhat traditional RPG that pays great homage to tabletop RPGs such as Dungeon and Dragons or Shadowrun.
With both Yasumi Matsuno and Hitoshi Sakimoto working on this title there was almost no chance I would not enjoy it. And while I was not disappointed the game is far from perfect with some bothersome issues that I'll get around to discussing later.
To start with, if you don't like reading in your video games then don't touch this game. You could easily call Crimson Shroud a visual novel. The story is told by a narrator through a generous amount of text describing locations and events in vivid detail much like a dungeon master would. The graphics themselves do not provide you with this information as they are purposefully simple. Character models never animate (they do wobble a bit in combat) and all characters have a square base that they stand upon much like a miniature that you might use in a tabletop game. The locations also fit this theme with them being rather simple and looking as if they could've been assembled for the purpose of some tabletop gaming.
The homage to tabletop gaming doesn't stop there; Crimson shroud features a variety of dice (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 and d20s) that you will have to roll from time to time to impact the adventure in one way or another. Some events will have you roll some dice in order to determine the success or failure of your actions. Certain spells and abilities also require a dice roll to determine success. In addition to this you also have a personal inventory of ten dice. In combat you can use these to increases the amount of damage or healing done by an ability or to affect the chance of an ability to hit (or both.) After combat you can also exchange them for barter points that you use to gather gear from your fallen foes. Dice are spent once rolled and in order to claim them back players will need to form elemental chain combos from their abilities and spells during combat. There is also a small chance a dice (from any roll) can fall off the screen (throwing the dice hard increases your chances) into the player's inventory.
The main focus of Crimson Shroud is the storytelling and I rather enjoyed it. The first playthrough will take about eight hours and the finishing the second playthrough should take your playtime up to around twenty so the length isn't too bad for the price. The game is navigated by choosing locations on a map. When you arrive at a location the narrator will describe the location and often you'll be drawn into combat. One of my biggest issues with the game is that sometimes returning to previously visited area (you will have to do this a lot) will repeat itself in an unintelligent manner. What do I mean by this? It's perfectly fine to have a description of the room be the same every time you revisit it but at one point you'll find a trapped chest and every single time you revisit that room the player will discover the chest and be warned of the trap by his allies then leave, shaking his head at the close call. The characters repeating these interactions every single time you revisit the room is fairly annoying and detracts from the atmosphere of the game. I should mention that this game does not hold your hand when it comes to progression. You'll occasionally have to resort to revisiting every single room you've been to until you've found the way forward.
There are also quite a few "set encounters" that you can grind. Certain rooms after a point (or between points) in the story will always have the same battle with enemies when you return to them. These can often be avoided (if you make the dice roll) if you so choose. One problem here is that the game has some diferent types of combat. Battles at range will affect your melee attacks for a number (decided by a dice roll) of turns; close quarter combat will instead affect ranged attacks for a number of turns; surprise attacks prevent the enemies from attacking for a number of turns; ambushes prevent you from attacking for a number of turns and the list goes on. Some of the aformentioned rooms are always a special type of combat and often this will make no sense. Take for example the room where you ambush the enemy; in this room you are given the choice of attacking them (resulting in a surprise attack) or leaving them alone. If you choose to leave them alone you'll have to make the standard dice roll to avoid the fight, fail and you are forced to ambush them? The same thing happens when the enemy surrounds you. In that room you are always ambushed by the enemy despite the game explicitly saying that they haven't spotted you yet and giving you the option of fighting or fleeing.
Combat is a pretty standard affair aside from the dice influence mentioned earlier. You have an action bar that fills up based on your character's speed (or rather, the weight of their gear) and when it's full it's that character's turn. On a character's turn they can attack, use an item or cast a spell. In addition to that they can use a learned skill. Every spell or skill belongs to an element (there is a neutral element that cannot be chained) and chaining these together in a chain will result in more dice for the player. The idea is pretty simple, each element has an element that trumps it. In order to keep the chain going you must not use an element twice or use it after its trump. If you use both a spell and ability on your turn the one that does not break the chain (neutral always breaks) is counted. If neither would break then only the first counts. Enemy skills also contribute to the chain. The bigger the chain the better the dice you receive. Chaining for dice isn't always the most effective way to fight so you might want to save up some larger dice for boss fights by chaining on the wimpier fights.
There is no such thing as experience or character level in Crimson Shroud. Instead, character progression is based entirely on gear and skills. Occasionally after combat you'll be given the choice to learn one of three skills and those are always available to use. Other skills and all magic spells are attached to the gear you are using and can only be used while that gear is equipped. Two pieces of the same gear can be combined to make a more powerful version. (The more powerful version can also be combined with the base item.) For example, plate mail + plate mail = plate mail+1. If you found a third piece you could combine this for plate mail+1 + plate mail = plate mail+2. Important to note is that plate mail+3 and plate mail+3 still only increases by one for plate mail+4 not plate mail+6. Each piece of gear also has two slots for spells or skills and you can combine gear with scrolls that you find to replace the spell in the second slot with whatever spell was stored on the scroll. All of this combining requires an item that is found in copious quantities so there's nothing to worry about there. Most of this gear will be obtained from fallen enemies. It isn't a simple matter of simply collecting what enemies drop however. After battle you are awarded barter points (earlier I mentioned that dice could also be traded for additional barter points after combat) that you must use to 'purchase' gear that the enemies have dropped. This means you'll often have to make tough choices when enemies drop several good items and you're unable to afford them all.
The game is no walk in the park but it isn't especially challenging. It's a pretty moderate difficulty with new game+ increasing the difficulty and offering new areas to explore and a second ending to unlock. You won't need to grind to progress through the game with the exception of one part (two for the new game+ content) where you must acquire an item from an enemy that isn't guaranteed to even appear in the enemy encounter let alone drop the item. You also better be paying attention to the loot screen or you might miss it as it isn't a giant "PICK ME UP IDIOT" item.
In regards to the music, I love Hitoshi Sakimoto's work and this is definitely one of his better efforts. There's not that many tracks but it's got some real good ones. "How Many Times" is one of the better boss tracks if you want to look that up for a listen.
So, going fairly cheaply on the 3DS shop Crimson Shroud is an interesting homage to tabletop gaming and a fun if not short traditional RPG. If you're a fan of Yasumi Matsuno's storytelling or work in general I'd definitely check it out.