Crimson Shroud

For an $8 eshop title, Crimson Shroud over-delivers. Ostensibly, it’s a short game, but my playtime would suggest the opposite, but since I would frequently leave the clock ticking while I honestly wrote the wiki myself, that time was stretched out, to the point of being untethered to any number carrying meaning.

That said, the content is also stretched from within. I’m going to throw out a wild guess and suggest that a normal player might spend 30 hours, including a round of New Game+ in pursuit of the true ending, mostly due to the slow, calculating pace of battles and the need to grind. If there is such a thing as a correct ratio between battles and story in a great game–and there’s not, because that would imply that battles cannot be their own reward, and that the story must justify them–this game’s ratio is highly skewed. Nonetheless, outside of battle, gameplay is less than sparse. It makes up for it with some of the best-written prose I’ve ever seen in a game–which isn’t to say that it has the best premise or characters or anything–but it’s still obvious where ambition was tempered in this budget title that was originally sold as one quarter of a compilation package.

When played as a follow-up to Etrian Odyssey IV’s postgame, it’s clear that the combat is lacking in complexity, but that’s a high bar for this little game, and there’s nothing at the core of Crimson Shroud’s mechanics that would keep it from outperforming EO4 on even footing in an expanded game. In some ways it is better: it does the Yasumi Matsuno thing where HP is restored at the end of battle while MP climbs up from the bottom, and I’ll always prefer that to the industry standard, which tends to only judge players by how conservative they can be. I also received a constant supply of items and was forced to use them, which is incredibly rare.

The tabletop-themed visual design is really clever, especially in the dice rolls, where you can in some cases directly manipulate the RNG, which is pure wish-fulfillment. That’s my own video, and like I said, I wrote the goddamn wiki, so not a lot of people seem to know about this. But forcing a d20 to come up on 18 by drawing some secret, arcane symbol on the touch screen is pure magic, as is being on the frontier of discovering such symbols.

If this had been a full feature title, I’d ask for a more substantive form of progression than the existing one, where you grind for several copies of the same item and then combine them. It is a weak point. Solely equipment-based progression may have been a design shortcut more than anything else, but it is interesting, and can definitely work.

I’d be thrilled to see a return to this intellectual property, where the existing game is used as a proof of concept, and there’s more happening outside of battle than a simple dungeon map and a few pages of text when you move to another room. The Radical Dreamers-style visual novel-esque prose would have to stay–it’s far more interesting than text only appearing in NPC dialogue windows–but in a version with expanded breadth, maybe you could exert greater control on your character and dial back on the text repetition when places are revisited, like western-style interactive fiction does.

This game was thoroughly enjoyed by the reviewer. It is an excellent game that may be too simple or not ambitious enough to be a 5, or there are design flaws meaningful enough to prevent it from enduring as something truly beloved. Highly recommended.

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