I had planned to begin another 3DS game this week when the thought struck me that I still hadn't played to my satisfaction of Crimson Shroud. This was a relatively small game directed by one my personal favorite game directors, Yasumi Matsuno, the very talented developer behind the best games with names like Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and Final Fantasy XII, among others.
Crimson Shroud is interesting in that it is basically a table-top RPG campaign, complete with miniatures and dice rolls, encapsulated as a video game for the 3DS. Art and menu design, as well as the narrative flair, will be familiar to other admirers of Matsuno's work, but the way the game plays is obviously a little different.
For one thing, it's much more limited in scope, like a tabletop campaign would have to be, able to be completed in 6-8 hours, more if you go back for New Game+ and the alternate ending. It's also slower to unfold in terms of action, with how you have to make dice rolls for a lot of abilities, but interestingly, here the plot unfolds with little in the way of complication. It wouldn't make sense to tell an epic tale full of various factions and long-lived rivalries, but Matsuno goes ahead and gives it a shot anyway--artfully relying on world background to give relevance to the dungeon crawl at hand.
It's not an easy game, either. Like most Matsuno-directed games, you can find yourself kind of painted into a corner by some of the choices you've made with the system for character development, and in need of some grinding to sort things out. I do like what the team has done with that system, though. Rather than it be a straight experience points and skill tree sort of thing, All of your character evolving is done through your choices of what gear to loot and skills to take, given the chance. Additional loot or spell scrolls can be melded to what you have in a sort of craft-magical synthesis resulting in +1 bonuses to stats.
I find systems that get away from straight time-investiture to personalize your characters are more interesting. I would rather choose between a heavy, slower weapon, and a lighter, quicker one, and have that be the main thing that defines my fighting style, than to just carry a generic weapon and somehow get stronger as time goes on and more battles are fought. This is one area in which the Souls series from FROM Software really succeed in my book.
I got all the way through the base play through of Crimson Shroud, but not without some considerable difficulty in the last couple of boss encounters. Witch Kings are never a good sight, I'll tell you that. And leave those ancient, fell artefacts right where you find them. Trust me.