Review: Crimson Gem Saga
Crimson Gem Saga, developed by South Korean IRONNOS, and published by Atlus was released for PSP May 26.
Crimson Gem Saga is sure to receive mixed reception, as it is very old school, and to some degree cliche for an RPG. In some minds, that is a bad thing, but as far as I am concerned it worked well. The game is highly polished, and well presented, which certainly helps the case for it. Additionally, the majority of the dialogue is brilliant with such lines as ” ‘My parents are looking down on me from above’ ‘Oh, sorry to hear they died’ ‘What?! They’re on an airship’ ‘Oh… gotta run’ ” or pop culture references like (paraphrased slightly) “Scruffy dun want to be a clown any more, when Scruffy gets reincarnated he wants to be something else, maybe a janitor.” Also some of the lines make jokes about cliches in RPGs as evidenced here:
To further add to the humor, in the next chapter you have to go on a fetch quest to retrieve medicine for a sick innkeeper. The game indulges in cliche, yet acknowledges and jokes about using it.
The plot again is somewhat on the cliche side. The main character, Killian von Rochoff has just graduated second in his class, and is disappointed in himself as he always ends up second best at everything. He meets a female treasure hunter and is thrust into an adventure to recover some ancient artifacts. He meets several unique characters along the way, and learns that someone is (GASP!) trying to revive an ancient evil and he must stop it. So yes a bit cliche, but the polish and dialogue really help offset that, and give it a sort of charm, like when two longtime rivals meet, one remarks “I was expecting some sort of epic fight to the death, glad that didn’t happen.” There are a few other twists along the way, but ultimately nothing amazing, just decent.
Gameplay in Crimson Gem Saga hearkens back to older titles, it is a simple turn based affair, albeit with a few tweaks. Characters can do basic attacks, use items, use skills, escape, etc. The tweaks are in the skills. First, each battle earns EXP towards leveling characters, and SP which goes into a common pool, and is used to unlock different skills on the Skill tree. Some of the skills that can be unlocked are combination skills requiring the two or more characters with said skill to have consecutive turns in battle. Most of the skill animations are great, even when seeing them for the umpteenth time. A couple minor issues I had with the gameplay is that first, two characters have an area-of-effect attack, that for some inexplicable, and presumably glitched reason, gives them vast amounts of experience and leaves the rest of the party behind, levelwise. Secondly, there is a dungeon in the game that is not mandatory until chapter four, but can be visited as early as chapter two, and the battles there distribute around four times as much SP as normal ones, which led to most of my skill trees being complete (or as complete as I wanted them) by the midpoint of the game. While certainly not a bad thing, the fact that I could just spam a really powerful attack to get through basic encounters felt a tad broken. Also, there are no random encounters, enemies are visible on the screen, and you can ambush them for extra damage by approaching from behind.
Crimson Gem Saga proves, in my mind, that the old school turn based RPG is far from dead. When presented well, and with charm, as is the case here, it can feel fresh and fun. My only qualm with the game is how short it is. I cannot say for sure, since the clock continues to run when the PSP is in sleep mode (which is a bit irksome), but I would guess I put around 25 hours into it. Let’s hope that if they make a sequel (and the ending is open enough for one) that it is considerably longer. That being said I wholly recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of RPGs, whether you rent it, and marathon through it, or purchase it.