Crimson Shroud review A successful roll
You may not see them, but dice rolls are pretty much everywhere in RPGs. Even role-playing shooters like Alpha Protocol feature dice rolls to an extent. But Crimson Shroud is one of the few I can think of to literally feature dice. It's one of its most endearing features.

In essence, Crimson Shroud is a one-shot tabletop adventure for the Nintendo 3DS. As with the classic Dungeons & Dragons games, multiple dice are used in everything from rolling for initiative to determining whether the party can launch a surprise attack. Characters are represented by the tiny figurines used to map distance, and the story is told across long tracts of text, as if the Dungeon Master were actually narrating. For longtime tabletop gamers, it's a treat. Crimson Shroud also features an impeccable pedigree. It was written and directed by Yasumi Matusno, who is best known for his work on Tactics Ogre, Vagrant Story, and Final Fantasy XII. Crimson Shroud's dark fantasy setting is one of his hallmarks, as is the complicated battle system. Being a downloadable title though, it's necessarily shorter than a lot of Matsuno's more epic titles. In fact, it's a lot shorter.

I compare Crimson Shroud to a one-shot adventure because, in video game terms, that's pretty much what it is. The story lasts around seven hours, with at least three of those hours spent stumbling around trying to figure out what to do. In that, it's less like a D&D module and more like, say, a 1980's dungeon crawler. That's not always for the best.

I know I'm not alone in getting completely and utterly stuck around Chapter 2. Suffice to say, a lot of people will either be compelled to look up the answer to the dilemma on Google. Either that, or they'll give up entirely. It's the sort of quest that is unapologetic in reaching out to old-school RPG fans, and I suppose there's a kind of stubborn nobility to that. But in some ways, its overall lack of transparency makes it hard to recommend.

Whatever shortcomings it might have, however, are greatly mitigated by what turns out to be a very good battle system. Drawing upon its Japanese roots, Crimson Shroud is a turn-based affair featuring a mix of skills and magic. The strategy is primarily wrapped up in deciding whether to buff a character and then launch an attack, or use both an offensive skill and an attack. The main wrinkle can be found in the ability to add dice to any attack, which will increase its power or accuracy. More often than not, I found myself putting them into accuracy. As the mid-game rolled into the late game, hits became critical. Crimson Shroud isn't the easiest of RPGs.

Crimson Shroud review A successful roll
I think it's fair to say that it's an acquired taste. Most people will know whether or not like they like it from the first moment that they get a good look at the art, which is extremely rough. Crimson Shroud really isn't interested in fancy pyrotechnics or other frills. Its storytelling, combat, and exploration are about as raw as it gets.

With that caveat, Crimson Shroud did actually manage to get its hooks into me in relatively short order. I was charmed by the dice and the battle system. It was enough that I was almost willing to put up with the grind of killing skeletons until they dropped a certain piece of loot that would allow me to continue. I say 'almost' because, if I'm being honest with myself, I probably would have quit after being stuck for two solid hours. This is why I both love and hate reviews – they force me to persevere.

If that little anecdote has you thinking, "Oh come on, Kat obviously can't handle a proper old-school RPG," then you will probably enjoy Crimson Shroud. If you're thinking, "Oh god, that sounds terrible," then you probably won't. It really is that simple.

Personally, I think it's a worthwhile RPG, and a fun little experiment by one of the genre's best designers. It's definitely worth experiencing, if only for the joy of tossing a handful of digital 20-sided dice.

This review is based on a download of Crimson Shroud, provided by Nintendo.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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