Crimson Gem Saga - PSP - Preview
The traditional Japanese RPG offers little variation when it comes to the basics – a so-so storyline that has players running from point A to point B, killing random monsters along the quest-driven route, leveling and skilling up the protagonist. The combat is usually turn-based, and you have the static images that pop in from the sides as an overlay, spewing such great text-driven dialogue as “…”
Ok, there is some of that in the forthcoming Atlus USA release of Crimson Gem Saga for the PSP. Yes, it is turn-based combat with up to four party members and it has flaws in the script (or at least the translation of it), that has you initially on a dungeon crawl for a “Wicked Stone,” but cast aside all the clichés and what you do find is a game that has some charm, is easy to pick up and play, and has some surprising challenges along the way. There is also a child-like quality to the game that lulls players into thinking this will be a cake walk; but once you are deep in a dungeon, don't have a way to heal mana, and still have to battle for the quest objective, you realize that this game has a strategic element that drives the challenge.
The game centers on Killian, a young chevalier freshly graduated from the Greenhills Academy with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He was ranked second in his graduating class, a feat that might be an honor for some, but for Killian it is a major disappointment – almost to the extent that it’s a failure. But the principal of the academy from which Killian is graduating sees great potential in the lad and recommends him for the renowned Excelsior Force, which is headquartered a fair distance from the town the academy resides in. En route to present his letter of recommendation, Killian helps ‘rescue’ (it’s not really clear she really needs that much help, but she plays the role – at least initially) Spinel, a comely, elven-eared maiden. They exchange a few pleasantries, Spinel leaves (with Killian’s coin purse; she calls herself a treasure hunter, but she seems more of a rogue class – if you are looking to fit the characters into the traditional RPG niches) and Killian moves on. Soon he is en route north to meet up with the Excelsior Force. No sooner does he arrive outside the Dead Man’s Spire than he learns the Force is entering the dungeon in search of the “Wicked Stone.”
But there is a hiccup in these plans. A mage, accompanied by a vicious beast minion, taunts and then destroys the Excelsior Force. Fortunately, for the story, Killian is the only surviving member, and is found by Spinel. They eventually team up, and Killian agrees to help Spinel find the Wicked Stone.
And that is merely the prologue to the game.
Crimson Gem will allow players to form a group of up to four party members. The leveling system is a bit different in that for all the kills, you get SP and you can use the SP in skill trees, but not all skills can be identified immediately. Once you get into the third tier, you have to spend SP to identify the skill, and then fill in the bar of the skill (again with SP) in order to add that skill to your repertoire. And where the combat is concerned, there is your basic mana bar that determines the type of skill you can use (they all cost mana to launch), plus when it’s each character’s turn, you have the option of using an item (healing potion or mana potion), a trained skill or your basic attack. You can also just go into a defensive stance.
All this sounds pretty typical, and for the most part it is, but Crimson Gem is a vibrant visual treat that should have a broad appeal in ages. It is easy to pick up and play, can be saved at any point (so playing in small time doses is possible; if you die it is "game over," so it is advisable that you save often), and has a nice flow to it.
The game is slated for release at the end of May and GameZone will have a review of it then, but for right now, it is easy to say that Crimson Gem Saga has a certain charm that makes for an enjoyable gaming experience – even if some of the dialogue feels contrived or merely is pointless (such as the aforementioned “…” screens you have to advance through).