Crimson Gem Saga
Reviewed by Meagan Lemons
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-08-03 PSP RPG T (Teen) Atlus / Matrix Software

I hadn't heard much about Crimson Gem Saga before I saw the trailer for it online. Afterwards, though, I began counting down the days until I could get my hands on it. Once I began playing, I realized it wasn't unlike many other RPGs I had played before - it's actually pretty typical of the RPG genre for the most part - but it's a solid game that's sure to be an enjoyable experience for any RPG lover.

The plot of Crimson Gem Saga is pretty linear, save for a handful of side quests, and not incredibly original, but deep enough to keep you wanting to know what happens next. You begin the game by taking control of Killian, the sword-wielding protagonist, who is late for his graduation ceremony at Green Hill Academy, a chevalier training school in Shern Village. Upset about not making Valedictorian, he talks to his principal, cheers up, and sets off to join the Excelsior Force, a renowned military group based in the neighboring town of Vardenhoff. On his way he meets and helps Spinel, a deceiving and scantily-clad elf treasure hunter who is having trouble with a group of adventurers who claim to have been betrayed by her. After some rather bad luck with the Excelsior Force, the two eventually join forces and begin a quest to find the Wicked Stone, an artifact of great value and power. Killian's journey takes him across the world of Latein where he accrues a motley group of adventurers including Henson, an arrogant mage-in-training; Gelts, a heavily-armored ex-minister; Lauduk, a no-nonsense monk; and Acelora, a devoted knight of the church.

You won't run across many surprises where the mechanics are concerned. The combat is fairly simple. During their turn, each character can perform a basic melee attack, use an item, prepare for an enemy attack, or expend mana to use a spell or ability. The abilities are trained through skill trees unique to each character using SP, of which a certain amount is granted after each battle. Before an ability can be learned, however, it must first be uncovered, also by using SP. A skill must be uncovered in order to proceed to the next in the tree, but once it is it can be skipped over without being trained. Most every character has a pretty wide range of abilities they can learn, so you can customize them to be as specialized or generalized as you like. SP is pretty abundant, too, so with careful planning it isn't hard to get the abilities you want early on.

The battles themselves require some tactical planning of their own. You may only have four characters in your battle formation at one time, so you'll have to make some decisions regarding how you'll use each character. Some abilities your party members can learn are combination skills and are usually pretty powerful but require at least one other character, sometimes the entire party, to know the ability as well, which may determine who you keep in your formation and who you cut. Furthermore, the enemies are pretty ruthless so you'll need to stay on your toes and plan your moves ahead of time, otherwise you may be privy to the Game Over screen and I assure you, at some point, you will be. Just take advantage of the save feature and do so often so you don't lose progress if your party gets killed.

Another challenge is mastering the "critical combo system" to deal extra damage to enemies. This really does a good job of making you feel more involved in the combat instead of like you're just mindlessly pushing buttons. It works like this: when a character makes a basic attack, they have a chance at a critical hit. If the attack is critical, a window will pop up on the bottom of the screen for about a second. If you press the X button while the box is on the screen, the character will make another attack. Sometimes the second attack will also be critical, giving you another chance to do extra damage. Getting the timing down for each character can mean the difference between winning and losing a battle, so be sure to practice, practice, practice.

As far as the music is concerned, the track list isn't huge, which is disappointing, but the music that is there is interesting and easy to listen to a few times over - a good thing, too, because many of the dungeon themes are exactly the same. The battle music never changes, either, save for the bosses, so you'll more than likely have most of the game's music memorized note for note within a week.

The game makes up for a short track list with its stunning visuals. The cute, big-headed sprites look right at home in the colorful, varied environments of Latein. During the dialogue you'll also be treated to beautiful hand-drawn images of each major character. The monster models are varied and colorful, a nice change from the all-too-common differently-shaded spiders and bears. In addition, the animation, especially for the combat abilities, is flawless, not to mention just plain fun to watch. Even while trudging through dungeons, setting every enemy on fire with a powerful Immolation spell always brought a smile to my face.

Crimson Gem Saga is a conventional RPG title, but it doesn't try to be anything more than that or take itself too seriously. The dialogue is comedic at times and the world itself is sprinkled with bits of humor, though less so later in the game. The voice acting is, for the most part, surprisingly good, so the characters' personalities really shine and, in turn, bring some personality to the story. And even though it may give you a little déjà vu, Crimson Gem Saga won't leave you disappointed. It's a typical RPG specimen, and in this case, that isn't a bad thing.

Special thanks to Atlus for providing a copy of this title.