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Crimson Gem Saga

A note to anyone involved in making a sequel to anything, ever: titles are important. While it would be nice and organized if everyone just slapped a “2” on successive titles, that hardly breeds confidence in the care taken in the rest of the game. If all they could come up with is “X Game 2”, surely it was a rush job? I sympathize, designers, I really do. However, it’s important to retain a thematic link to a previous game. Can anyone tell me what Crimson Gem Saga has to do with the title of the previous game, Astonishia Story? Anyone? It’s a confusing jump. On the plus side, it’s far less generic; however, any fan with a casual interest in Astonishia will be left in the dark, or at least thoroughly confused.

Moving along.

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Crimson Gem Saga is a classic turn-based-RPG for the PSP. The main character, Killian von Rohcoff, has just graduated from Chevalier Academy, a school that trains soldiers and prepares them for duty in the big bad world; however, this ceremony isn’t too happy for Rohcoff. Arrogant and competitive, Killian is dismayed to find out that he has been beaten out for the position of valedictorian. This isn’t merely a case of academic rivalry, however; as more and more things start going wrong for Killian, he realizes that his luck is growing unnaturally bad. Killian’s quest to solve his bad brush with fate intertwines with a search for an ancient artifact; and then, for the next thirty hours or so, Crimson Gem Saga invites you to turn off your brain and enjoy the ride.

“Some skills are entirely useless, but the good ones are ridiculously powerful.”Crimson Gem Saga, despite being a sequel to a fairly serious game, has way too much fun with itself. Astonishia Story for the PSP suffered from a notoriously bad translation at the hands of Ubisoft; Astonishia, while a fairly interesting and epic tale of adventure, became something of a joke with fans. Crimson Gem Saga plays faster and looser with its translation. Atlus hands gamers this incarnation in the series with a wink and a nudge; Crimson Gem Saga is chock full of bawdy humor, pop-culture references, and self-referential jokes about the nature of RPGs. While uptight fans might balk at the creative liberties taken with the game, most people will be able to appreciate the game’s banter. The voice acting is hilariously over the top, and the writing is fairly consistently witty. It may throw players off at first, but the charming presentation is certainly welcome, especially in the world of turn-based RPGs, where many games seem to have the same sense of humor as Mr. Spock.

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The gameplay in Crimson Gem Saga is just as leisurely as the script. Battles are not random, so the constant threat of attack is non-existent. Players can gain bonuses for starting a battle from behind or beside an enemy, with an ambush system similar to the strategy of striking from the back found in Final Fantasy Tactics games. The actual battles are simple, turn-based, and quite fun: Crimson Gem Saga has a combo system, too, which makes battles feel a little more dynamic. Hitting the attack button at the right moment after a strike will yield another hit. It’s a fun little addition, and spices up the otherwise vanilla battle structure. Unlike many RPGs, skills are almost entirely frivolous: which is a good thing, because they cost way too much MP. Physical attacks are enough to get through most battles because enemies seem to be absolutely loaded with potions and other healing items that eliminate the need for the typical RPG healer. Some skills are entirely useless, but the good ones – the ones that are worth spending MP on, at least – are ridiculously powerful. It’s funny then that Crimson Gem Saga has an absolutely massive skill tree that wouldn’t look out of place in Final Fantasy X. Considering skills reach ridiculous heights, like making the entire party invincible, the tree provides loads of customization options for characters, even if they don’t really need them.

“Crimson Gem Saga is chock full of bawdy humor, pop-culture references, and self-referential jokes about the nature of RPGs.”The graphics and sound are top notch, a cut above what was on offer in Astonishia. While the art is a tad generic, the level of detail and animation brings every sprite to life. Crimson Gem Saga is bursting with color and personality; the vibrant art only makes the bouncy script more fun. The environments are richly detailed 3D models, too; while they don’t match the level of intricacy that the sprites display, the overall blend is certainly attractive. The music is quite pleasant too, although it remains planted firmly in the background.

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Crimson Gem Saga proves just how much better a game can be if it doesn’t take itself too seriously. While it’s an easy and, quite frankly, generic RPG, the script should make players more than willing to stick around for the 30ish-hour adventure. The hilarious writing, tongue-in-cheek acting, and simple, satisfying gameplay make up for the fact that you’ve probably played this game a dozen times before. Don’t frown and mope because the serious face of Astonishia Story has been turned into a smirk by the merry pranksters in Atlus’ translation department: in this stealth-sequel’s case, style definitely is substance.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

Gentle persuasion

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