Tokyo has seen better days. Somewhere in urban sprawl of seedy karaoke bars and flocks of gothic lolitas, someone has figured out a way to create virtual reality labyrinths. It’s not like society has any practical use for such scientific advancements; ever since the dimensional-warping technology went haywire, the entire city has been reduced to a desolate concrete wasteland. In fact, the entire planet is now little more than a jumbled mess of shifting dimensional rifts haunted by mutated freaks and bionic monsters. With society slowly crumbling into nothing, things look pretty grim for humanity’s remaining survivors.
Fueled by a mounting sense of desperation, the remnants of mankind have summoned a trio of robotic warriors (apparently a small group of deadly androids is more capable of saving the world than anything else) and sent them wandering into the dimensional fray. There’s Amber, the femme fatale whose abilities with a blade are almost as stunning as her beauty. For the pedophile lurking in us all, Kadie balances out her brutal hand-to-hand combat attacks with an overly cute jailbait style. Then there’s Tokio, the lone gunslinger whose moody outbursts and finely toned chest will leave obsessive fangirls (and some fanboys, for that matter) drooling over his brooding manliness. While the game tries to shove a cheesy story about these robots attempting to gain some understanding of their existence and their inherent humanity down your throat, you’ll likely stop caring about their existential plight once the flashy cel-shaded intro sequence comes to a close.
Once you’ve endured a few lengthy and utterly bland conversations, you’ll be whisked away to the robots’ secret hideaway in the slums of downtown Tokyo. While Crimson Tears may present itself as a not-so original reflection on the future of mankind, it plays like the bastard lovechild of Dynasty Warriors and Phantasy Star Online. Instead of crusading through their post-apocalyptic world, they’ll be forced to wander through several of the dimensional labyrinths that are tearing reality apart. There is little exploration involved; all you have to do is unlock choose an area from a central hub, then teleport yourself into the maze. While the shapes of the labyrinths are randomly generated, you’ll find that several of the rooms have nearly identical features and obstacles. Since progressing to the next level of the maze involves finding another teleport machine, you’ll likely end up having to explore much of the simplistically designed areas before moving on.
But instead of focusing your efforts on completing the half-assed story, you’ll likely find yourself maxing our your characters instead. Like the characters of Phantasy Star Online, our heroes can level up and use a wide variety of weapons and gear to help supplement their health, attack power, and other stats. You’ll get to dual-wield blades with Amber, rip your foes into shreds with Kadie’s claws and Final Fantasy 7-esque broadswords, or riddle everything with Tokio’s ever-growing arsenal of guns. If you happen to collect the right items, you’ll be able to upgrade your weapons with elemental attributes and added effects. Button mashers will also appreciate the fact that each character comes with a series of easy-to-perform combos that can be further upgraded and developed as the game wears on. While such combat mechanics may seem shallow compared to the likes of God Hand and other brawlers, it still makes for some fun fighting.
That’s assuming, of course, that you don’t get bored too quickly. Each labyrinth in Crimson Tears is infested with enemies. But instead of following in the footsteps of most other PS2 beat’em ups and overwhelming you with hundreds of foes, this game only forces you to take on four or five enemies per room. You’ll have to trade blows with knife-wielding soldiers, laser-spewing spider androids, tiger zombies, back-flipping hooded assassins, flamethrowers, swiveling cannons, and even giant mechas that can be tricked into running over their fellow baddies. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t give you much in the way of challenge; if the enemies aren’t standing around and waiting to be slaughtered, they tend to be predictable, easily beatable, and utterly ineffectual. While the game tries to keep you on your toes with a few status ailment-inflicting elements (robots can somehow be poisoned despite not having internal organs), the wide variety of items and pickups will keep the challenge moderately low.
It’s not like the game goes to any great lengths to impress you, either. Each labyrinth is comprised of an assortment of rooms with almost no texture or remarkable detail. You’ll get to wander through concrete bunkers, defunct laboratories, abandoned mines, and plenty of other potentially interesting places. The problem is that the game has no atmosphere whatsoever; Where is the chipped plaster on the walls? Shouldn’t the abandoned mines have poor lighting and insect infestations? Why are all the open doors nothing more than darkened rectangular passageways? How can all these mutant freaks, the bane of mankind’s dwindling existence, be nothing more than a flock of generic soldiers and other uninspired foes? Even if the camera’s fixed angle makes exploring some of the rooms difficult, you won’t be missing much. The game tries to make it up to you by featuring stylish cel-shaded cutscenes (because vivid images of busty androids clad only in latex leotards and half a pair of pants are so much more important that good level design), but the poor writing and voice acting don’t do them any justice.
It’s not that Crimson Tears is a bad game. Far from it. The story and characters may not be very interesting, but the gameplay mechanics certainly are. The game takes the best elements of the RPG and brawler genres and molds together for a fairly fun experience. You’ll get to wield a wide variety of weapons, upgrade the characters with more moves, and thrash a small army of baddies along the quest for the game’s ending. Even if the button mashing combat isn’t engaging, it still has some of the charm of the 2D beat’em ups of yesteryear. If only the game had more challenging foes and made better use of the randomly generated levels, things may have turned out differently. But hey, at least you’ll have plenty of eye candy to ogle. That’s got to count for something.