Author’s Note: This review was originally published on December 16th, 2009. Like other reviews of the time, it features “witty” taglines that separate each section.
Crimson Gem Saga is the sequel to Astonishia Story for the PSP. What the-HEY! Where are you going!? Stop! Crimson Gem Saga is like fillet Mignon and Astonishia Story is like expired milk! Phew, that was close. I almost lost you! Yes, like you, I was scarred after playing Astonishia Story. However, as I mentioned, Crimson Gem Saga has no relation to that abomination in any way. A sleeper hit through and through, Crimson Gem Saga has some issues that could turn away a few gamers, but it ends up being an enjoyable experience in the end.
Killian von Rohcoff wakes up on his day of graduation, hungover, at the Green Hill Academy. After failing to receive the title of valedictorian, he immediately follows up a job opportunity that leads to him getting his wallet stolen. From that point on, he gets involved in a chain of events that lead him to dubious allies, vile villains, and ancient secrets about powerful artifacts known as Wicked Stones.
While the story is a bit on the unoriginal side, and the majority of the plot twists don’t happen until the end of the game, Crimson Gem Saga has been treated with a hilarious script. The writing, the one-liners, and the way the characters interact with one another is spot on. They do not get along with one another for a good portion of the game, making for some of the best dialogue seen in an RPG for quite some time. Sure, the story is mediocre, but the script in the story makes it stand out.
Two Schools of Thought.
As I mentioned in the tag line, Crimson Gem Saga has some old-school and new-school RPG features going on. Killian and his team move from town to town and dungeon to dungeon, fulfilling quest objectives to advance the story. Some of the old-school features are the battles, the shops and the grinding. Battles are turn-based. You select an action for your character to do, the character does it, and his or her turn is finished. The shops have equipment and items that are ridiculously overpriced, which ultimately leads you to battle more monsters in order to grind for money. You also will have to grind for levels because Crimson Gem Saga is one of the more difficult RPGs out there.
However, there are some new-school features in Crimson Gem Saga as well. In the battles, you can perform team attacks, and utilize a system that lets you attack multiple times in one turn. Whenever your character lands a critical attack, hitting the X button at just the right time will let them critically attack again. If you manage to hit the X button a second time, the character will let loose with a devestating blow that deals far more damage than a normal attack. Obviously, timing is everything.
Learning new skills and magic also took a new-school approach. Unfortunately, not all new ideas are good, as evidenced by this system. After a battle, you will earn skill points. The entire party shares the same pool of this precious resource. In the menu, you have the option to open up each character’s individual skill tree. For those who have played Digital Devil Saga, the skill trees look exactly like the mantras. To learn a skill, you must first unlock it with skill points. Then, to actually learn it, you have to spend more skill points. As you unlock more skills, you unlock more paths. Obviously, the more powerful skills require you to spend insane amounts of skill points not only to unlock the skill, but learn it as well. One of the most disappointing features of Crimson Gem Saga is expending copious amounts of skill points to unlock a skill that turns out to be useless. In fact, most of the skills aside from a few healing spells, a few attack spells, and a few killer moves were not used once in battle. To acquire all of the skills for all of the characters, be prepared to do some heavy duty grinding. The skill trees were a rather lame way to learn new techniques, which is unfortunate because obtaining new spells and skills is one of the highlights of any RPG.
Bumpin’ to Old School.
The presentation of Crimson Gem Saga is clearly inspired by the old-school RPG generation. The 2D sprites are basic, but they are also well animated and colorful. Accompanying these splendid sprites are fully drawn portraits of the characters that get displayed during the multiple story sequences. The music and sound effects also have an old-school feel. Songs do get repetitive, but their instrumentation choices were done well. The voice acting does a good job at advancing the story, especially with characters like Spinel and Henson. Other characters perform well, but the above two stick out above the rest.
Crimson Quest of Quickness.
Despite some of the necessary grinding and SP farming you will have to do, Crimson Gem Saga can be finished in about thirty hours. Performing the side-quests and unlocking every skill will easily add on another ten hours. There is no new game plus option or extra content after you finish the game. Crimson Gem Saga, plain and simple, is a back-to-basics RPG that draws inspiration from NES and SNES RPGs of yesteryear. If you feel like reminiscing with a new title that has a fun script, challenging battles, and excellent graphics, then pick up this title and take a stroll down memory lane.