For all the remarkable games we are seeing nowadays on the App Store, we are blessed with very few epic RPGs. It seems that developers are still unwilling to invest in the content heavy, quest-driven adventures that many other platforms routinely enjoy. Publisher Nate Games has thoughtfully identified this gap in the market and have given us the next best thing-- a direct port of a critically acclaimed 2009 title for the PSP-- Crimson Gem Saga [$9.99] by Atlus Games.
As the name would suggest, Crimson Gem Saga is indeed an epic by definition, weighing in at a satisfying 30-40 hours of story-driven, turn-based combat and exploration of a colorful, mythical world. Crimson Gem Saga makes no delusions, drawing strongly from the tenets of the Dragon Quest series in doing little to crack the molds of the genre, but focusing instead on bringing that traditional RPG experience in as fine a package as possible.
The wrapper to that package comes by way Killian, a tightly wound chevalier graduating from military academy and ready to embark on a new life in the big wide world. It's a setting told ad nauseum by RPGs, a factor that Crimson Gem Saga doesn't shy from. Wholly self-aware, Crimson Gem Saga instead colors that grey backdrop with a surprisingly well written, often humorous dialogue and a host of jaded protagonists alway at each other's throats-- an interaction practically unheard of in JRPGs.
To look at Crimson Gem Saga, one would have to agree that it delivers abundantly in eye candy. The game is portrayed with a mixture of highly detailed and diversely animated sprites (for both characters and world objects) and painted, layered level design. In many ways, Crimson Gem Saga aspires to the likes of Star Ocean, with the same colorful and richly populated world and detailed anime dialogue sequences rounding out the game's visual spectacle.
Undoubtedly the meat of any RPG is in its combat system, where you'll be spending the majority of your time over the length of the story. And combat remains largely derivative in Crimson Gem Saga. You won't find any complex limit system or interwoven skill trees to get your head around; but on the iOS devices, that is actually a blessing. The most difficult concept to master is the eventual use of linked attacks, where certain powerful skills are only made available if particular characters have consecutive turns. Otherwise combat is straightforward but constantly challenging, maintaining its lustre throughout the game.
Where Crimson Gem Saga falls short is in its seemingly lazy port; something of a curse of crossing the platform barrier. The on-screen buttons are just plain ugly, something that could be forgiven (though we wish there was an option to hide them entirely) if the implementation was otherwise acceptable. But this is not the case, with the menu system providing a saga of its own to overcome. Context sensitive areas on the screen aren't readily understandable, and the swiping mechanic is backwards and overly sensitive. Granted, hours of playing the game does eventually train you to negotiate the UI's hitches, but do expect initial frustration.
Compounding these issues are a few major bugs encountered; from a game-stopping cutscene crash we experienced on our first play through (fortunately, not on our second), to a widely experienced upgrading item crash. And voiced dialogues are terrific when they do work, but also intermittently cut out and seem to arbitrarily skip sequences. The silver lining to all this is that the developer has already responded to complaints on our forums with a patch being worked on to address some of these problems.
Notwithstanding the above, Crimson Gem Saga is a well-rounded title whose whole certainly exceeds the sum of its parts. Its traditional approach to RPGs meshes well with its witty dialogue to deliver a surprisingly engrossing adventure. Though combat is simple, even the average encounter is never a push over and so remains fun and engaging. The characters too are infectious and constantly at odds with each other; giving rise to some very funny dialogue and pop gaming culture references. If you can endure the clumsily ported menu system, then Crimson Gem Saga will reward you with a notoriously rare, epic RPG on the iOS platform.
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