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.

TouchArcade Rating

  • JD

    "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."

    Probably because many people don't want to stare at something the size of an iphone for "30-40 hours". I love many of the games on my phone but generally don't play them for more than 15 minutes at a time.

    • DJ

      Well that might be your opinion, but just because you are a pick-up and play gamer doesn't mean that tons of people like to. Personally I like the short games, but I have always wanted a full-length game on the iPhone, and this is definitely the best I've played (aside from The Quest).

    • legoshoes

      That's a load of crap. There are many brilliant portable RPGs for many game systems. Hell, the iphone screen is bigger than the GBAs and i'll bet money people have spent countless hours with epic games on that. Ask anyone who's played Golden Sun.

      • http://www.mentation.nl/thanatist/ Thaurin

        Speaking of that, I'd love a proper Golden Sun port. It's fun and all with the GBA emulator on a jailbroken phone, but natively it would rock my ass. Also Fire Emblem. ;) And where that Final Fantasy Tactics iPhone release!?

      • http://soiled.com Gload

        LOL Golden Sun port. We've still be waiting forever and a day for the GS game announced LAST YEAR. Who do these guys think they are? Blizzard?

      • Eduku

        I really wouldn't expect Golden Sun or Fire Emblem to be ported, because of, well...Nintendo.

        Also the release of Final Fantasy Tactics was announced for September.

    • Anon

      there's nothing more annoying than people who think they speak for everyone. drop the ego.

      • Tom

        Since when is stating an opinion "ego"? Lighten up, Francis.

    • Eli Hodapp

      I think it has more to do with the development time an epic RPG requires to actually have an epic feel. For instance, Crescent Moon Software's Aralon will have been in development for two years by the time it's finally released. When you can only sell something on the App Store for an absolute maximum of $9.99 and still have anyone buy it, I'm not sure how it's possible to recuperate those costs when in the same amount of time you can make many 99¢ bite sized games which will likely sell considerably more.

      I'm not sure screen size matters, as games like Super Mario Super Saga, the Final Fantasy series, the Golden Sun games, and many other RPG's have sold millions of copies on the Gameboy Advance and/or DS. Both devices have considerably smaller screens.

      • http://www.squarezerostudio.com squarezero

        It's possible to recoup costs if you keep them low in the first place by having a small resourceful team. It also helps if, like the CM team, you have a good understanding of marketing.

        At 100 million+ users, you only have to reach a fraction of 1% of the installed base to

      • jason

        Lol where is this $10 maximum? your mom decide that?

      • Him

        Its in the app developement rules douchebag

    • JCat

      If an RPG has some meat on its bones, I'm sure many people will invest hours staring into their iPhone or ipad, the same way they do with their DS/PSP. Just another way of playing...which differs from being hunched over a computer desk, or waiting for disc loads while holding control pads through out the session.

    • Dee

      agreed. I think there will always be a handful of gamers who want (and willing to pay) for full length RPGS, but the mass market of iOS owners aren't really hardcore gamers and are satisfied with quick pick up and play games.

    • Triced

      Love rpg's and the iphone has very few which are truly great.

      wow its not ridiculous this game is 10 dollars. They could charge alot more for a quality game like this. Its ridiculous that people cant justify shelling out a measly 10 bucks for a console quality game.

  • JD

    "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."

    Probably because many people don't want to stare at something the size of an iphone for "30-40 hours". I love many of the games on my phone but generally don't play them for more than 15 minutes at a time.

    • DJ

      Well that might be your opinion, but just because you are a pick-up and play gamer doesn't mean that tons of people like to. Personally I like the short games, but I have always wanted a full-length game on the iPhone, and this is definitely the best I've played (aside from The Quest).

    • legoshoes

      That's a load of crap. There are many brilliant portable RPGs for many game systems. Hell, the iphone screen is bigger than the GBAs and i'll bet money people have spent countless hours with epic games on that. Ask anyone who's played Golden Sun.

      • http://www.mentation.nl/thanatist/ Thaurin

        Speaking of that, I'd love a proper Golden Sun port. It's fun and all with the GBA emulator on a jailbroken phone, but natively it would rock my ass. Also Fire Emblem. ;) And where that Final Fantasy Tactics iPhone release!?

      • http://soiled.com Gload

        LOL Golden Sun port. We've still be waiting forever and a day for the GS game announced LAST YEAR. Who do these guys think they are? Blizzard?

      • Eduku

        I really wouldn't expect Golden Sun or Fire Emblem to be ported, because of, well...Nintendo.

        Also the release of Final Fantasy Tactics was announced for September.

    • Anon

      there's nothing more annoying than people who think they speak for everyone. drop the ego.

      • Tom

        Since when is stating an opinion "ego"? Lighten up, Francis.

    • Eli Hodapp

      I think it has more to do with the development time an epic RPG requires to actually have an epic feel. For instance, Crescent Moon Software's Aralon will have been in development for two years by the time it's finally released. When you can only sell something on the App Store for an absolute maximum of $9.99 and still have anyone buy it, I'm not sure how it's possible to recuperate those costs when in the same amount of time you can make many 99¢ bite sized games which will likely sell considerably more.

      I'm not sure screen size matters, as games like Super Mario Super Saga, the Final Fantasy series, the Golden Sun games, and many other RPG's have sold millions of copies on the Gameboy Advance and/or DS. Both devices have considerably smaller screens.

      • http://www.squarezerostudio.com squarezero

        It's possible to recoup costs if you keep them low in the first place by having a small resourceful team. It also helps if, like the CM team, you have a good understanding of marketing.

        At 100 million+ users, you only have to reach a fraction of 1% of the installed base to

      • jason

        Lol where is this $10 maximum? your mom decide that?

    • JCat

      If an RPG has some meat on its bones, I'm sure many people will invest hours staring into their iPhone or ipad, the same way they do with their DS/PSP. Just another way of playing...which differs from being hunched over a computer desk, or waiting for disc loads while holding control pads through out the session.

    • Dee

      agreed. I think there will always be a handful of gamers who want (and willing to pay) for full length RPGS, but the mass market of iOS owners aren't really hardcore gamers and are satisfied with quick pick up and play games.

    • Triced

      Love rpg's and the iphone has very few which are truly great.

      wow its not ridiculous this game is 10 dollars. They could charge alot more for a quality game like this. Its ridiculous that people cant justify shelling out a measly 10 bucks for a console quality game.

  • Drawn

    Thanks for the review.

    Hey, what resolutions does this run at? On the iPad, on Retina display?

    TouchArcade: This is important info for any iOS game. Saying it is "iOS game" is no longer enough information!

  • Drawn

    Thanks for the review.

    Hey, what resolutions does this run at? On the iPad, on Retina display?

    TouchArcade: This is important info for any iOS game. Saying it is "iOS game" is no longer enough information!

  • John

    He didn't speak for everyone, and he didn't try to, and I am one of the people he was referring to. Games that long on any system I avoid, but especially on an iPhone. System is meant for small games.

    • Steve

      "System is meant for small games"--I don't think that's true. The idea that the system isn't meant for longer games is ridiculous because any portable gaming system has both pick up and play and more hardcore games. Dont confuse the idea that you (and perhaps even the majority of iphone users) are a casual gamer with the idea that the iphone was meant solely for casual games.

    • Alex

      The system is meant for anything that will run on it. That's like saying the system should only be used for phone calls because thats what it mainly did when it first came out. Was the PS3 only meant for handheld controller games? Can there not be games that use motion or movement controllers because it wasn't meant to run games that took advantage of that technology originally?

      • http://3angrygamers.com Archimedes

        Wait... It's a phone too??

  • John

    He didn't speak for everyone, and he didn't try to, and I am one of the people he was referring to. Games that long on any system I avoid, but especially on an iPhone. System is meant for small games.

    • Steve

      "System is meant for small games"--I don't think that's true. The idea that the system isn't meant for longer games is ridiculous because any portable gaming system has both pick up and play and more hardcore games. Dont confuse the idea that you (and perhaps even the majority of iphone users) are a casual gamer with the idea that the iphone was meant solely for casual games.

    • Alex

      The system is meant for anything that will run on it. That's like saying the system should only be used for phone calls because thats what it mainly did when it first came out. Was the PS3 only meant for handheld controller games? Can there not be games that use motion or movement controllers because it wasn't meant to run games that took advantage of that technology originally?

      • http://3angrygamers.com Archimedes

        Wait... It's a phone too??

  • http://www.squarezerostudio.com squarezero

    Great review, Peter. I should note that in 14 hours play I have yet to run into a single crash on my 3Gs. The bronze medallion bug doesn't really crash the game -- it just forces you to use all the ones you have in one go.

    I would quibble with the term "lazy port". A PSP port that includes all the content (resized to the iPhone screen), runs at full speed, and is generally very stable doesn't strike as lazy, even if they didn't redraw the buttons. Compare that to Zenonia 2, which is a cellphone port and
    Shipped with game-killing bugs.

  • http://www.squarezerostudio.com squarezero

    Great review, Peter. I should note that in 14 hours play I have yet to run into a single crash on my 3Gs. The bronze medallion bug doesn't really crash the game -- it just forces you to use all the ones you have in one go.

    I would quibble with the term "lazy port". A PSP port that includes all the content (resized to the iPhone screen), runs at full speed, and is generally very stable doesn't strike as lazy, even if they didn't redraw the buttons. Compare that to Zenonia 2, which is a cellphone port and
    Shipped with game-killing bugs.

  • seleneluna

    I've played this on PSP. No good as an Atlus RPG. Awful game design and balance. They should port better games like Megami-Tensei series. Why they chose this one?

  • seleneluna

    I've played this on PSP. No good as an Atlus RPG. Awful game design and balance. They should port better games like Megami-Tensei series. Why they chose this one?

  • barbicoh

    One thing I noticed though was that the dialogue audio was sometimes "cut" and played at the wrong timing. A character's textbox may display a certain sentence but the audio is palying the next or previous dialogue line.

    That's the only thing that irks me otherwise this is a very solid RPG.

    Thumbs up.

  • barbicoh

    One thing I noticed though was that the dialogue audio was sometimes "cut" and played at the wrong timing. A character's textbox may display a certain sentence but the audio is palying the next or previous dialogue line.

    That's the only thing that irks me otherwise this is a very solid RPG.

    Thumbs up.

  • Vertig0

    This is a great game. Put in ten hours so far and have very much enjoyed it. Best rpg on the iphone ive played. The menu swiping can get pretty annoying though.

  • Vertig0

    This is a great game. Put in ten hours so far and have very much enjoyed it. Best rpg on the iphone ive played. The menu swiping can get pretty annoying though.

  • http://www.dorpelsvoorweinig.nl wim dorpelsteen

    Why o why do so many iPhone games have such horrendous controls? I've stopped playing so many games (for example "Shining Force") only because of the uncontrollable randomness that happens when you touch the screen... *sigh*

  • http://www.dorpelsvoorweinig.nl wim dorpelsteen

    Why o why do so many iPhone games have such horrendous controls? I've stopped playing so many games (for example "Shining Force") only because of the uncontrollable randomness that happens when you touch the screen... *sigh*

  • Trell

    Hang on a sec...

    Sorry, but I disagree with that first sentence. Not blessed with too many epic RPGs? I think the RPG market on the iPhone is heaving...

    Inotia, Zenonia, Across Age, Final Fantasy I & II, Chaos Rings, The Quest, Arvale, Ravensword, Pocket Legends etc..., everything ranging from 1st person western RPGs, through JRPGs, MMORPGS, interactive fiction, puzzlers with RPG elements, dungeon crawlers, strategy RPGs, etc...

    Sometimes I just fancy a good old bullet hell SHMUP, but even these can be thin on the ground!

    • Windburn

      Of that list, I would personally only categorize the first few as falling square within the 'epic RPG' category, where a comprehensive single player storyline drives the combat. My point was, you may be able to list a handful, but you certainly can't call them all epics.

      Naturally, some level of subjectivity enters every colorization of things, and I may just be a little jaded where the current offerings of RPGs are at :)

    • Eduku

      Out of all of those, the only ones I'd be able to call with any confidence 'epic' would be Chaos Rings and The Quest (and possibly FF).

  • Trell

    Hang on a sec...

    Sorry, but I disagree with that first sentence. Not blessed with too many epic RPGs? I think the RPG market on the iPhone is heaving...

    Inotia, Zenonia, Across Age, Final Fantasy I & II, Chaos Rings, The Quest, Arvale, Ravensword, Pocket Legends etc..., everything ranging from 1st person western RPGs, through JRPGs, MMORPGS, interactive fiction, puzzlers with RPG elements, dungeon crawlers, strategy RPGs, etc...

    Sometimes I just fancy a good old bullet hell SHMUP, but even these can be thin on the ground!

    • Windburn

      Of that list, I would personally only categorize the first few as falling square within the 'epic RPG' category, where a comprehensive single player storyline drives the combat. My point was, you may be able to list a handful, but you certainly can't call them all epics.

      Naturally, some level of subjectivity enters every colorization of things, and I may just be a little jaded where the current offerings of RPGs are at :)

    • Eduku

      Out of all of those, the only ones I'd be able to call with any confidence 'epic' would be Chaos Rings and The Quest (and possibly FF).

  • ecco6t9

    Thing is don't make your games feel like broken ports of a 2006 mobile title and you'll do fine.

  • ecco6t9

    Thing is don't make your games feel like broken ports of a 2006 mobile title and you'll do fine.

  • stlredbird

    does it have HD retina display graphics?

    • Dave

      Wondering the same myself, any chance this game looks good on an iPad? Or do you have to pixel double to get full screen?

    • lazypeon

      Looks great on my iPhone 4, but does not have Retina-view resolution graphics. Haven't tried it on iPad, but I'm guessing you'd need to use pixel doubling.

  • stlredbird

    does it have HD retina display graphics?

    • Dave

      Wondering the same myself, any chance this game looks good on an iPad? Or do you have to pixel double to get full screen?

    • lazypeon

      Looks great on my iPhone 4, but does not have Retina-view resolution graphics. Haven't tried it on iPad, but I'm guessing you'd need to use pixel doubling.

  • sal

    thank god another korean rpg

  • sal

    thank god another korean rpg

  • HeartHug
  • HeartHug
  • Cookies

    I think it looks awesome, partly because the artwork has a fire emblem feel to it, but also cuz a long good looking RPG would be awesome.

  • Cookies

    I think it looks awesome, partly because the artwork has a fire emblem feel to it, but also cuz a long good looking RPG would be awesome.

  • JD

    Did they fix the leveling up system? I heard there was a HUGE problem/bug when swapping in bronze medallion causing people all sorts of problems.

    $9.99 for this? No. 4.99 for this, yes.

    • http://www.squarezerostudio.com squarezero

      Careful of what you "hear" on the Internet -- it's rarely accurate. The problem was simple: the game uses a system of medallions to upgrade individual skills, which you find as enemy drops through out the game. The first level upgrade (bronze) has a bug where it required you to use all the bronze medallions you have before you can exit the upgrade menu. You can still upgrade any skill on any character; you just lose a bit of control of when to upgrade them. The game is perfectly playable even with this issue, as those of us who've put in 10 hours + can attest. In any event, the developer has already submitted an update that should fix the issue.

      I know that App Store is it's own market and all, but $5.00 for a title that, in pretty much the same exact form, sells for $30.00 on the PSP is simply ridiculous.

  • JD

    Did they fix the leveling up system? I heard there was a HUGE problem/bug when swapping in bronze medallion causing people all sorts of problems.

    $9.99 for this? No. 4.99 for this, yes.

    • http://www.squarezerostudio.com squarezero

      Careful of what you "hear" on the Internet -- it's rarely accurate. The problem was simple: the game uses a system of medallions to upgrade individual skills, which you find as enemy drops through out the game. The first level upgrade (bronze) has a bug where it required you to use all the bronze medallions you have before you can exit the upgrade menu. You can still upgrade any skill on any character; you just lose a bit of control of when to upgrade them. The game is perfectly playable even with this issue, as those of us who've put in 10 hours + can attest. In any event, the developer has already submitted an update that should fix the issue.

      I know that App Store is it's own market and all, but $5.00 for a title that, in pretty much the same exact form, sells for $30.00 on the PSP is simply ridiculous.

  • Wendelin

    The real reason we don't have many epic games is Apple. Why would a developer risk investing thousands of hours when the distributor is unreliable and might not approve your app at all, or kick it out of the store on a whim.

    • http://www.squarezerostudio.com squarezero

      The real reason, you say? Are you it has nothing to do with the fact that, as JD above shows, App Store customers think that paying $10.00 for a $30.00 game is too much?

  • Wendelin

    The real reason we don't have many epic games is Apple. Why would a developer risk investing thousands of hours when the distributor is unreliable and might not approve your app at all, or kick it out of the store on a whim.

    • http://www.squarezerostudio.com squarezero

      The real reason, you say? Are you it has nothing to do with the fact that, as JD above shows, App Store customers think that paying $10.00 for a $30.00 game is too much?

  • Hikarius

    Some clarification of facts. As far as I know, This game is the product of South Korean developer IRONNOS. Atlus Games is merely an agent of marketing stuffs. It seems understandable given the mysterious control glitches and the quest-after-another-quest style of story-telling.

  • Hikarius

    Some clarification of facts. As far as I know, This game is the product of South Korean developer IRONNOS. Atlus Games is merely an agent of marketing stuffs. It seems understandable given the mysterious control glitches and the quest-after-another-quest style of story-telling.