Review : Crimson Gem Saga (iPad)

Originally released May 2009, to the US by Atlus, for the PlayStation Portable (PSP), Crimson Gem Saga was ported to the iPad/iPhone more than a year later, hitting iTunes in August 2010.  Crimson Gem Saga marks an important shift in video game evolution being one of the first games ported from a current generation handheld system to the iPhone 4 OS.

Before crossing the ocean, Crimson Gem Saga was published by SK Telecomm as Astonishia Story 2. Wait? This game is a sequel? No, not quite . . . and phew. For those of you blissfully unfamiliar with Astonishia Story, it was ported to the PSP in 2006, but was originally a Korean PC game over a decade old. With a poor storyline, sub 16-bit design and awkward battle system, it’s easy to believe that Astonishia Story’s sequel had to be re-titled if it was to make it to market at all. Thankfully, with the exception of basic enemy design, Crimson Gem Saga bears almost no resemblance to it forefather.

Crimson Gem Saga doesn’t completely leave the past behind as it is styled after the classic Japanese RPG. Devoid of any great touchscreen innovation, CGS is a wonderful dungeon crawling romp. You will follow the young protagonist, Killian von Rochoff, as he gets wound into an ever winding story stretching across the fantasy realm of Latein.

Game Mechanics

As mentioned, Crimson Gem Saga was not about to reinvent the wheel, but take what it does well on the PSP and bring it to the touchscreen. You use a touch joystick to move through fields and dungeons with cross between overhead and side-scrolling camera-view. When entering battles, your party will be on the right and the enemies to the left. Cut scenes are simply the portraits of two individuals with the dialogue presented below.

The touch controls add a certain casual ease to the general gameplay, a nice change from clutching a controller all the time. They do come with a drawback, though, and navigating through the menus can be difficult. More than once I found myself accidentally using the incorrect potion or item because of a minor movement. The only other issue with the control scheme comes during battles. After choosing your character’s attack, during their attack animation, you sometimes have a chance to add a combo and  finisher to a critical hit by pressing a combo button with certain timing. On the PSP, when a combo opportunity presented itself, all you had to do was re-press the “x” button on cue to execute the move, and since “x” was the acknowledge button anyway, it was a nice little feature to add to the game. Someone should have tested the touch controls better, because when this same combo opportunity arises on the IPad, the combo button appears in the middle bottom of the screen. The short of it- don’t count on combos to save you, it will take more than a while to get the timing down, if at all.

Overall, the game mechanics were well ported, if not throughly tested, and since nothing is outright broken (and here’s hoping for an app update in the future to fix the above mentioned issues), Crimson Gem Saga functions like an old school RPG should. Just sadly, no better.

Game Mechanics                    2.5 / 5

Ambience

It is perhaps harder now than ever for the more classic-style games to draw in a player as they used to, but that does not mean you shouldn’t try. Here again, Crimson Gem Saga has a few mentionable notes, but nothing we haven’t seen before. The music is generic, yet appropriate, and ultimately forgettable. Don’t expect to find Nobuo Uematsu laying down tracks anywhere near here, but its an evolution above Pac-Man. During combat, each of your characters will cycle through a handful of semi-appropriate sayings to cry-out as they attack. It’s a nice touch, bringing you closer to your characters. The battle animations themselves are striking, although they often give you the feeling that you should be dealing more damage than you do. Other than that, the graphics are bright and colorful, if dated.

Ambience                                3 / 5

Fun Factor

The game itself is not overly difficult, nor is it a cake walk. It’s pretty easy to pick up and play. Bored on the bus? Meeting? Class? Simply turn down the volume and go. With the ability to save anywhere on the map, you don’t have to be concerned about having to ditch hours of gameplay. Will you find this game enjoyable? If you spent hours as a kid, or even still today, playing the likes of Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and Phantasy Star then you’re going to feel right at home in the world of Latein. On the other hand, if your shelf looks more like a first-person-shooter “Best of” collection, then Crimson Gem Saga is a definite skip.

Fun Factor                              3.5 / 5

Guidance

Even the bravest warrior sometimes needs assistance, so how much guidance are you going to need on this one? Well, even though the control scheme and battle system make it easy to pick up and play, there are some finer points for which you might want to consult you local FAQ. First, the storyline can be a little loose in places, and you’ll appreciate a friendly reminder of where you’re going and what for. Like any RPG, you set out on one simple task, and next thing you know everyone is asking for your help! Also, there more than a few unexpected bumps in enemy difficulty. Last thing you want is to find yourself far from town and overwhelmed by powerful enemies. There are a few spots where you’ll need to train your characters in order to move forward and unless you’re super conscientious, I would suggest consulting a walkthrough.

Next, the skill system in this game is obfuscated at best. First of all, I was almost ten hours into the game before uncovering the skills menu (I swear it wasn’t discussed in the tutorial!) After battle you’re awarded skill points to unlock character abilities, but you don’t know what that skill is until you’re half way to unlocking it. When on a character’s skill tree, you must spend say 100 points to view the name and nature of the skill, and then another 100 points to learn it. So, sometimes you read the skill description and just realize you wasted 100 points. Don’t be wasteful with your hardwork, do your research!

Even though the IPad version is exactly the same as the PSP, no extras or add-ons here, you could go and find an old guide somewhere, but it’s probably not worth it. Find a good FAQ/walkthrough online and bookmark it in Safari.

Guidance                                 3.5 / 5

Final Thoughts

Crimson Gem Saga doesn’t go anywhere RPGs haven’t been going for decades, but sometimes its fun just to go around the old block one more time. What the games does do, it does well. Recently reduced from $9.99 to $4.99 on Holiday Sale, the price is more than reasonable; especially considering the PSP disk can still price over twenty-bucks. When you simply compare hours of play to price point, you really can’t go wrong on this one. Plus, if you’re playing on iPad, you can backup your saved games on your computer’s iTunes, and play again at anytime. This game is definitely worth a shot, just don’t expect to find anything revolutionary or groundbreaking.

Final Score     3 / 5

Written by Andrew

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Review : Crimson Gem Saga (iPad), 10.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings

2 Comments

  1. GreatWhiteShank says:

    Nice review. I’ve been looking for a worthwhile RPG for my iPad but wasn’t sure where to start. Do you feel this game is better then Zenonia? I know the two are different, action RPG versus turn based, but that was my other consideration over this.

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    • Andrew says:

      Sorry for the reply delay.
      While Crimson Gem Saga is fun, there isn’t another game for iPad that does what Zenonia does so well. I’d say definitey go with Zenonia if you’re a Zelda fan and wait for a better RPG to come along. But if your diehard for J- RPG gameplay, Crimson Gem is a good title to start.

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