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Crimson Gem Saga
Platform: PSP
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: IronNos, SK Telecom
Genre: Traditional RPG
Format: UMD
Release: US 05/26/09
Japan 10/23/08



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(I'd better keep quiet. Bianca gave great customer service.)
 
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The skill tree is not as epic as the Yggdrasil or Iifa tree, but it is quite important.
 
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Yes, the elf-girl's outfit is for real.
 
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It's not quite GPS, but it works.
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Neal Chandran
Hands-On Preview
05/17/09
Neal Chandran

Last year I had a chance to try out the Korean demo of Astonishia Story 2: Fate to Unhorse One for the PSP. It has since been released in Japan as Garnet Chronicle and is being brought to North American audiences as Crimson Gem Saga courtesy of Atlus. The following is a hands-on preview of Crimson Gem Saga based on the first few hours of play.

The one thing I could not get a feel for in the Korean demo was the story, so I'll talk about that first. It stars a young man named Killian who nearly misses his graduation from the prestigious Green Hill military academy due to a hangover. But do not be fooled into thinking Killian's a drunk slacker. He is actually an overachieving student who is visibly upset at not being valedictorian of his class (he was the salutatorian.) Killian's desire to be the best along with his insecurity at always being in second place is what often motivates him to action. Characters such as Spinel, the clever and sexy treasure hunter girl, are not above using Killian's insecurity to manipulate him into action.

Killian's first few hours following graduation prove quite eventful. He rescues a damsel in "distress" (the aforementioned Spinel), joins up with an elite army in a neighboring town, is found barely alive by Spinel when said army gets slaughtered by a suave, long-haired villain, reluctantly joins Spinel on a treasure hunt, and liberates a town under the curse of an evil witch with the help of a tough-talking mage and a musclehead ex-minister. The plot really thickens when this motley crew's heroic deed runs them afoul of the church, and everyone learns that there is a lot more going in the world than meets the eye. Killian's journey is proving to be an engaging and lengthy one. Characters have plenty of personality and should be a fun bunch to adventure with. The story is brought to life by well-written dialogue and above average voice acting during some cutscenes.

The 2D isometric graphics feature detailed, high-resolution sprites atop environments that resemble places out of storybooks. Not only do the playable character and townspeople sprites have smooth animations, but water flows in town fountains and chimneys billow smoke as well. Character sprites have a lot of animations during battles, including death animations where they fall dramatically. Additionally, even before the game starts, players can enjoy a great looking anime intro sequence. During cutscenes, dialogue is accompanied by large character portraits that sport a more painted look rather than a high-gloss anime look.

The music heard thus far is the kind of multi-layered orchestral fare heard often in modern RPGs. The instrumentation, consisting mostly of classical strings with occasional forays into modern instrumentation, sounds as it should even with the PSP's small speakers. Sound effects are standard for an RPG, but they ring out with great clarity.

Crimson Gem Saga does not contain an overland. Towns and dungeons are connected via paths similar to those of Final Fantasy X. When not in dungeons, a map can be pulled up to aid in navigation. Enemy encounters in hostile areas are represented by blue ogre-like creatures called galorins that must be touched to initiate battles, which take place on separate battle screens. If a galorin spots you, an exclamation point appears above its head, and it chases you at high speed. If a galorin bumps into you first, the enemy party gets a massive preemptive strike where every foe does extensive damage to your party. It is therefore in your best interest to sneak around and touch it from behind so your party gets that nice preemptive strike.

Battles are traditional turn-based affairs with the turn order displayed on the top of the screen. All the basic RPG commands are there such as attack, defend, use item, use skill, and escape. When escape is selected, a wheel akin to Shadow Hearts' Judgment Ring pops up and if you time a button press correctly, escape will be successful. Balance was quite skewed in the Korean demo (each party member had 400 HP and the enemies dealt 400 HP worth of damage), but progression in the game itself is quite smooth and so far the game's difficulty ramps up at a fluid pace. Levels are gained quickly and a level up restores HP and MP.

Not only do battles yield experience and money, but skill points as well. Skill points are pooled and can be spent in individual characters' Skill Trees to teach them new skills. Skill trees are similar to those in the Xenosaga or Digital Devil Saga games with multiple branches for semi-customizable character growth. If two characters possess the same mastered skill and have consecutive turns, a combination attack can be unleashed in battle.

Saving can be done anywhere and any time outside of battle, perfect for gaming on the go. Menus are generally easy to read and navigate, especially given the sheer amount of information in them. There is even a Quest Log in the menu so that players always know their objective.

Crimson Gem Saga is thus far proving to be a well-crafted traditional RPG for the PSP with Atlus' trademark careful attention to detail. It hits retail shelves on May 26th, so be sure to check back with RPGFan for a full review in the coming weeks.



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