"During my time with Crimson Alliance, I was left with a hollow feeling - the game never did anything to capture me."
Sometimes after a long day, you don't want to think - you just want to unwind, mash buttons, and take your frustrations out on a mass of polygons. For this reason alone, Crimson Alliance might just appeal to you - a game you can play leisurely with friends while cracking open a beer. Unfortunately, Crimson Alliance suffers from a dependence on doing everything that's been done before; it's a completely mindless thrill that does nothing to carve out its own place in the hack-and-slash genre. While the game itself is technically sound, problems like a lack of variation in environments, enemies, and skills make the journey unmemorable. I wasn't expecting it to match up to the top-class XBLA release Bastion, but I was expecting a little more bang for my buck.
Crimson Alliance's story revolves around the princess Asturi, an evil woman who took the throne of Byzan and seduced a trusted magus. Her evil ways continued as she uncovered the secrets of dark magic and started extracting souls, sacrificing humans, and raising the dead. Along the way, she lost the throne and her power, and now she'll do anything to get it back. The story joins a magician in medias res
alongside a feisty assassin and a stoic mercenary after an unknown amount of time to defeat Asturi as she attempts to retake her throne.
Here's Crimson Alliance's first misstep: there was great opportunity to make Asturi a truly menacing villain, but her presence throughout the game is minimal. There's little suspense throughout the whole journey: it's like having Cruella de Vil, but not showing her sickening desire to make dalmatians into her new fur coat. The intensity simply isn't there, and it definitely doesn't help that the story is told via static images and narration - there are no live action scenes to show off the drama. And as for our do-gooder trio? All the characters are bland and never captivated me in the slightest. It's not because they're necessarily bad characters, but they're amazingly underdeveloped. Only in the end did I see any sort of banter or camaraderie, and by that point, it was too little too late. As it stands, Crimson Alliance only offers a barebones, disjointed story without an intriguing cast or a hate-worthy villain to inspire the hack-and-slash spirit, and that's bad even for an XBLA title.
Crimson Alliance offers three classes for you to choose from: magician, assassin, and mercenary. All have their strengths and weaknesses, so you should be able to match one to your playstyle. As far as the core game is concerned, there's nothing necessarily wrong with any of it. It's extremely simplistic: there are three basic attacks at your disposal alongside a dash and your ultimate attack. Each class's attacks are unique, as well, so it's not always just mashing an attack button. You'll also be picking up plenty of loot along the way for weapon upgrades, and there are items scattered about to help you fight hordes of enemies. The equipment system is just as simplistic; each weapon and piece of armor has four statistics; the first three linked to your three attack buttons, and the fourth to health. Thankfully, a large of variety of weapons lets you pick one that suits your playstyle.
As expected, there are frenzied hordes of enemies, and Crimson Alliance does one thing well: allowing you to customize the color of your characters so that you can find them on screen. Combat itself is fairly smooth, and, at first, everything in Crimson Alliance seems like a fun little romp... that is until every dungeon and enemy begins to look the same. Crimson Alliance is a short game, a six hour adventure at best; it's disappointing how little variation there is in enemies and dungeons. Those who have a fixation on collecting things might find some replay value as you can always try to get the highest scores on levels, take on a different class, or search for secret passage areas in dungeons, but it won't rescue you from any of the tedium. Even the smooth combat starts to feel dry with little to manage aside from your items, and character skills never change, so you're always stuck with more of the same in Crimson Alliance.
The game's overarching simplicity also extends to the optional puzzles in the dungeons, which are so easy to complete that they seem like an insult to your intelligence. This was an area where the developers really could have challenged players to think outside the box. Instead, the puzzles feel like somebody left the answer key right in front of your face. Naturally, it's hard to deny that Crimson Alliance is mind numbingly generic, which is a shame. It's hard to be inspired to play a game when it feels like the developers weren't all that inspired themselves.
The lack of inspiration even extends to visuals and sound. After playing through the game, not much sticks out about either of these aspects. In fact, I wasn't even able to remember much of anything about the music. I actually went back to the game while writing this review to double check that it was even there. Even if it is present and not entirely awful, the fact that it didn't leave the slightest impression on me is telling. On a similar note is the voice acting - only one character even stands out as average, and that's the magician. His other two companions don't even have enough energy in their lines to make up for their below average voice acting skills. Visuals aren't quite as bad, as the art that is shown during the story sequences is decent enough; however, the game still suffers from not even making a mark with its visuals in the dungeons. Much like the gameplay, it's technically proficient, but not very inspired.
During my time with Crimson Alliance, I was left with a hollow feeling - the game never did anything to capture me. The whole experience felt so formulaic that it really had no soul, and it was hard to be impressed by a game that essentially forces you to play through twelve similar-looking dungeons. As an XBLA title, Crimson Alliance didn't need a lot of depth, but a touch here and there would have made all the difference. There is some good though, as there are no big issues with the controls and the combat's smooth. Playing with a friend will help make the journey less tedious, but it doesn't fix how generic the game is. Had Crimson Alliance had a little more in the way of flavor, it might have been pleasing to the senses; right now, though, the flavor is only mildly satisfying.