Graduating from school is a start to a new saga in life, an adventure beckons. For Killian is a day most remembered for being second best. Being beaten is something we have to learn to live with, but when it is by our worst rival emotions can turn into anger and hatred. That damn arrogant Herbert beats Killian, and it won’t be the last time during this 30+ hours long RPG that Killian looses to Herbert. Graduating from the Green Hill Academy is just the start to one of the longest RPG:s for the iPhone.
Being a port from PSP Crimson Gem Saga is basically a $40 PSP game with controls mashed onto a touch screen. This is the major flaw to the game compared to the PSP original. Running around towns and deserts is done by either a fixed or flexible joystick. The flexible one showing up wherever you put your thumb is useless to me, as it keeps moving along with my thumb. The fixed works quite well, and is quite forgiving letting me use my thumb outside of the area. A flaw here is that when I enter a new area, and want to move into it the game often interprets my initial touch wrong, and moves me back where I came from. There is also an action button allowing interaction with NPC:s and objects. The game is quite fiddly, and wants me to stand in a specific spot to talk to someone that can be tricky to find at times. The movement and action controls are just a minor flaw when it comes to the overall touch controls. Menus in shops, skill trees, inventory and equipment are so hard to use that I have learnt to save before I venture into any of these. After hours of fiddling with these strange controls I have still not gotten into them. To scroll between weapons in the equipment screen you have to scroll over the items, and if you miss the game either changes to another equipment type or backs out of the screen to the menu. The skill tree is even worse making skill selection, and evolution more of a hassle than a joy. Saving before any trip to the shop is needed to avoid buying the wrong items, or worse quitting out of the game completely because of frustration.
Speaking of flaws there is no autosave in the game, and that is something I sorely miss in a portable phone game where calls, and messages tend to disturb the gaming. Instead you get three save slots where you can save manually. I have not lost any data, and even though the game forces me to go through the load screen upon start-up it loads fairly quickly even on an iPhone 3G.
There are no random encounters in the game, which is great in my book. Instead the enemies are visible at all times. When they spot you they get a question mark above their heads. If you attack during the question mark the attacking order is determined by the stats of the combatants. If you are too slow, and the question mark turns into an exclamation mark the enemy gets to attack first, and then stats determine the order. The reverse is possible if you are quick, and attack an enemy from behind. This gives you a powerful attack often wiping most of the enemies into bloody pulp. Battles are turn based, and you get the usual choices of attack, magic, defence, escape and use items. Sadly this small menu is rather fiddly as well, and I always make sure to scroll it upward to avoid escaping by mistake. The magic menu is strange, and takes some getting used to. The animations are nice when battling, and upon winning one of your characters say a nifty one-liner.
The story and structure of the game is interesting based upon long chapters with clear goals. Crimson Gem Saga is a linear game with just a few side-quests. Still I always felt engaged, and interested in continuing. Cut scenes with a bit over the top voice acting awards you when you reach a new chapter. The characters are quite interesting even though the usual stereotypes are present. The perky Spinel, grumpy Killian and overly mysterious Henson and Lahdul are all diverse enough to have their own personalities. You only take four into each battle, making strategic choices key to winning. There is no need to invest money into all characters, as you can keep some on the sideline for most of the game.
Another great aspect of the game is that there is little to no need for grinding in the game. The challenge is suitable at most times, as long as you don’t walk off with crappy weapons from the last town you reached. There are also ample bounties in houses to raid for money. A few of the NPC:s also give you items or money, but most of them only talk gibberish.
The PSP origin shows in the great production values with great graphics and the corny well done voiceovers. From start to finish it feels like a complete game, and to me it is perhaps the best RPG experience next to Chaos Rings for the iPhone when it comes to looks. The music is not ok though with looping strings and ambient samples. I would have liked an integrated playlist player or at least a way to override the music permanently with my own.
With Crimson Gem Saga you get a linear, but polished RPG with some of the worst touch controls implemented in the menus I have ever experienced. I have lived, breathed and dreamt Crimson Gem Saga since the release a couple of weeks ago. Still I am having a hard time recommending buying it at $9.99 until SK Telecom remodels the controls for menus. Character customization is a large component to any RPG, and all I get now is frustration. I recommend anyone looking for the next large RPG to keep a lookout for updates beyond the current 1.0.1, or a drastic price drop. It has the potential to be the best RPG for the iPhone if updated properly.
Crimson Gem Saga $9.99
Seller: SK Telecom/Nate Games
Tested on an iPhone 3G