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Spotlight on Crimson Gem Saga

Brad Gallaway's picture

So recently, the discussion of innovation versus presentation has been popping up in regard to various titles. Specifically, how should a critic view a game that makes no attempt at breaking new ground, but instead focuses on delivering a very polished and playable experience?

Of course, I think the answer certainly depends on who the critic is and what their personal philosophy is composed of. It really couldn't be any other way, could it? That said, I do think it has to be taken into account that the games industry is a large one, and there are players of all stripes within it.

Crimson Gem Saga Screenshot

Crimson Gem Saga Screenshot

Keeping this in mind, I think it can be safely assumed that there is room enough for games that push the envelope, as well as those who are content to stay sealed within it.

The most recent title where this issue popped up was the PlayStation Portable's Crimson Gem Saga, released today by RPG über-publisher Atlus.

Putting it through its paces, I was immediately struck by the superb production values, as well as the time and attention paid towards the finer details like the menu system, on-screen indicators, and so on. Without a doubt, this is an extremely attractive game, and the developers obviously took their time in crafting it. It's clean, smooth, and quite appealing.

However, within just a few minutes it's clear to see that Crimson Gem Saga has placed itself firmly within the direct heart of the turn-based RPG genre, and is quite comfortable to be there. Like so many others, the game starts with the hero waking up in bed. Exploring the town, chests in the homes of townsfolk can be plundered, the combat system plays out exactly as one would expect, and thus far, there have been no surprises or unexpected twists.

Crimson Gem Saga Screenshot

Crimson Gem Saga Screenshot

Is this necessarily a bad thing? If Crimson Gem Saga had faltered anywhere, I have a feeling that I wouldn't be quite as warm towards it as I am. Fortunately, the game nails every aspect down tight; it's almost a master-class meditation on the true essence of the turn-based RPG.

From that perspective, I think its simplicity is actually quite appealing, especially in light of the numerous tricks, hooks, gimmicks, and ever-increasingly-elaborate systems that players expect to have to learn before getting into any modern-day Role-Player. (The Japanese sort, anyway…) although there is certainly something to be said for innovation and pushing genres forward, there is such a thing as going too far. Although the JRPG is well overdue for a big shakeup, I have to be perfect honest in saying that the refined and elegant experience in Crimson Gem certainly has appeal.

I'm not quite far enough along in the game to deliver a review-level judgment, but so far my experience has been quite positive. If you're at all inclined towards indulging in a traditional RPG that's been buffed to a mouth-watering sheen, track down a copy ASAP… you know how quickly Atlus stuff gets scarce.

Crimson Gem Saga Screenshot

Crimson Gem Saga Screenshot

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Category Tags
Platform(s): PSP  
Developer(s): Atlus  
Genre(s): Role-Playing  

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The Printing Press Analogy

With the possible exception of Little Big Planet, Braid, Mirror's Edge and a few other titles there's not a whole lot of innovation going on within the gaming industry at the moment, so the question posed in this post is certainly relevant.

In principle, I don't think originality alone really says anything about how fun a game actually is to play; I can easily imagine a game being extremely ground-breaking and extremely dull at the same time. There doesn't seem to be anything inherent in the concept of game design innovation as such that even so much as hints at, for example, the overall quality of the gameplay mechanics or any other major factor which might have an important impact on how enjoyable the gaming experience is. The famous printing press analogy seems to work well when applied to the idea of original game design; it's not good or bad in and of itself, it all depends on how it's used.

As for the specific case of Crimson Gem Saga, there have been some reasonably favorable reviews so far, but GameSpot's convincing assessment and lowly 5.0 score indicates that the game has some significant flaws in its execution of the standard JRPG formula...

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