Crimson Shroud is a guy on a porch whittling a stick

December 17, 2012

Maybe it's cause of the kind of person I am—and I'm not saying I am necessarily a whimpering, masochistic weakling who craves being witness to the expert display of the skills and talents of others—but I have always kind of been entranced by storytellers. People who create works for others to experience. But also maybe expert tour-guides? Sketch artists? People with plans, masters of their crafts, no matter how small they are. Sometimes there's this guy down the row who hand-grinds coffee, I just freeze in my seat and listen to it and I feel kinda chills or something, I love it. People stamping their little seals on books in rhythm, librarians? I just sit there and listen, I am like, boy I sure hope you don't run out of books. Is this outta line here? I guess we all kind of slip into our own unexpected fantasy trances from time to time.

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On the subject! It's really hard for me to totally sell myself to fantasy worlds these days, to really let myself go. Part of it is because I try to write, myself, and I can't help but see "the construct" whenever I'm playing a game, reading a story, watching a movie. These things feel different to me than they must feel to others—I very rarely am able to get underneath and feel that Human Part, that exhibition of skill pandering to me, taking me by the hand and saying, come take a look at this. I cannot often sense The Creator behind it. Which is why this 3DS game Crimson Shroud has surprised me pretty good.

The main reason is that it presents itself as a tabletop RPG, complete with the omniscient voice of your game master, the "person" that is leading you on this journey. They narrate the story with "you"s, speaking directly as though you really are the characters you are controlling. You do all the things that you do in those kinds of games, with none of the agony and drawn out processes of looking stuff up in guide books and rolling for five separate variables. It's the best part of console RPGs melded with the personal touch of being led through a Role Playing game just like things used to be, and it's kinda shocking how INTIMATE it feels oh god am i saying this

The real trick of Crimson Shroud isn't to be found when you compare it to what other games do. The battles are "long." Every room you go to, even if you've been there before, is prefaced by a few screens of your game master narrating what you see and what you're thinking and what happens. You don't gain character levels, just loot and equipment that augments your stats and abilities. There is literally no animation—all the characters and enemies are tabletop RPG figurines with big old bases on them. And yet, from the first couple screens I was in—I had bought it. I knew it was a game, the narration told me as much. I was "you," I was rolling dice, I was partaking in a Construct. I was in.

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The trick is in what it does that other games don't do. It steps back from the mold of JRPG game-making and says, this is western tabletop RPG gameplay made in the Japanese tradition. I knew it had been constructed, for me, to take me through this adventure. In a weird sense, the game directly telling me first that I was playing a game made me buy into the world more instantly and more intently than works seem to do when they treat themselves as though they are the Word themselves. It has a charm about it.

Much like Liberation Maiden a month or so ago, Crimson Shroud is a short game. In a way, that makes the experience it provides even more special. While it might take you weeks or months of play to go through a carefully planned tabletop campaign with some of your friends, Crimson Shroud is all you, you and the creator, you and this little device in your hands, and your headphones, and you come home after a night out. You got the last train, and you left the table lamp on. You can't remember what you did at work, your eyes hurt. In your pocket's a handful of change and a receipt. You've got to be up again in a few hours but you click open the 3DS. Fingerprint smudges mark the buttons from left to right, a couple rough patches lining the top screen from where you've knocked it into the back of your leg in the side pocket of your bag. You begin to fear that you'll never get enough sleep for tomorrow. But it's too late now, you're all wrapped up in it. You should be hurrying along. But you just sit here and listen, and you're like boy you sure hope this keeps on going and going.

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