Being in second place isn’t that bad. You’re good, but not great; you don’t have to live up to the same expectations as the person in first place, and you can safely cruise along the line between mediocre and exceptional. Crimson Gem Saga walks that line with exceptional production values and mediocre gameplay.
You start the game off as Killian, Salutatorian of his graduating class and an overall hard worker who always ends up in second place. After receiving a letter of recommendation from the Dean to join a special forces division called Excelsior (think SOLDIER in Final Fantasy VII), you set off to the headquarters in the next town over. Along the way you meet many accomplices who may join your party, such as a bandit named Spinel who swindles you out of your savings.
Above: CGS is very generous when it comes to random items, and you can find something to aid you in battle nearly anywhere you look
Battles play out like regular turn-based RPGs. The turn order is displayed at the top of the screen so you can better plan your strategy and synchronize your combination skills. Provided all characters have learned the same skill, are next to each other in the turn order, and have enough MP, combination skills can be used to deal large amounts of damage to multiple enemies. When the battle is won, you are rewarded with items and skill points (SP). SP is used to learn skills in your characters’ skill tree. Each skill doesn’t need to be learned in any order or at any level; with enough SP you can unlock any skill and learn it on the spot.
CGS implements a stealth aspect to its battle system called the ambush system where in order to deal the first blow, you must sneak behind your enemy. It sounds good in principle, but it’s frustratingly hit-or-miss, and enemies often randomly turn around and spot you at the last second for seemingly no reason at all. When you do pull off an ambush successfully, enemies receive a considerable amount of damage, making the battle a whole lot easier to win. You’re even granted temporary invisibility for a few seconds after winning a battle so surrounding enemies won’t run after you.
Above: With every critical strike, you have a small opportunity to follow up with another strike by pressing X at the right time
Crimson Gem Saga’s production values sometimes outshine the gameplay. The artwork has been drawn in great detail, the music sounds good, the localization is well written, and the voices can get annoying but the game is just so well done that you’ll forget they were there. RPG traditionalists will be impressed with the vibrant backgrounds and the animated sprites.
It doesn’t particularly offer anything new to the PSP, but Crimson Gem Saga is still a respectable RPG for the system. The battle system should be enough to keep you playing as the rewards are plentiful after every victory and it’s not hard to level up your characters. In short, CGS is a lot like its own hero, Killian - stuck in second place between mediocrity and exceptional.
Jun 11, 2009