Crimson Gem Saga in Review – Final Fantasy is weeping in the corner

Despite the prominence of the RPG genre on the App Store, an inquisitive mind quickly discovers that about 70% are Action/RPGs ported from other mobile devices, with a few originally developed for the platform. The other 30% are split between the classic cRPGs like Undercroft (TMA Review), the Diablo-clones with Dungeon Hunter (TMA Review) in the lead and, very rarely, classic console jRPGs like the famous FINAL FANTASY series. It seems the latter has just got a massive upgrade with the release of Crimson Gem Saga – a port of a highly acclaimed PSP title.

Crimson Gem Saga is as classic a member of the console jRPG as you can get. Killian graduates from a famous academy with an impressive but nevertheless disappointing honourary title of salutatorian – the second best graduate. Not having any ties to the legendary Radiant Knights he instead embarks on his way to join an elite group of mercenaries. On his way he saves a beautiful girl from a group of thugs unaware of her being a thief and a grave robber. Being left the sole survivor of his first battle as part of the mercenaries he must now team up with the thief and find the infamous Wicked Stones in an attempt to save the world from impending evil.

The gameplay is a true descendant of the classics, with you controlling your team, represented by Killian in their journey across the world, one littered with enemies, dungeons and towns. The latter are a place for rest and relaxation as well as an opportunity to sell your loot and stock up on new equipment. The storyline is completely linear with a rare, and I do mean RARE, sidequest to entertain you. In addition there is the Ziggurat – an optional dungeon with higher-level enemies to get more loot as well some more experience. The game is excellently balance and provided you follow the storyline and do not stray into territories not meant for you at the moment, no extra grinding is really required.

The RPG system is also true to the classics, with individual equipment for each of the 6 characters. Some of it is shared, though, and fans of item upgrades will be able to entertain themselves by filling the item’s slots with extra cards and orbs, giving the equipment quite significant boosts. A more interesting feature is the character’s skill trees, which are unique to each of them, though some abilities can be found in more than one character. The skills themselves don’t offer anything out of the ordinary but to acquire them you must first discover them. Meaning at the beginning only some skills will be visible while most are obscured by ???. You’ll have to spend SP to both uncover and learn them if you deem it worthy. Additionally you can use special medallions to upgrade the skills themselves for that extra oompf.

The battle system is completely turn based with no time limit for you to ponder your next move. Both the characters’ and enemies’ action order is displayed on the top in a neat row. You can choose to attack, use a skill, use an item or try to escape. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention the very powerful combo skills, where 2 members of your squad team up to unleash a devastating attack on the enemy. Before this can be used however, both characters must have first learned the unique combo skill. And to make the combat more interesting, even the common physical attack may be the turning point of a battle if you are lucky to hit a combo critical and trigger the activation button that appears for a brief moment in the middle of the screen.

The graphics of Crimson Gem Saga are simply gorgeous – some of the best I’ve seen on the iDevice. The backgrounds are carefully drawn as well as the beautiful pixel characters and enemies. And none of that pesky 3D, though the view is isometric. The worst part of the game is, unfortunately, the interface. Even the simplest movement is difficult to achieve until you switch to the fixed D-Pad mode. But the worst part is the menu controls. The developers decided to replace the PSP’s d-pad with directional swipes, but forgot to take into consideration the barrel-like menus, for which it’s intuitive to tap and move up for the cursor to go down. And navigating through the skill trees is a completely separate piece of hell. Thankfully, an update is due to hit the AppStore soon that has promised to fix all of the interface ailments.

Bottom line: Crimson Gem Saga is simply the best console-style jRPG on the App Store at the moment, leaving the classic, but overly difficult FINAL FANTASY behind. The game has all of the hallmarks of the genre – a detailed and involving storyline, gorgeous graphics, high gameplay value and an original skillset. The only thing that can really stand in the way of being crowned as the king of the jRPG genre are the interface issues, though hopefully those will be fixed soon.

With this I declare Crimson Gem Saga officially touched!

App Summary
Title: Crimson Gem Saga Developer: Nate Games
Reviewed Ver: 1.0.0 Min OS Req: 2.2.1
Price: $9.99 App Size: 462.68MB
  • Superb graphics
  • Gripping storyline
  • Balanced and addictive gameplay
  • Polished combat system with an extensive skillset
  • Interface issues
  • Extremly low number of sidequests


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A project manager in a major telecommunications supplier, an iPhone junkie and lately - a TMA editor. Love long walks on the beach and my wife, who is the most beautiful girl on the face of this planet. You can also follow me on twitter for all things iPhone and project management (and some personal stuff as well):

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