"That sounds pretty tedious," our friend complains, as he tries for the fifth time in as many minutes to make a break for it and steer our instant messenger conversation towards Grand Theft Auto. "Yes, it does," we concede, struggling to think of a convincing response. "But 'sounds' is definitely the operative word." We've bought ourselves some time with that, but the damage is clearly already done. "To be honest," he grumbles, "it sounds like you're having trouble selling it."
Perhaps we are just crap salesmen. Indeed, upon reflection, "It's a mixture of hackandslash and RPG elements where you load yourself up with items and weapons and then trek through randomly generated dungeons over and over whilst pretending to be an anime chick in a thong," probably didn't focus on the right things. What we should have said is something more like, "It's a story-driven, cel-shaded Japanese sci-fi yarn with big weapons, improbably big breasts, and lots of entertaining combat, and you get to upgrade your combos, create your own weapons out of parts of your own choosing, and pump your earnings into the local economy so more things open up between levels."
We could then have gently pointed out that it always involves replaying the same dungeon several times in order to make progress, and that the dungeons are very repetitive in design, and that the three characters are all a bit similar, and that it's that sort of stiff, single-minded Japanese action game that usually goes completely unnoticed or gets a thorough kicking when it does risk the journey westward...
Yep, Crimson Tears is a tough sell. All we can really do is say that for all its flaws, its relatively narrow remit, and the frankly silly amount of repetition, it does have a couple of important aces up its skin-tight and/or Lycra-based sleeves: it's bound together by the sort of intriguingly mysterious story that you normally expect from a serious RPG, borne out in gorgeous cel-shaded cut sequences that are clear reward enough for your endeavours level-to-level; and the combat, though it begins life as a button-masher, quickly evolves into something more deliberate and varied, and stays that way.
Kill, kill, kill
The setup is very simple. You have three characters - Amber the samurai, Kadie the martial artist and Tokio the firearms expert - and you have to buy items and weapons for them in shops before descending into a series of dungeons and beating everything up room-by-room until you've conquered the resident boss. You have several different attacks, including one that invokes a nice rotating camera effect and clobbers everything in touching distance, you can block and backflip out of the way, and between missions you can repair your decaying weaponry, shop for new tools and trinkets, upgrade or create new weapons using scavenged parts, and use pick-ups from the dungeons to unlock new combos.
As we said, the combat to begin with is very basic. You mash X and square a lot, and occasionally back off and use a ranged weapon with circle, or utilise your unlimited-use spinny-camera attack by hitting triangle. It doesn't seem all that complex. Your only worries are the temperature of your character (the three protagonists are bioweapons with a tendency to overheat, so you have to moderate your use of special attacks, or at least make sure you're well stocked with coolant), your own health, and whether you've got enough items to make it to the end.
Invariably, however, you do not. Which is where a lot of the repetition stems from. Who knows why, but your inventory simply isn't big enough for all the things you need, and you're limited to carrying five of any type of item at a time too. Since there are usually several levels to each dungeon and a boss to worry about, you'll regularly find yourself low on health and other vitals like coolant, poison cures and other status effect potions; and since your weapons decay very quickly and occupy one slot each, you'll also quickly find your relatively small inventory running short of replacements [why does Capcom seem to delight in making us suffer at the hands of limited inventory slots? Make it stop! -Ed].
Kill, crush, destroy, rinse, repeat
But while the answer to this problem is "try, try and try again," you can at least do so with your newly levelled-up characters, and having taken advantage of any money or upgrade parts you found lying around while you were trying. If you find yourself running low on things, you can make use of a "Returner" item (a prerequisite for dungeon crawling in Crimson Tears) to transport back to your garage base and go shopping, or train up on new combat tactics. Then you can start again with slightly better odds. Even if you do die before your "oops, better leg it" sense kicks in, you can at least send one of your other characters in against the clock to rescue your stricken comrade and save the inventory items. More repetition, admittedly, and it's a shame you can't then continue on further into the dungeon once you've rescued him or her, but at least you retrieve the spoils.
But instead of quickly putting you off, the task of bludgeoning the same levels repeatedly as you grow in skill and stature actually becomes quite enjoyable, because it's generally just a lot of fun to go around clobbering people. Even at the button-mashing stage it's difficult to put down, and once you've started to learn your way around the game's combat system you'll come to appreciate it a lot more, and really draw entertainment from piling up vast combos, in spite of knowing you'll have to give up at some point and retread the same path doing the same things.
At least, you may do. The problem is that Crimson Tears really does live or die based on how much you enjoy the repetitive cycle of killing. It's the sort of game that will definitely appeal to fans of games like Hunter: The Reckoning and, curiously, KOEI's Crimson Sea titles [enough of the Crimson! -Crimson Ed], but it holds only limited appeal for the rest of you. You may find the story spurs you on, and you'll definitely find highlights beyond the combat (the bosses in particular are pretty decent, and in a nice touch the game modifies the "rescue" mechanic if you die at their hands by letting your rescuer head straight for the boss level), but on the other hand you may not. And if you don't, you'll get bored within a couple of hours and probably feel like taking it back to the shop. The game's side missions won't add any variety either; they generally involve going back into the same levels again to find an item a random enemy is harbouring.
Tearing us apart
It's not without other flaws either. The single camera perspective can be a problem, for a start. Apart from virtually negating the inclusion of Dolby Pro Logic II support (since not much is ever actually behind you), it conspires awkwardly with another niggle (the need to kill off ranged attackers first) to force you to run into rooms and dash around prioritising enemies based on what you know of their attack patterns. And since your character's speed doesn't vary (it's basically digital movement, not analogue), this means that any pitfalls like sections of falling ceiling are bound to snag you, and it has a tendency to break things up a bit too much.
It's also a bit stiff to control at times, particularly the gun combat which we grew tired of very quickly, you're sometimes left a bit too exposed at the end of an animation cycle, and while the cut-scenes and character designs generally make very good use of the artists' undoubted talents, the repetitive dungeon and enemy design quickly lessens the impact of their work. Oh, and while the three characters have different strengths on paper, they don't really translate to a huge difference in-game, which is a shame.
On balance though, we like it. For us, it's an enjoyable hackandslash with a thoughtful combat system, some nice integration of RPG elements, and a story that kept us interested once it stopped trying to confuse us by failing to clarify who or what anything was or had to do with anything. For others, however, it will be a fairly normal hackandslash with some frilly bits that simply makes you do everything three or four more times than you actually wanted. Fortunately for us though, you probably already know whether your own Crimson Tears will be sad or joyful. And if you are on the fence, we'd advise you to stop blubbing immediately and rent the game instead. It might just surprise you.