If there is one thing I can’t get enough of, it’s fantasy action RPGs, which is a good thing because there are a lot of them. You may not feel as strongly as I do, but “Crimson Alliance” from Microsoft Studios and Certain Affinity is still a game that is sure to keep you and your friends entertained.
I won’t get into too much detail about the story; after all, it is a fantasy RPG. That should tell you everything you need to know: ultimate evil…reluctant heroes…amnesia…yadda, yadda, yadda. Cutscenes use still images and decent voice acting to move the admittedly thin story forward.
You’re not playing this game for the story though, you’re playing this game for the Gauntlet-style, top-down hack and slash action, and there is plenty of that to go around. You choose one of three different character types: the soldier, the assassin, or the wizard. The soldier is a melee based character type, the wizard specializes in ranged attacks, and the assassin is a little bit of both. All three character types have a dash and stun attack in their arsenal. You’ll need all of these attacks to defeat the myriad of enemies that inhabit the various dungeons of “Crimson Alliance.” The difficulty increases steadily throughout the game and by the end the battles become downright frantic.
Unlike most RPGs there is no leveling up in Crimson Alliance. Rather, the armor and weapons you purchase or find throughout the game will alter your character’s stats in four categories (3 attack categories and health) and in some cases grant you additional abilities. Most of the gear is purchased at shops that are unlocked as you progress through the game. So the loot you acquire as you play becomes akin to experience in other RPGs. There is also the option to pay an additional 80 Microsoft points ($1) for a quick shot of 40,000 gold.
“Crimson Alliance” has fantastic replay value. The game is just getting started when you complete your first play through. It is unlikely you will be able to purchase the best gear your first time through, unless you opt to shell out some Microsoft points for extra gold. In addition “Crimson Alliance” uses a rating system that awards medals based on your combat rating, secret areas found (there are usually between 5 and 10 on each level), and your completion time. You will have to play the game at higher difficulty levels if you want to earn the gold and platinum medals.
Indeed, this is where the true challenge of “Crimson Alliance” lies. Most gamers won’t have too much difficulty getting through the game on normal difficulty. But in order to earn the higher medals, not only must you play at the harder difficulty levels, you must also earn and maintain a high combat multiplier. Your multiplier rises as you dispatch enemies without taking damage. However every hit you take drops your multiplier down a level. So in subsequent replays the game isn’t about just surviving, but actually making it through the levels without taking any damage. As you might imagine this can become incredibly difficult.
Of course, “Crimson Alliance” is all about multiplayer fun. Up to four players can join forces to tackle the various dungeons, which seems odd as there are only three different playable characters. Could no one come up with a fourth character? Despite this, there is a lot of fun to be had when you play this game with friends. The wizard especially works well in groups with his ability to freeze opponents. In addition, each level has a puzzle that usually requires at least two players to solve.
Understanding how each character works is important given the unique pricing structure of “Crimson Alliance.” Rather than buying the game on Xbox Live Arcade, you buy the individual characters. Each character costs 800 Microsoft points ($10) or you can choose to buy all three for 1200 Microsoft points ($15). If you intend on playing “Crimson Alliance” primarily single-player I would strongly suggest the assassin as she is a nice blend of melee and ranged combat. I wouldn’t, however, choose the soldier. Without any ranged combat building a high combat multiplier with the soldier is exceedingly difficult.
Although it doesn’t redefine the action RPG genre, with great replayability and fantastic multiplayer, “Crimson Alliance” will keep you and your friends entertained for quite some time. It is well worth the Microsoft points, whether you purchase just one character or all three. This game is a solid 8 out of 10.
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