Red Ruby Quest
You play Killian von Rohcoff, recent graduate of Green Hill Chevalier Academy. The story for the entire game is established in the first hour or so of gameplay and basically revolves around you and your Investigation Team on a quest to find the Crimson Gems that destroy evil or some junk. As the main character in an eastern RPG, Killian is appropriately whiney, which is often a turn off for me. The game takes the opportunity to break the fourth wall, be a little self-aware and poke fun of itself and always-the-bridesmaid-never-the-bride Killian. Henson, your mage, curses Killian by name every time he dies in combat. Your party is further filled out Spinel, a treasure-hunting elf, Gelts, a hard-drinking former priest, and Lahduk, a melee fighter.
You progress through the game in an orderly fashion for the first hour or so and then you get access to the overworld map that allows your to move around and persue quests at your own pace. Rather than random encounters, enemies appear on the map (and respawn if you leave the screen and then come back), which allows you to grind or avoid enemies as you see fit. The story has plenty of events that continually develop the plot and the developers have incorporated a fair amount of humor and self-referential, 4th-wall-breaking jokes, so I never really felt any lulls in the action. There are periods where you have a number of quests available to you, but little direction or help as to how to solve the quest or even where to go, beyond a simple “get this item from this dungeon.” While the hand-drawn environments are lush and gorgeous, the dungeons are confusing to navigate without a map (only available in the overworld).
The gameplay offers a lot to enjoy. It is very reminiscent of SNES era RPGs, with all the advancements and additions of modern RPGs. While you and your party gain experience with every battle and gain levels at an appropriate pace, the skill trees are the core. Each character has a very Final Fantasy X style skill tree where you spend Skill Points (earned in battle like experience and can be used by anyone in your party) to unlock new special attacks. Each skill tree is unique to the character, so whileKillian, as a swordsman, unlocks multi-hit attack combos and heal spells, your mage will unlock elemental spells. My one major complaint here is that you have to spend SP to unlock the ability and then more SP to activate the ability, which means an assload of grinding if you want your characters maxed. It really burns when you spend a lot of SP on a high-ranking ability to discover than its not even something you really want. The menus can be cumbersome at times, particularly in battle, but they give you plenty of options and information throughout the game, so its an understandable trade-off.
The graphics and sound definitely deserve specific attention and are really what help take CGS from a smaller niche title into something that could and should attract gamers from beyond the niche. The artists give Crimson Gem Saga a bright beautiful look and the PSP screen shows everything off nicely. The coloring is dramatic, but the palatte is very coordinated and complimentary. The cities and forests and mountains and dungeons are all lush and vivid, even in the SNES art style. Beyond that, the soundtrack adds much to the experience and even the voice acting is top notch. The battle music is catchy and exciting while overworld music, either in the cities or the outlands is appropriately calm and thematically consistent with the style and setting of the game.