(There is another thread for this but this is a full review and second it will be easier for me to find this way when trying to archive the review for the upcoming site). Game Title: Crimson Sea Developer: Koei Publisher: Koei 16:9: No 480p: Yes 5.1 Audio: Yes Introduction Earlier this year Xbox owners saw the release of rather unorthodox title named Gunvalkyrie. You could say that Smilebits' opus was experimental in many ways. It required an almost "zen" mastery of what many consider to be an unintuitive control scheme to really understand and enjoy the game. This element combined with its high difficulty level almost insured its mainstream failure. The experiment you could say, was a bust. As with many games that suffered the fate of Gunvalkyrie there are a small few that relished the games unique challenge despite its glaring problems. I count myself among those few. I have a feeling that Crimson Sea is headed down this very same road for many gamers. My reasoning in mentioning Gunvalkyrie is because Crimson Sea shares more than a passing resemblance to that game. Its basic structure is very similar and its gameplay owes quite a bit to Sega's title. However this is where we come to my fundamental problem with Crimson Sea and most importantly an even bigger allegorical connection to Gunvalkyrie. In a lot of cases its a game of "what could have been" than what is. There are moments while I played portions of Crimson Sea that I felt completely enthralled by the massive waves of enemies that were being thrown at me. There are unfortunately an equal amount of moments where I longed for something more. More control, more story, more customization. You name it, I wanted it. Story Crimson Sea tells the tale of Sho. A mercenary with a bit of a money problem based in the Theophilus star system which is comprised of five diverse planets. Theophilus has been plagued by what seems to be an endless case of mass murder that apparently cannot be solved. Its planets Grarve (Planet of floating cities), Ajitato (Planet of eternal water), Gen (Planet enshrouded in a gas veil), Semplice (Planet of Creeping Sand), and Meno Moso (Underwater city of mysteries) are on the brink of madness and destruction. The IAG (Intelligence Agency of the Galaxy) have been blocked at every turn and their agents continue to be killed off one by one during the course of their investigations. In their desperation the IAG decide to call upon the "Vipa". The Vipa is a being of immense power who is able to harness sound or "wave forms" to create and use neo-psionics. On the brink of hunger and desperate for money Sho and his minute partner Yangqin are visited by a voluptuous blond by the name of Live-D. She promises Sho a steady stream of cash if he can complete a job for her. This is where your adventure begins. Game play As mentioned above Crimson Sea shares many a similiarity to Smilebit's Gunvalkyrie in the form of structure and gameplay. Your first mission is basically a tutorial that will allow you to familiarize yourself with the control scheme and how Sho moves. The very first thing above all else that you will notice is that the camera is not your friend in enclosed spaces. This problem unfortunately carries throughout later portions of the game. In the control department, the game is played from a third person perspective. The control layout is fairly simple but can take a bit of getting used to initially. Your character is moved forward with the left analog stick. Turning Sho left or right will also turn the camera in the direction that you face. The right analog stick is used for camera control but this is very limited. You cannot turn the camera 360 degrees, only to the sides or to the top and bottom of Sho. This does present some problems in seeing your enemies and certain parts of the environment but again this is mostly confined to enclosed spaces. The A button will allow Sho to jump and there are portions of Crimson Sea that require some platforming skill. The B button performs a 180 degree quick turn which is an essential skill to master early on to be effective in later levels. The B button also has a secondary function as it also performs Sho's "dash" maneuver. By moving the left analog stick in any direction and hitting the b button Sho will quickly dash in that direction. This is almost identical to the quick dashes used in Gunvalkyrie except it's easier to perform here and remains just as useful. The X button alows you to fire your equipped weapon. Be forewarned however that your weapon does in fact have a charge gauge at the bottom of the screen. The more you use your weapon in succession the more this gauge will decrease until your gun overheats. You do however have the ability to increase this through several different gun modifications. Being that Koei also developed the Dynasty Warriors series it is not surprising to find that Sho also has a melee weapon. By pressing the Y button Sho will use his equipped sword and can perform up to a 4 hit combo. The combination of gun and sword give Crimson Sea a bit of a Devil May Cry element. Though Dante was much more versatile than our hero here, the variety however is appreciated. By holding the left trigger on the controller and moving left or right you will perform the ever useful strafing function. This is yet another skill that will be highly used in the game. The right trigger acts as the lock on button and its use is mostly confined to boss battles and larger enounters. By holding down both the left and right trigger you enter what is called the "free aim" mode in which you can manually select the target from an over the shoulder perspective. I might also mention that you get a nifty red laser sight to aim with which is a nice touch. The only other functions left on the controller are the white button which activates the currently selected neo-psionic power that Sho wields and the back button which takes you into the camp screen. The camp screen is essentially the inventory and character management screen. The control scheme works well. There are some foibles worth mentioning. First and foremost, and as mentioned above, is the camera control. In small areas the camera will have a habit of adjusting forward and backward very often. This is often times disjointing and confusing as it will leave Sho out of the players sight. This is especially cumbersome when you have to enter combat and are left with little to see. However, a majority of the game is played in wide open areas where the camera works quite well so all is not lost. Another caveat is the relative "toughness" or inability to execute one of Sho's important moves. The dash thankfully works well but getting Sho to do a 180 degree turn can be frustrating. When standing in a barren part of an area there is little problem here. However when attacked by 300+ enemies swarming about you, where you are constantly on the move, the 180 degree turn fails to execute quickly thus leaving you open for attack. This is important to mention because you will spend some time in the game mastering its use. Also, if you have played other games in this genre you cant help but get an initial feeling of "Is this it?". Its hard to describe but everything just seems far too simplistic at first. Part of this is the dreaded opening levels syndrome. The first 3-4 levels are just awful. With almost no action and no indication as to how the game is truly played. For those that may rent the title and give up on it right off the bat, stick with it. There is more here my friends, believe me. The basic structure of Crimson Sea is tier based and easy to follow. After the initial mission or two you will enter the IAG headquarters stationed in the Theophilus system. This area will act as a hub where you can buy items, talk to NPC's and access the mission terminal. After successful completion of a mission you will be treated to the next bulk of CG sequence which are meant to further the story. These CG sequences are fairly short and the story at times seems truncated but they do serve their purpose in setting up the next set of missions. The missions you are given are diverse and span various areas of the five planets mentioned in the story overview. You will have to escort a president out of a maze of tunnels on one level to locating invisible invaders hiding in a sizable village on the next. The variety of missions helps to keep things fresh and the bosses you will face will make your jaw drop as most of them are twice the size of the screen. At the end of each mission you are graded on several categories ranging from time completion to the number of enemies slain. You are graded on a scale of F, being the worst to S, being the best. Completing a mission with a full S grade will usually unlock a special item or a large lump of cash. Cash plays heavily into the game as this will be the main item of acquisition as you move through the various levels. Cash is required to buy weapon upgrades, new neo-psionics, med kits and more. This is where Crimson Sea does indeed shine as the available list of of items is nice and plentiful and upgrading is a treat. Weapons will be your main area of attention when concerning upgrading and whats here allows for a fair bit of customization. Your gun for instance is broken down into three parts. They are the barrel, the effector and the generator. Each section can be outfitted with a modification that will make the gun stronger or cause it to perform some special action. Each of these modifications in turn have a level number. The more you use the modification the more powerful it becomes and the more stats will be added to the weapon. I was however struck down with disappointment in this area when I found that the sword upgrade is tied into what barrel you are using for the gun. So if for instance you install the Vulcan II gun upgrade in the barrel slot you automatically get the Vulcan II blade. I suppose this was done for the sake of simplicity but considering the emphasis placed on the gun upgrades I would have like to have seen as much thought placed behind upgrading your sword. It after all just as critical a weapon. Upgrading your neo-psionics is a less complex affair. You will need to speak to your resident Archeomusioligist, who will simply sell you upgrades to your psionic abilities. There are however certain missions in which you will need to find these upgrades. This potyion of gameplay is thankfully easy to use and provides the player with enough "magic" to kick some alien booty. I would have liked to have seen more crowd control oriented spells which would have been great later in the game but whats here is fine. As you move further and further into the game you will meet members of what will become known as the IAG G-Squad. They are a band of underachievers (go figure) who will join you on certain missions and provide back up when needed. Yangqin is almost always with you as he is Sho's partner but you will also meet Kecak, a female soldier who is usually the one asking "why?" all the time. You meet Bow Rahn, a massive man who carries a shoulder canon but is a total and complete wuss. You will also be joined by Shami who can manipulate wave forms and becomes a good friend to Sho. There are also a few other characters you will contend with on your journey. These characters come equipped with their own powers and weapons and thankfully their AI is decent enough. However this party element is where my biggest disappointment with Crimson Sea lies. You can't do anything with these guys. They are just there. The only thing that you CAN do is heal them when their health is low and most of the time they do a good job of getting that done on their own. When you acquire party members you can enter the camp screen and change party formations. There is a bit of strategy involved here as there are certain spots that certain characters like to be in. Therefore making them more efficient. You however CANNOT equip any weapon upgrades on these characters. What they have is what you get and though the power of the attacks they use do in fact scale up as you move on through the game this severely hampers the depth of the gameplay. If you are going to give me a party in a game that is setup with a fairly interesting RPG element than that should carry over into the party management department as well. I would have liked to have the ability to issue orders to my troops. Say for instance you are being swarmed by foes and are in need of assistance, a simple "Defend me" option would have helped greatly. As is your troops will simply move around the screen and attack what they see. Many times your people will be on complete opposite ends of the playing field fighting their own little battles completely oblivious of what is happening to their comrades. In my time playing through the game I don't think I even noticed a single compatriot heal me. This takes away from the obvious party feel that game is trying to achieve and undermines the point of even giving you troops to begin with. Except of course to throw out more meat to distract the enemies. Speaking of enemies this is by far the the most fun and interesting aspect of Crimson Sea. You will be completely SWARMED throughout the course of this game. I would be remiss to not mention the fact that on a certain later level in the game I broke the 600 kill mark. Crimson Sea's ability to display and throw hundreds of enemies at you makes this one of the most action packed games out there. As you attack and kill your foes you will see a combo meter building up. Every 50 or so kills an enemy drops a health item which is great incentive to accumulate a greater number of combos. Koei should very much be commended for its work on Crimson Seas' combat engine as it does at times make up for the lack of depth in various other areas of the game. Sho is also supplied with a radar that allows you to locate enemies around you. Of course when you have a screen full of bugs to kill you don't have to do much locating but this does tie into to several interesting missions. Crimson Sea is also a fairly lengthy game. My first time through was completed in about 14-15 hours. A fairly good sized action game. The reply value of course lies in achieving perfect scores on all the levels to unlock the goodies! In conclusion, what we have here is good playing, fun action game that in terms of gameplay could have been so much more than what it is. The lack of depth in certain key areas prevent Crimson Sea from reaching its full potential as one of the best action/rpg hybrids available on the market. Instead what was released is a very solid and fun action title with minimal role playing elements that at times seem like an afterthought. Graphics Well this here is an area where I doubt you will see many complaints. Crimson Sea is gorgeous. The character design work here is top notch and on par with some of the designs seen in the recent Final Fantasy games. Sho has an ultra detailed character model with various mesh and decal texture design used in certain sections of his outfit. His face is exquisitely detailed with some great facial animations throughout and some fairly outrageous hair. This attention to detail follows through on almost all major characters in the game. Live-D, the sexy blond who hires Sho is about the most sensual videogame character you will ever lay your eyes upon. She walks around almost half naked throughout most of the game and hell, I'll admit it, I wasn't arguing. There is just marvelous modeling work done on all the major players. The most impressive aspect here is that when the game shifts from CG sequence to real time there is almost no disparity. Even the minor background characters were created with just enough care to make them fit in just right. The environments thankfully were not ignored. The diversity here is by far the greatest eye candy. You will be privy to super secret underwater labs, barren deserts, huge sprawling cities, sewers, factories. You name it and Crimson Sea has it. You will no doubt notice a dreary or bland texture every now again but this is almost not worth mentioning considering the size and scope of some of the environments. Enemy design however leaves a bit to be desired. You get your garden variety bugs and creatures that are almost interchangeable with any other game in the genre. However in the case of Crimson Sea this is forgivable because of the sheer number of enemies displayed on screen. One of the key points mentioned here is ability to fight over one thousand enemies at a time. This is for once not just simply marketing at work, it is truth and it is truly a sight to behold! The bosses are impressive and hearken back to the shooters of old and more recent games like Contra Shattered Soldier that feature bosses double to triple the size of your character. They are sufficiently grotesque, offer a great challenge and are best of the all the perfect cappers to an intense level. The character animations can be a little stiff but for the most part are good enough to not draw your attention away from the action. The game runs at an almost consistently high framerate. I noticed almost no slowdown even with hundreds of enemies being destroyed on the screen. The particle effects used for the neo-psionics are very impressive and supply enough eye candy without being intrusive. This is one of the most graphically impressive Xbox titles on the market. Not so much for its use of specific Xbox hardware functions such as bump-mapping (of which there is little) but more-so for the variety of what is being rendered and the games ability to push hundreds of enemies on screen at once AND maintain a blazing framerate. Good stuff here. Sound Crimson Sea features a very active 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Bass is strong and heavy and once the action gets going your walls and neighbors will not like you. Surround separation is good and active. You can discern enemy movement by sound alone and when you are surrounded by the unending hordes your speaker activity will let you know before the screen does. Dialogue comes through a little weak unfortunately and yet again the reason behind this is because of the limited use of the center channel. I did notice some dialogue being spoken through the center speaker but for some oddball reason not all of it is. The score is definitely worth mentioning as it is very well done. A majority of the time the music is haunting and unassuming but comes alive when the action picks up (as a good score should do!). I'm actually researching the availability of a soundtrack for the game as I did enjoy the score enough to warrant a purchase. The one area of concern here is the voice acting. Koei has included an English dub for the game. While serviceable there are some actors that are not up to task. Some of your squad members are oak and Yangqin will make you want to jab a pencil in your ear. An original Japanese track with subtitles would have been nice here and I imagine would have enhanced the story and given it a more genuine touch.(Especially if you have been privy to some of the great Japanese voice work done on the Dynasty series) However thats only half the problem. Some of the written dialogue is just atrocious. Live-D literally says: "Yes, the sexy babe who hired you is also......" Yes, she is damned sexy but good lord the dialogue needs an injection of normalcy from time to time. Its a problem, but one that no doubt many will see past for the many other good points mentioned and Double-D's..err Live-D's other "contributions". Home Theater Performance Crimson Sea does include 480p support but unfortunately does not include support for 16:9 televisions. I'm becoming accustomed to this disappointment as more and more games are released without this option. I will however continue to voice my longing for more developer support in this area. Displayed in 480p everything of course looks even more smooth and natural. I noticed minimal occurrences of the dreaded "jaggies". The most notable improvement however is the improved color saturation. Crimson Sea is a colorful game believe it or not and the increased resolution really enhances and "pops" the color palette right off the screen. The various stretch modes on my set allowed me to find a good compromise with which to view the game. For those who do not wish to stretch the image, Crimson Sea looks fantastic on the normal viewing mode and matting the image on the sides should produce a pleasant picture. Closing This holiday season has been a great one for gamers. All three console manufacturers and their plethora of developers pulled out the big guns and we gamers received an onslaught of exceptional titles. Crimson Sea, being released at the tail end of this onslaught, will more than likely be completely overlooked. This is both ashame and understandable. Koei has created an enjoyable action game in Crimson Sea. Its strength above all else is giving the player an adrenaline rush like no other and at the end of the day there is nothing wrong with that. I cannot however dismiss my personal longings while playing the game. I wanted more than what was there. I wanted the depth that was missing underneath the veil of simplicity that the game presents to you at the beginning. While it delivered on some aspects it failed on others. The problem herein lies with the fact that games such as Devil May Cry, Gunvalkyrie, Max Payne never aspire to be more than what they are. To an extent thats why those games worked.(Gunvalkyrie is of course debatable in the minds of many). They are action titles through and through and that is where the main focus is placed above all else. Augmenting suits and powering up swords is always second to the complete annihilation of your enemies. Crimson Sea on the other hand tries to play a balancing act and in the process one of its elements is left largely ignored and underdeveloped. Action gamers will get one hell of a harrowing experience out of Crimson Sea and if its what you want out the game you will more than likely be left with little disappointment Those gamers seeking a deeper and more well thought out action/rpg hybrid may want give this a rent first. I do very much hope that there is a sequel to Crimson Sea. This game has some great potential to become something really unique and special if Koei takes that extra step. Thanks for reading.