Big bots don't cry.
In the future, robots will be hot. Real hot. They'll have smooth skin, rippling muscles and tight buns. They'll wear revealing clothing and comb their hair in fascinating ways. They'll be supermodels with more electronic kung-fu power than ten seasons worth of the Power Rangers, unstoppable fighting machines hell-bent on saving the world, or ending it, or something in between, perhaps.
But while this enticing vision of things to come sounds like a dream I had once after my one and only Zima Night, it isn't actually true. Instead, it's the backstory of Capcom's Crimson Tears, and probably the most interesting thing about this repetitive, poorly-designed Action/RPG.
Set in a dilapidated future Tokyo, Crimson Tears tells the entirely confusing tale of three 'mutanoids' who must fight monsters in order to cleanse the land or take back the night or something. Maybe. On second thought, I'm not really sure what it's about, except that scantily-clad brunette Amber, scantily-clad pigtailed Kadie and fully-clothed but clearly post-Queer Eye-makeover Tokio kick all kinds of monster ass.
Right off the bat you know things aren't going to be very smooth when the game's plot tries to explain why only one member of the team at a time can enter a dungeon (which is actually just some lost part of Tokyo that you simply warp in and out of). It's pretty lame and ruins what might have been an interesting three-pronged party approach. I guess each dungeon area has a guest list and someone forgot to mark down "+1."
At its heart, Crimson Tears follows the typical trappings of other Action/RPGs like the Dark Alliance games or Champions of Norrath. You start off choosing and outfitting one of the three robo-hotties, then take them into a dungeon to kill monsters and collect stuff. Finally, you return repeatedly to the game's one town to sell stuff, buy stuff, and perhaps plod through more of the incoherent plot before diving back into the dungeons to continue your accumulation of stuff.
But while it emulates more recent games in its overall design, Crimson Tears actually reminds me more of Square's old Playstation game Ehrgeiz because of its fighting system. You have two basic attack buttons and can therefore string together combos, which result in better dropped items and more cash. You also get a gun-based ranged attack, a special attack and a smart-bomb 'absolute field' attack. However, most of the time you'll just mash on the buttons to whip on the dumb enemies, occasionally stopping to block or switch weapons.
To hammer home the instantly forgettable point that you're a robot, you have both a health meter and an "MT' (overheat) meter. By equipping certain powerful weapons or using special moves, your MT meter increases. If you overheat, you go nuts with double the attack power, half the defense and about ten times the speed. The flipside is that when you cool down, your health is reduced to nearly nothing. You've got to hand it to the developers at Spike for trying something kind of new, but the MT meter winds up being more of a pain than anything else, merely forcing you to buy lots of 'coolant' before diving into a dungeon.
Though it plays like an action game, your characters do level up and grow tougher. There's a pretty robust upgrade system in place as well - you can upgrade weapons by combining items at the shop and can purchase new combos and special moves for each character. The action might be heavy on the button-mashing, but there's actually a nice bit of depth here if you care to investigate.
Where things really go south, though, is the repetitive nature of the dungeon/town/dungeon crawl and some boring level design. Each dungeon is randomly generated, which is a nice touch, but the rooms are non-interactive and repeat themselves endlessly. The goal is to find the key and teleporter on each floor and warp down to the next one, eventually fighting a boss, thereby pushing the "story" along and opening up a new level.
Yet for some untold reason, Crimson Tears forgoes one of the most basic tenets of the genre by forcing you to beat each dungeon in one shot. If you warp back out because you need more items or health or something, you cannot warp back to where you just were. Instead, you have to warp to the beginning of the entire dungeon, from the very first floor, and fight your way through it all again. You will do this countless times over the course of playing Crimson Tears, which, I suspect, is where they got the 'tears' part of the title. The repetition is enough to make you cry.
Perhaps to make up for this design misfire, the developers decided to let you attempt a 'rescue' with one of the other two characters in case you die in a level or fighting a boss. Nice try, but Crimson Tears is, at its core, a role-playing game - you've spent most of your time beefing up one character, not randomly switching between the three just for fun. This means the other two characters aren't nearly as tough as the one who just died and proceed to get wasted almost immediately. Not so fun.
But quite pretty, particularly the gorgeous anime cut-scenes that serve to move the plot. The in-game graphics are a bit mixed, with some solid cel-shading for the characters and enemies but pretty unimaginative, bland environments. The fixed camera is very annoying; you'll enter a room and just run around like an idiot in order to find all the bad guys before bullets randomly appear from offscreen and wail on you. Why they didn't opt for a free-floating camera is almost as mysterious as why the guy who built the mutanoids in the first place gave them boobs. Hmm…maybe that's not mysterious so much as just plain creepy.
Unsurprisingly, the sound in Crimson Tears is repetitive, from the canned combat effects to the incessant need for enemies to tell everyone that you're in the room. Excellent detective work, Scoob!
But this is definitely not an excellent game – or even a particularly good one. Though it does have some addictive qualities,Crimson Tears feels a little half-baked, a hodgepodge of different gaming styles crammed under one very confusing roof. With some better design choices and about six more months work, this could have been a real summer surprise. Instead, it's just a sexy robot.