CRIMSON TEARS / Capcom / PS2
Crimson Tears is a weird fusion of a beat-em-up with Roguelike/Diablo/Phantasy Star Online RPG mechanics. This really isn't a bad concept at all, but the way it's executed here is just too repetitive and tedious.
The story is just some token thing that the manual nor the game itself seems to elaborate on too much, though it doesn't matter since it's barely relevant to the game anyway. We're in Ruined Cyberpunk Tokyo circa 2050 or so, and some sort of experimental robot fighter things have escaped from some lab or something, and now they gotta set Ruined Tokyo to rights by going through various areas and beating hell out of various things. As it happens, two of them are scantily clad females with sizable jubblies.
So you're in control of these three robo-fighters, based out of some random garage in the rubble. This is your "hub" from which you can switch between characters, store and retrieve items, upgrade yourself, and bop out to a small peaceful corner of Ruined Tokyo to shop for various items and weapons in River City Ransom style. You also teleport from here directly to the various Dungeon areas wherein all the ass whoopery takes place.
There's only eight dungeons, but they have some sort of random procedural generation a la Roguelike games such as ... uh ... well, Rogue, and Shiren the Wanderer, and Pokiemans Mystery Dungeon or whatever it was called. It's a pretty scanty routine here, though - the generated rooms have only a small set of templates and always look very samey, and there's no interaction with them beyond the enemy cluster you tune up on, and the occasional barrel or crate to smash open for goodies.
Each of your characters fights with basic punch and kick combos, which can be altered somewhat by swapping kick and punch presses in mid-combo. As you'll soon find out, though, there's one string that's way more effective than all the others for each of them, so the game basically devolves to spamming that one endlessly. As you'll also soon find out, Kadie (the chick with half a set of pants on) has a basic kick combo that consists simply of mashing X over and over that does like 15 hits and is the most effective thing by far, so you'll just end up using her all the time really. There's some token ability to equip and use weapons in the style of River City Ransom, but even the better ones don't seem to add much to your damage, and they break after a fairly limited amount of use. You get EXP from killing enemies, which levels you up in typical RPG style, and once in a blue moon you find "combo parts" that let you add another move onto one of your combo strings back at Garage HQ. You also find scrap materials that can be combined with weapons to turn them into better weapons, but again weapons are kind of superfluous and even the best ones don't help a whole lot and don't last very long.
There's three major problems with the game. The first is just what a samey, repetitive grind the whole thing is. The simplistic random generation algorithm combined with the low-detail boring backgrounds (basically every level is some form of ruined building or sewer) makes the whole thing seem like one non-stop murky trudge. Then there's only 12 enemy types or so that are recycled constantly throughout the whole game - in later levels they just come back at a higher level, maybe with a new weapon, and even a palette swap when things get really exciting. Though they dole out more damage and have more HP as the game wears on, their rudimentary AI never really gets any better, so as long as you keep your levels up they are never really a challenge.
The second is the camera system. When you enter a room, it's usually pulled in on your character and you can't see 75% of the room. Enemies are often sniping you from off-screen, or you walk face-first into a trap thats just off the edge of the camera, or a fired-up enemy ready to charge. The second analog stick is used for absolutely nothing in this one; I don't know why it couldn't be employed to let you pan around the room.
The final one is the boss battles. Each dungeon consists of three or four levels, at the end of which you fight some big boss enemy. The problem with them is that the designers seemingly had no idea how to program good AI, so their tactic for making these challenging is simply by making the bosses cheap as balls. The first two bosses tell you pretty much all you need to know about the game. The first one constantly disappears and reappears about the room, and when he's far away from you he can spam some water cannon that's completely unblockable. The second guy goes into some invincible turtle mode at will, in which he rapidly regains health, and the only way to stop this is by destroying some Lavos Bit that constantly runs away from you around the room at high speeds. While you're futilely chasing it about trying to land just one hit, Turtle Champ is running around after you hitting you with some huge splash range shock attack that paralyzes you and flinging out kicks and punches 360 degrees from his sprite. Boss battles are not a matter of skill, just grinding up to a high enough level and buying enough heal and buff items to stand in and withstand all their bullshit unavoidable attacks and run away/turtling cheesiness.
The one high point of the game is the art style which is apparently where 90% of the effort was expended. It uses a very nice style of cel-shading and both the main characters and the handful of enemies look great and are pretty fluidly animated, even if the rest of the game looks like ass. The combat is basically OK but it's just the same old tune on the same old fiddle too many times, and all of the game's bosses are godawful. The game is only for you if you really get off on young Japanese girls tuning up on mooks with their bum hanging out of their pants, I guess.
* Gameplay Video