A Cursed Trip Through the Holy Lands – The Cursed Crusade Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Marching onto the field of battle is Atlus’ The Cursed Crusade. This epic adventure is a nice blend of action-adventure gameplay with a deep combat system and RPG elements. Sporting local and online co-operative play, this crusade may be cursed, but it is not necessarily a bad thing.
The year is 1198 and the wheels of the fourth crusade have started to turn. Enter the Templar, Denz De Bayle. When Denz’s father never returned from the third crusade, his uncle took over their lands, ruling as a tyrant and casting them into poverty. Knowing that only his father can take back their lands and bring them back to their former glory, Denz sets out to search the holy lands for him. Meanwhile, the crafty thief and mercenary Esteban Noviembre, our second protagonist, is fleeing from Spain in search of work in Jerusalem. The two come together by chance, but their fates are tied closely by the Templar Curse, which causes the bearer to view the world in a hellish form, with the personification of Death chasing them, always on their heels. This curse is brought on by a grave sin, and can be passed down from generation to generation, with the only escape being death. Together, Denz and Esteban set off on an adventure to free Denz’s lands and to discover the meanings and origins of their curse. More importantly, though, they must learn to survive. The story is a wonderful adventure, ripe with emotion, depth, and of course, curses.
The entertaining tale is built around equally well designed gameplay. The game is divided into chapters, which in turn are made up of nine missions, give or take. Each mission is long enough to leave a feeling of satisfaction, while short enough to please more casual players, with combat being the main focus. Levels are fairly linear with only a few extra paths to explore, where collectibles such as treasure chests may be hiding. At the end of each mission, you’re given a grade based on things like your highest and average combo, damage taken, and near death experiences. Battle in TCC is simple yet effective. You have controls for horizontal (weak, but with a wide radius) and vertical (powerful, but can only hit one enemy) attacks, guard breaks, and blocking/countering. Unfortunately, at times it’s hard to tell friend from foe, and a button to lock-onto, and switch between, enemies could have helped with this issue.
Attacks can be strung together to create various combos. More attack methods can be unlocked with Victory Points obtained from meeting certain objectives in each mission. Occasionally, players will lock weapons with enemies, at which point the game will prompt players to mash a random button before pressing another button at a specific time. The timing is indicated on-screen by a shrinking circle and a stationary circle, and players must press the button when the two overlap. Near-death foes may also fall victim to a player’s finishing move, which are brutally animated kills based on the weapon that the player is equipped with and their proficiency with it. Be careful though, as each tool of death has a breaking point, and once you’ve reached it, you’ll be left battling with a stubby broken sword or a splintered spear. Similarly, armour is handled a little differently than normal, completely blocking damage until destroyed, at which time players will start to lose health when hit.
Additionally, there are a few RPG elements that enhance gameplay. The first and greatest would be weapon trees. There are several combo trees for not only each weapon, but each possible combination as well. From standards such as one-handed and two-handed swords, spears, axes, and maces, to dual-wields such as dual swords, spear and shield, axe and sword, or mace and shield. A crossbow is available as well, though it has no combos, just a simple point-and-kill interface. Each combination of weapon has its own tree and associated combos, leading to a deep and expansive combat system. Players may also put points into their character, with your usual stats such as constitution (for extra health) and armour mastery (for additional armour pieces).
The Templar Curse also plays a role in combat. Next to your health meter is the Curse Gauge which fills up upon attacking or being hit by enemies. When the gauge is full, you can enter Curse Mode where you see the world through cursed eyes. The world changes to one of molten walls and fire, while enemies become skeletons and the like. Also, Denz and Esteban will gain demonic properties, complete with red eyes, horns, and the steel of their weapons turns red-hot. This mode boosts attack and defence, but also allows for a variety of powers such as enhanced vision to spot weak points in walls, and a flame attack, called Purifying Fire, with which to burn fools. Just beware, for if you spend too long in the curse mode your gauge will run out, taking from your health instead!
Co-op is a nice feature of TCC, with players able to recruit a buddy via online or split-screen to help fight for the cause. While it may seem like a central part of the game, it surprisingly plays really well on solo, with the A.I. pulling its own weight in battles, rarely requiring aid. This being said, nothing beats mashing on armies, skeletons, or even Death himself with a good friend. Add this mode on top of the expansive weapon trees, Curse Mode, and fun combat system and the product is a crusade worth marching in.
Another step in the right direction is the audio work in TCC. To start, the voice cast is superb! While the game may have a western look to it, some of the main actors are from the good end of JRPG/anime English voice overs, such as Patrick Seitz (Frédéric François Chopin – Eternal Sonata; Isshin Kurosaki – Bleach) and Jamieson Price (Duke Pantarei – Tales of Vesperia; Third Hoshikage/Suiko – Naruto). Lines are delivered extremely well over a wide range of emotions like pride, terror, humour and anger, leading to impressive performances all around. The sound effects have had some attention put into them as well, with weapons clinking and clacking depending on what they hit. This is also helpful to combat since hitting a shield will sound different from hitting armour, allowing you to better care for your weapon’s health. When in Curse Mode, all audio gets a touch of reverb and is faded slightly into the background, making the shift between worlds not only a visual one but an audio experience as well. There are some moments, however, where sounds will be absent altogether, with swords clashing in complete silence. This leaves moments of great disappointment in an otherwise fantastic treat to the ears.
Although the flame of the audio burns bright, it casts an ugly shadow that is the visuals. While for the most part characters have smooth and high quality textures, especially in armour and weapons, the world’s graphics seem neglected, with walls and structures often looking rough and pixelated. Also, both dubbing and character animations are out of sync from their vocal performance, often making large movements while calmly speaking, as if the actors were never shown gameplay footage. A fair amount of animations are unstable as well, with characters often sliding from spot to spot, or a spear through the skull of a foe shifting around as if his cranium were water, even moving outside the head altogether. Absorbing a bit of the axe’s blow, so to speak, is the design. Armours and weapons are diverse and well-conceived. Curse Mode is pleasantly terrifying, and Death is a badass you’re almost glad to have chasing you. It’s just a shame that good design couldn’t be supported by a polished environment and smoother animations.
From the first step till the last foe slain, The Cursed Crusade is a grand adventure full of honour, duty, betrayal, and the wonders of being cursed. Visual downfalls stop it from truly marching with pride, but a deep weapon system and fun co-op play options keep it standing strong. While it may not be a triple-A blockbuster title, it’s a game worth any action-adventure gamer’s attention. The Cursed Crusade has some good story moments, features a few laughs, and sports fun gameplay. At the end of the day, is that not what gaming is truly about?
Final score: 3.75 / 5.0
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