Visual novels come in so many different forms these days that there’s something for everyone; whether you want horror, mystery, romance, comedy, or anything else. The folks over at Woodsy Studio have released an otome visual novel, Crimson Spires, which appears to fit into quite a few different sub-genres simultaneously. The last time I played one of their games though, Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail, it left me baffled and occasionally disinterested due to the complexity of the lore, but did at least impress in the way it attempts to tackle numerous social issues. Can the mysterious Crimson Spires keep its audience on tenterhooks for the duration, or will it be another offering that fails to captivate?
It’s a tricky one to answer really, because Crimson Spires does possess an interesting premise and incorporates a couple of gameplay elements that should encourage engagement. Unfortunately though, there are too many moments which drag on and you’ll possibly be left wondering why you bothered in the first place.
Crimson Spires is a visual novel centered on FBI agent Erika Wright, stumbling upon an overturned prisoner transport vehicle during an otherwise ordinary night. It contained suspected serial killer August Flynn, who’s been dubbed “The Heartbreaker”, and so tracking him down is the main priority. Upon locating him near the scene of the accident, Erika’s life changes in an instant when a number of towers emerge from the ground. These form a circle around the small town of Bataille and attempting to pass by them leads to death, thus it cuts them off from the rest of the world.
The story swiftly jumps ahead to six months later, with both outsiders practically settled into their surroundings and the new normal. Erika is the town’s Sheriff, while Mr. Flynn is held up behind bars as a presumed killer. You’ll quickly learn that for all the mystery concerning the outside world, this quiet little place has a few secrets of its own. The disappearance of a teenager unearths religious conflicts, bizarre conspiracy theories and an entire family of vampires. Yes, actual vampires.
Given all of the above, you’d expect an enthralling tale to unfold before your very eyes, but that isn’t quite the end-product. The momentum of a fast-paced opening is soon curtailed by reams of monotonous back and forth chatter between the protagonist and various residents. Sure, there’s intrigue about the Bataille family being vampires and how they have total control over the town named after them, but the storytelling goes through something of a lull until such things are uncovered.
The banter between Erika and August is the only consistently strong narrative thread throughout the few hours a single playthrough will take to complete. Life before Bataille leaves Erika wary of August, however he could be her only ally in a town where everything isn’t quite as it seems. The ups and downs of the relationship adds an interesting dynamic to proceedings; especially when romance is potentially on the cards if you make certain choices later on.
Indeed, choices are offered here and there, with varying influence applied to the overall outcomes. At a particular juncture, the story veers off in one of a handful of directions as it builds towards a climax. This actually sees Erika become closer with whichever supporting character you pick, leading to one of the many different endings. How the final chapters play out will change dramatically upon that sole decision and that factor lends itself well to multiple playthroughs. Whether or not you’ll want to bother with another run-through is debatable however, simply due to the number of questions that are left unanswered. What does not help either is the fact that the shortcuts unlocked in the main menu, after completing a route, don’t appear to work properly.
It’s not all about reading though, as there are moments outside of the dialogue in which you’re able to explore a 3D environment. Essentially these are like investigation sections in first-person view, but my gosh are they poorly done. The locations really look dated and the interactivity within each is severely limited to say the least. Naturally, the backgrounds are of a similar visual standard throughout Crimson Spires. Conversely, the characters have been given much better treatment and the designs for those are pretty good.
Crimson Spires, by its very nature, is going to require you to read a lot, but it does feature voiceovers too. Having the text read aloud certainly enables you to connect with the various personalities, with the actors doing a great job all-round. For some reason though, it’s sporadic and doesn’t extend to the main character, which makes it rather difficult to become too attached to her.
Overall then, Crimson Spires is a visual novel shrouded in mystery; one which contains a plethora of intriguing plot points but ultimately fails to satisfy by not delivering answers to too many questions. The pacing is also an issue, with the story taking a real dip after an exciting opening and not recovering until the latter stages. As for the romance, well, some people will enjoy the option to woo one of the potential suitors and it’s good to see choices occasionally making a difference. Unfortunately, the parts in which you get to roam around are so bad that it’d fare better by not including them altogether.
Should you be piling your cash into a purchase of Crimson Spires? I’m not sure. The replayability factor is a huge draw, but that will only come into play if you enjoyed the initial playthrough.
Take a one-way trip to Bataille by picking up Crimson Spires from the Xbox Store