I think that if Andrew Lloyd Webber were to make videogames (and perhaps decided that he was turning Japanese), Koei's Crimson Sea 2 is a game that could have been produced by the musical man who crafted works such as Phantom of the Opera and Cats. As a space opera with a glamorous hack-n-slash veneer, Crimson Sea 2 serves as an attractive piece of entertainment in interactive form. The soap opera-like plot set among the stars has a tortured hero fighting demons from both within and without, trying to sort out his love-life and realizing that despite super-human powers, he's just a guy looking for love—albeit in all the wrong places.
Crimson Sea 2 has the hallmarks of an interactive story, which is a commonality in today's games, and has been since Mario first went off to save the Princess (who hadn't earned her 'Peach' moniker at that time). Is it necessary to have a story in a game whose premise is really kick alien ass? Probably not, but today's marketing departments like a story for a sales bullet point, so the Webber-esque game designer was obligated to put one in there. Honestly, it's a rather silly story, even going by the standards of strange Japanese videogames. Our hero Sho isn't in fact human, but rather a Vipa—some sort of genetically-modified being with super-human abilities. (This modification occurred through the use of sound waves by an Archeomusicologist, but I'm not going to pursue that any further.) Not only does this let Sho kick alien ass with a lethal, balletic grace, but it gives him the use of flashy NeoPsionics, which are beautiful and powerful attacks for wiping out enemies in droves.
There are many enemies to test and hone Sho's skills on. An alien race called the Menace is infesting humanity's space-time; humanity risks extinction thanks to this threat. Sho, as onetime savior of the universe, has rejoined his former IAG confederates in an attempt to protect the future of the human race. To further that feeling of the universe going to hell, the various locales in the game are appropriately dank and decrepit, featuring drab grays and browns where humanity has fled the encroaching Menace invasion.
One thing that definitely has to be appreciated is Sho's fighting style. He packs a set of guns and a sword, and the man knows how to use them. Watching Sho take out the Menace is almost hypnotic in its style, and Dante would be proud of Sho's maneuvers with both guns and sword. Being that this is a modern hack-n-slash game, the player is able to form combos that take place via certain usage of Sho's weapons, and I had fun trying to link Sho's attacks. It was always gratifying to slash into an enemy with a Gravity Blade attack, and then while the monster was floating helplessly above me, to slam Legion gun rounds into it with a satisfying WHOOMP bass sound. Enough combos create the now-ubiquitous variation on "bullet-time," in this case a Time Extend, which puts the game into slow-motion and gives Sho a couple new abilities for the duration. This slowdown is brief unless Sho is able to combo his way to another Time Extend. Sho can also choose to unleash NeoPsionics, powerful attacks with the potential to damage or destroy many enemies at once—in a deadly, beautiful display of sparks and energy that Andrew Lloyd Webber could only wish he'd thought of.
Sho's boss is obviously a tough female. Otherwise she wouldn't be showing so much cleavage to our hero, who is a muscular pretty-boy through and through. Apparently the cast of Crimson Sea 2 are all from the Tetsuya Nomura school of character design; the above-referenced Live D could be a stand-in for FFX-2's LeBlanc. Personally, I like that punk-meets-Japan style of character design, and the characterizations were always entertaining. However, I didn't like the second playable character, Feanay. After getting accustomed to Sho and how he handles, I didn't want to be bothered learning to use an optional avatar who plays similarly yet differently enough for me to ignore her after a mission or two.
This game follows a recent trend by being mission-based. The player can, to an extent, choose the order in which to play and complete (or ignore) missions. Experience is earned after missions, any of which can also be replayed. The latter is convenient when trying to earn Origins, in-game tokens that can be applied to strengthen Sho's weapons and abilities. The missions typically revolve around exterminating enemies, collecting items, or rescuing an NPC. Although they tend to be similar, I appreciated the effort to throw in some variety. I was particularly amused by an early mission, where Sho had to search through an abandoned city to find the Governor's wife's ring—in order to keep her from having a fit of galactic proportions. It wasn't the most believable mission, but it broke up the pace a bit and gave me a chuckle.
I can't see myself replaying Crimson Sea 2, but I enjoyed my time with it. Koei has a game to be proud of, without "Romance" or "Warriors" in the title. Mission-based objectives done right, as with this game, always add that sense of freedom that make a game more enjoyable. Hacking and slashing my way through legions of intelligent monsters was surprisingly enjoyable, as was the addictive challenge to always increase my combo count. Overall, the space opera mixed with kick alien ass produced a fun bout of story-driven hack-n-slash, that gives as good as it gets. Mr. Lloyd Webber: if you ever decide to try your hands at videogames, then please start by examining Crimson Sea 2.