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A Solid, Albeit Typical RPG Experience

Theia: The Crimson Eclipse is a full-length JRPG that follows the exploits of Seth, an exiled soldier with a troubled past who gets wrapped up in a threat of global scale. While that may sound pretty generic, the game is story-focused and does its best to develop the plot fully along with several side conflicts tied to other characters. Gameplay is fairly traditional for RM2k3, but it has some twists and gimmicks as well.

Let’s Talk About Graphics!

This is probably one of its biggest selling points, although that’s mostly due to the sources it draws from. This game gets its visuals from a lot of the pretty RPGs of the 16-bit era. If you’ve played a lot of the classics, you’ll be sure to recognize many of the sprites. However, not everything is ripped, as there’s plenty of custom artwork put into the game, and many sprites have been edited to suit their needs as well. In spite of the number of sources it used, it manages to pull off visual consistency, and there’s almost nothing to complain about in the presentation. It didn’t just yank some fancy tile sets and call it a day; it put them to good use. Graphics whores rejoice, it’s pure eye candy.

Let’s Talk About Audio!

Similar to the graphics, it pulls music from many other titles, but still manages to feel consistent. They’re smart about choosing the right song to set the mood, and they have a wide variety of tracks. It’s rare for a song to see repeated use, unless there’s a particular type of scene it’s intended for. There aren’t any that come up too often or feel overused. Even the common battle theme changes partway through the game, and you’re eventually allowed to choose what song is played for them. If there’s any one issue with audio, it’s that some tracks are much louder than others, which can make it hard to find a good volume level.

Sound effects are a mix of RTP and other sources. They’re all used appropriately and nothing sounds out of place, nor were there any that stuck out as annoying. One nice touch is that the heroes all have their own voice clips, so you get an idea of what they sound like. Most of these are from Soul Caliber 3, so I suppose a fan of that game may notice them more. They do get repetitive after a while, but each character has multiple lines for things like battle start/end, and the randomization helps prevent it from getting stale.

Let’s Talk About Story!

As before, this is very much a story-focused RPG, and that is where the bulk of the game’s length comes from. There are tons of story scenes, a wide cast with multiple arcs, and a plot that escalates as it grows to form a picture of what’s really going on. There are times where it’s predictable and others where it isn’t so obvious. It has some tropey moments, and can get a bit melodramatic as well, but on the whole, I found it enjoyable. Anytime I felt it was reaching, it wasn’t that much of a stretch. You can tell they put a lot of thought into how it all fits together, and there are hardly any holes to be found. The worst it’s guilty of are some minor contrivances that could’ve been settled by some other means. For the most part, it’s effectively written and the sequence of events makes sense.

We join Seth as he’s on the run from the local military. He used to be a soldier himself, but abandoned the army after a tragedy in his family. He’s eventually caught and persuaded to return, which gets the ball rolling as he becomes more politically involved and scandals begin to arise. Along the way, he becomes allies with various other people, either through circumstance or necessity. The cast feels somewhat generic, but gradually develops into believable characters. It helps that the dialogue feels natural in most interactions. Some characters are more fleshed out than others, but their actions and goals are understandable, and sometimes, that’s all you need to make it work.

The scope of the plot gets bigger as it moves along, picking up speed and scale until it’s an adventure of epic proportions. It takes you to many places across several regions and avoids doubling-back too often. However, it can feel a bit stifling as the progression of the plot limits your access to previous areas. The game only becomes open-world after the majority of the story has passed, so you may feel stuck on rails and have to accept that you can only come back for some stuff later. This is often due to scenario splits where you do specific sequences with preset parties, and you’ll see something you need another character for, so you can’t do it right away. Thankfully, areas are generally small and not difficult to revisit when the character becomes available again. On the subject of branching paths, it gives a little choice to the player in terms of progression. The story is ultimately linear, but you get to choose which parts you see in what order.

Also, considering the sheer volume of text in this game, it has remarkably few typos.

Let’s Talk About Gameplay!

While the story is clearly the focus of the game, the mechanics have not been neglected. The core of it is common RPG Maker adventuring and battling, but there are additional layers to most aspects of it. While exploring in the field, there will be times when Seth can use his special ability to jump to locations that others cannot reach. Every character has some unique function to them that you can review in their skills menu, and they have various applications for gameplay (in both field and combat).

Apart from normal exploration there are various sequences that add variety to the game. Most are puzzles or minigames that often have special mechanics. The game is good about explaining the mechanics in a splash screen before each event, and your performance in them can get you some nice bonuses. Some work better than others, but none of them are impossible to deal with. Controls are usually simple enough that you can learn by doing if the explanation didn’t make it clear. If anything, some could afford to be more involved, like the 1-dimensional auction house that is basically an expensive shop where you can’t always buy what you want.

Fights are initiated through touch encounters on the map, where you can tell the threat level by the sprite the encounter uses. Battle is ATB and pretty basic on a surface level, but there’s more you can get out of it by understanding its inner workings. There’s the Exceed system, which is effectively Limit Breaks, but the actions that fuel your meter are different for each character. You can check in the status menu to learn what actions to take so they can reach their super moves more quickly. There’s also the Mastery Bar, which is a big vertical meter on the right side of the screen. It fills up as you fight, but drops when you take damage or use items. When it hits certain levels, it can grant bonuses to you. There are three tiers of power, and a number of masteries you can apply to it in order to get boosts at those levels. Some are basic things like stat boosts, while others are more unique, such as immunity to neutral damage, or resistance to various elements. The masteries are unlocked by finding Dominus items, which are scattered throughout the game, so you’re always picking up new things you can get from the Mastery Bar. You also choose the level where it affects you, so you could set it low to get a smaller bonus early, or set it to max and get a substantial boost, but it’s only active when you keep the bar full. On top of these bonuses, the Mastery Bar affects your rewards after combat, depending on who is in your party.

Every hero has something that they boost after battle. Some restore HP or SP, while others boost tangible rewards like XP, AP, and Zenits (money). Experience is how much you grow, while AP are special points that you can spend to learn/strengthen your skills, among other niche uses. The AP pool applies to all heroes, so how you spend it can be meaningful depending on what skills you want to power up or make available for use. Skills can reach up to level 3, and must be learned at level 1 before they can be used. It’s not possible to skip a tier.

Weapons are handled in a similar way. Rather than have a big list of weapons in the database, each character has a fixed weapon type for themselves, and the only way to get more is to find items to craft them from, or level up the ones you already have. Most of the core party members have three or four weapons you can make, and they can all reach level 3 as well. Adding further complexity to the weapons, they each have unique properties and special abilities that you unlock by equipping the right Atlas shards. Atlas are crystals that can be fitted into weapons to boost stats or gain new effects, like elemental damage, but certain types of Atlas can bring out new powers within weapons.

All this stuff is managed through a merge of a custom menu system with 2k3’s default. You may hardly recognize it with how much is in there, and the information can be overwhelming to see at first. Fortunately, a guide is included in the menu that you can refer to anytime you can pause. The game also isn’t that difficult, so you can fly by the seat of your pants if you wish and generally scrape by without worrying about all this stuff. You’re offered difficulty settings at the start, and you can’t change them later, but because of how it’s designed, the game doesn’t actually get more challenging. The difficulty only affects your battle rewards, whereby you get 20% more XP/AP/Zn in Easy mode and 20% less in Hard mode. Generally, that only means you’ll be under or over-levelled, and you could always compensate in Hard mode by grinding. The chosen difficulty may also lock you out of certain areas in the endgame, but you’ll always be able to finish the main story.

While the main campaign is not particularly hard, you’ll find the game pushing back more and more as you take on side quests and optional missions. Things like elements and statuses aren’t too important in most scenarios, but they can help you turn the tide in some of the harder fights…depending. It somewhat falls into the trap of statuses being useless against the really hard bosses, but not useful enough to bother with against normal encounters.

The game has a ton of things to collect, and it tracks all of them for your completion in the end. The only troublesome thing about it is that some are able to be missed permanently. This was the trouble I ran into with the quest for the Gaia Shards; a set of 99 crystals scattered throughout the game. They aren’t especially hidden; you’ll see them on-screen or get them as quest rewards as you go along, but if you passed one up in a segment you can’t repeat, then full completion is lost to you. This can mostly be avoided just by being diligent. I was able to find almost everything on my own, and I was only missing one shard when I finished my playthrough. I reviewed the footage and compared it to a list to see what I missed, but far as I can tell, I picked them all up, so I don’t know what happened there. At the time of writing, I’m trying again in Hard mode, where it seems there’s another secret that the shards unlock.

Let’s Wrap This Up…

Theia is a competent work that checks off nearly every box on the JRPG list. Fans of old RPGs will surely find something to enjoy in it. If you just want the story, the combat is lenient enough to breeze past it. If you want to optimize your strategies, you can do that too, though it’s rarely necessary outside of the extra dungeon or side content. It’s a lengthy game that could take you 40-60 hours to finish, and how much you get out of it may well depend on how much you’re willing to put in. All things considered, I give it a…


Seth, are you feeling okay?