Crimson Spires is Woodsy Studio's 8th visual novel (7th in Steam). This otome visual novel features fantasy, romance, mystery, and thriller elements with adult content (text, drug use and ecchi). The story revolves around FBI agent Erika Wright who is sent by her boss to recapture a prisoner awaiting trial as a serial killer. While attempting to apprehend the fugitive August Flynn, a ring of crimson spires emerge mysteriously around them, trapping them and all the inhabitants inside the small town of Bataille, Missouri.
The crimson spires have cut Bataille off from the outside world, and the entire police force in Bataille is wiped out after they made a foolhardy attempt to destroy a tower. This leads to Erika becoming the town's sheriff, and spending her days attending to instances of disorderly behaviour and people getting killed by the towers. One day, Erika is sent to investigate two young students who went missing. Her investigations lead her to discover more of the secrets hidden inside Bataille. Several people of the town (August Flynn, Maddy Gray, Julian Bataille, and Liam Bataille) offer to be her partner to help in her investigations. Erika may eventually develop feelings for her chosen partner.
Crimson Spires supports the use of game controllers to read through the visual novel, bring up options, look around, and explore 3D environments. This helps to lend immersion as an adventure game, which is great as not many visual novels allow the use of game controllers. After completing the common route, the save file will replace a portrait of Erika with her chosen partner, clearly indicating which person's route the player is at. I also like how the game shows the person's disposition in a pop-up message after choosing a gameplay choice to help players reach a good or bad ending.
The plot is the best part of this game. The game has a developer announcement which claims to have over 250,000 English words that are written by two scriptwriters. After spending 16 hours to read and listen to the voice acting and dialogue, each character's route feels quite different as the protagonist and her partner investigate different places and characters in Bataille. One or more of the romanceable characters that the protagonist rejected as her partner may become an enemy instead further adding to a different experience as you play through the routes. Even the post-credits epilogue at the end of each character route is different. Together with the partial voice acting, and haunting organ music by the developer Jenny Gibbons, this game provides an excellent adventure game which few visual novels have.
There are a couple of minor cons with the game though. It takes a simplified view of the 3D exploration aspect. Although the purpose is to direct the player towards what is important to progress the game by showing the relevant mouse button or controller button prompt whenever the protagonist is facing an object or person that can be interacted within range, I would have liked to see more interactive objects, even if the protagonist might only utter one or two lines in response. Furthermore, it is not always clear to the player what the protagonist needs to do to progress. It can be as simple as leaving the place without doing anything. Having an objective marker or an on-screen prompt to tell the player their objective(s) would be helpful.
Spoiler warning The second is the choice between turning into a vampire or staying as a human during a particular character's route. I would have liked to see the storyline develop to highlight more on the protagonist's supernatural abilities. Sadly, this part only changes a few lines of dialogue other characters say about the protagonist, and it doesn't affect the ending at all. This is a pity as I feel it has the potential to develop into something more interesting and bring out the supernatural aspect of this visual novel. [End spoiler warning]
Overall, Crimson Spires is quite an enjoyable read with good artwork, background music, and partial voice acting. Although the game has a few minor flaws, the excellent scriptwriting and length of the game which is more or less proportional to the price of the visual novel means I can recommend it at any time. Hope this game will qualify for normal Steam profile features and have Steam trading cards in future.
I have nominated this game for the Outstanding Story-rich Game Award in November 2020.
Initial gameplay video with author commentary on YouTube by LizLaughLove