Sigma Star Saga combines two types of games that you never thought would be joined together: a shooter and RPG. Without a doubt, this game is very unique but do these two genres of games belong together?
Video game genre merging has been around for a long time, it is just not very common. However, whenever two genres mix together, one half is usually RPG. Take for example Turbo Grafx-16?s Final Lap Twin and World Court Tennis. These games mixed together high-speed racing and tennis, respectively, through an overhead standard RPG view. Instead of fighting in menu driven combat like in any Final Fantasy game, random encounters would send the player on a racetrack or a tennis court. New items and experience points would be gained the more you play, just like any RPG except with a racing or tennis theme. Sigma Star Saga follows these footsteps by using shooter stages as the random battles and a form of leveling up.
The player takes control of a pilot who is given the task of becoming part of the enemy?s army in order to gain intelligence. The story has many twists and turns and the game boasts multiple endings according to the path that the player takes. The story seems a little strange because the playable character in the game, Ian, so selflessly gives up his life to transform himself into an alien enemy. The story is the main driving force of any RPG, although this one is a little on the awkward side.
From the instant the game is in your GBA, the player is thrown head first into the action. The first stage of the game is more or less a learning experience as to how the game operates. However, without a simple tutorial section explaining the controls of the game, the player might die during this first initial level. I know I did. This right off the bat frustration was almost enough for me to put the game down forever. But realizing that I now understand the button and game structure, I easily beat this first stage the second time through.
In order to advance the story, the player must walk around via an adventure style overhead map. While in this adventure mode, Ian will come across NPCs, new items, enemies, and the most dreaded part, the random battles. All these things make up an RPG. The game actually gives a decent reason as to how and why Ian magically transports into outer space to fight in a shooter level. You see, when Ian agreed to become one of the enemy, he underwent a hefty amount of surgery to cosmetically transform into one of the Krill. Each member of the Krill species shares a direct link between itself and a Krill space ship. Each Krill space ship is a living, breathing member of the Krill society. Therefore, if a Krill ship is shot or injured, so is the pilot as their existences are linked. When a Krill ship needs a pilot, the nearest Krill member is instantly transported into space to combat the enemy.
While in adventure/walking around on foot mode, the player will be summoned to fight in these random space battles. This is by far the biggest turn off about this game. The random battles are completely unavoidable and the only way to gain experience. This is so annoying considering some battles can take minutes. In Pokemon, if the player used a specific item, random battles could be avoided upon personal request. In Final Fantasy, the player has the option to run away from any random battle. Sigma Star does not give the player any of these options. Plus, it is only a matter of time before the player?s ship becomes an all-powerful rampaging monster. Random battles soon become a stale chore that is totally dreaded. It is more likely the player will die of boredom than from enemy fire. Nothing is more annoying than getting interrupted when in the middle of exploring a new level, especially when the battle has minimal effect on your experience level.
The player gets a level up after a certain amount of experience points have been collected. The only way to obtain experience points is to fight the random shooter levels. Fighting enemies while on foot generate zero experience points. This makes fighting on foot with your pistol completely worthless. The only reason as to why the player will use his handgun to kill enemies is to simply make a clear walking path.
When the player does gain a level, however, the player only receives a bonus of +1 attack and +1 defensive. That?s it. The only way to increase other departments of your ship is to find Gun Data while walking around on foot. There are three parts when it comes to modifying gun data: how it?s expelled from the gun?s cannon, what the bullet does in flight, and what happens after it hits the enemy. But the only way to know how a specific gun part will handle is to try it in battle, as the demo screen does not show anything more than your ship in flight. More often than not, you will equip a crappy piece of a gun. Changing to a new gun part is a huge risk because if your cannon sucks, you can easily be killed. And if you die, you have to start back at the last save. This forces players to only experiment with different gun parts after a save.
The game has tons of gun parts to collect. But early in the game, the player will find a few gun parts that absolutely dwarf all others. This makes finding new gun data pointless. The designers wanted to implement tons of gun parts to increase replay value and keep the action fresh, but the end result journeys in the opposite direction. Herein lays the problem. Shooters are all about level design and lightning fast reflexes, not an over powering gun or ship. Games like Ikaruga, Gradius, or R-Type would lose its appeal if they were easy. In fact, that is the shooter genre?s main gameplay characteristic, its difficulty. Sigma Star loses all of this by offering a ship that grows stronger the more it is used. A good shooter game should make the player stronger and faster, not the ship itself. In mixed genre games like Final Lap Twin and World Court Tennis, growing stronger and faster works. Why? Because that is what happens the more you would play. You want a player that can hit a tennis ball harder or learn to take a corner a little bit faster. For a shooter game, this is not what the player wants. They want to be brutally challenged from beginning to end. This provides a tremendous amount a satisfaction when the game is completed because it was so difficult. That is what makes a good shooter, and this is where Sigma Star fails.
Wayforward, the creators of this game, are known for their highly detailed and animated graphic capabilities. Sigma Star is no exception. Everything contains a super high level of detail and you will find it hard to believe it is coming from the GBA?s small screen. Everything moves with immense fluidity. Animation and explosions are nothing short of spectacular. Too bad the gameplay could not match the graphics.
The audio is also a well-rounded treat. Each musical tune fits the mood of the game with full compatibility. The sound effects are great as well. It is not too common to hear footsteps in a GBA game let alone powerful explosions.
Sigma Star Saga is definitely a unique game. For that, everyone should play it just to see what it is all about. However, after a couple of hours, the boring and repetitive game will strike you like a sack of knobs to the face. Mixing an RPG with a shooter is an interesting concept, but there are plenty of design flaws. However, since it is one of the first games of its type, mistakes can be expected. Hardcore shooter fans will probably appreciate this game more than RPG fans because RPGers will be looking for something a little bit more traditional. Sigma Star is a game you want to love, but you can?t look away from this game?s flaws. The concept is definitely appreciated, but the flaws kill it from being a great experience. Hopefully a sequel will be made for a new handheld like the DS. This will give the designers a second chance to right what has been wronged? and maybe add a multiplayer co-op function in as well.