Sigma Star Saga - Reader Retroview  

Sublimely Strange Stuff
by JuMeSyn

11-13 hours


Rating definitions 

   Attempting to classify Sigma Star Saga is difficult, because it truly is unique. I suppose it fits within the general Ďaction RPGí criterion, but only because nothing else works. The melding of RPG elements into a horizontal shooter remains unique to this game, and the title delivers a number of things that make it worth playing. It also delivers quite a bit of frustration from elements that should have been better enabled, and curses can be expected to flow from the mouths of potential players pretty often.

   The tale told herein begins as Recker leads his starfighter unit into battle against the Krill attackers of Earth. Recker succeeds in repulsing the enemy, but his entire unit is destroyed. Commander Tierney offers him a way to escape the guilt; become a double-agent in the service of the Krill and pass on information. After he is impressed into this duty, Recker finds himself learning more about the alien attackers of Earth and why they have an interest in Earthlings. He is quickly introduced to Psyme, who commanded the expedition against Earth that he defeated. Psyme wants a reckoning with the Earthling (codename Sigma) who shot her down and trashed her career path. Soon it becomes clear that the Tyrannical Overlord of the Krill is very interested in the research Recker and Psyme are doing, though why that would be cannot be explained just yetÖ.

The universe has an attitude, mom! The universe has an attitude, mom!

   The story does a fine job of deviating from the RPG norm, and is nicely written as well. The only quibbles are a few logical ones; would a Tyrannical Overlord actually go by that title? How is it that the Krill speak English very fluently (something that does get a mention, as Recker is supposed to be able to read it where the Krill canít)? How could the Krill actually give such boring names to planets as Forest Planet and Ice Planet? Barring a close dissection of the plot, it works very well and moves quickly.

   There are two forms of fighting in Sigma Star Saga. One occurs during movement about the planets and star bases Recker will explore. These fights are top-down and find Recker shooting and/or kicking a mine at his enemies to destroy them. Aside from health and bombs, they provide no incentive to continue battle save if an enemy is in the way. Movement is also rather slow, even when running. Eventually an item that allows fast movement is uncovered, but it cannot be used concurrently with a weapon.

   Early on in the navigation of the Forest Planet Psyme will explain to Recker what is happening. Seems that the Krill ships are constantly getting spooked about marauders, and thanks to the parasites implanted onto every Krill (plus Recker) the ships can summon pilots off to battle. This form of battle ought to be familiar to players of R-Type or Gradius, as it is a horizontally scrolling shooter format. Enemies will come from all directions to be destroyed, and the player will pound the A button constantly to send out a stream of fire that will incinerate the enemy. If in a pinch the player can use one of up to 7 bombs that will destroy everything currently onscreen.

The mortar having been planted, rebels prepare to bombard the invaders from heights outside of town. The mortar having been planted, rebels prepare to bombard the invaders from heights outside of town.

   Enemies drop experience in the form of little blue balls that must be collected by the player (they home in once the ship is close). Experience increases attack and defense of the playerís ship, although crashing into walls does the same amount of damage regardless of level. Most enemies do not have projectiles, instead using their bodies to try crashing into the playerís ship. Those that DO have projectiles are dangerous thanks to the tendency of projectiles to be more powerful than ramming attacks. While the game begins with the standard right-facing cannon, as it progresses the player will find Gun Data. Gun Data can alter three things: the method of shot release (instead of right only, left and right or four diagonal directions are alternate means), the pattern of the shot (double shot, triple shot, wave shot, etc.), and the effect upon impact with a target (leave a damaging patch for a moment, ricochet up and down, etc.). There are quite a few variations among these three criteria, creating plenty of combinations to play around with. If in a pinch the player can substitute the basic right-facing gun at any time, although permanent tinkering with the custom options must wait until after battle.

   Visually Sigma Star Saga is acceptable without excelling. The top-down view usually used is pretty good but suffers from a dearth of environments. The named characters all have at least slightly different sprites. In battle the action is fast and intense, though not by the exacting standards of shooters. There is also the dreaded specter of slowdown that rears its ugly head when too much is onscreen.

   Aurally Sigma Star Saga achieves a good shooter score. Most of the pieces used here would not sound quite right in a more conventional RPG, but they sound very good as a shooter backdrop (I am hard-pressed to think of a musical piece that does NOT try to pump the adrenaline). Sound effects are varied enough to be not annoying, save perhaps for constantly hearing bullets exit the shipís gun. There are a very few somewhat annoying voice clips, but they arenít heard much.

   Outside of ship battle interaction is annoying, though manageable. Switching between items used in environmental navigation isnít hard, being done with the L and R buttons. Switching between bullet options is also done with L and R, and this can be very annoying thanks to the sheer number of options. Reckerís slow movement most of the time doesnít help. Ship battle has a couple of nasty parts: one is that running away is impossible. Once summoned, Recker must destroy the set number of enemies or die. The other is that the ship being used is random from a short list of possibilities. If Recker gets stuck using a big ship that is very clumsy and hard to maneuver, cave passages are sometimes impossible to safely navigate.

   Challenge is abundant in Sigma Star Saga, though how much depends upon the player. Anyone with no aptitude for scrolling shooters is advised to stay away, because no amount of leveling can save someone from crashing into walls repeatedly. Random encounters are usually pretty easy, but the planned ship battles (at least one per chapter) feel far more like a regular shooter and will test reflexes. Bosses are powerful and quite capable of destroying the playerís ship quickly. By shooter standards the game isnít very hard (no one-hit kills during gigantic stages with bullets covering the entire screen) but by RPG standards it will be rough. The game isnít very long (took me about 12 hours) but dying all the time will stretch that playing time out considerably. There is a New Game + option after final victory, and also more than one ending (with utilization of the New Game + being necessary to see at least one of them).

   Sigma Star Saga is not an unqualified success thanks to many little annoyances, along with the jarring effect of its random battles. Being yanked from a top-down view into a shooter battle that ends suddenly once the required number of enemies has been killed, over and over, will elicit disgust from the player. The battle zones for each planet are quite finite, meaning the player will see them repeatedly in planetary navigation. Iíll recommend any interested persons try it out thanks to the unique nature of the title and an interesting story, but with the caveats already listed that recommendation isnít very strong.

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