Sigma Star Saga - Review  

Adventures in Babysitting Alien Spacecraft
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

Very Unbalanced
15 to 20 hrs.


Rating definitions 

   Sigma Star Saga takes the unusual step of attempting to combine two extremely disparate genres - RPGs and Side-Scrolling Shooters. While the end result is not without charm, there are a number of flaws in the nuts and bolts of the combat system which make the game difficult to enjoy, the biggest of which is a glaring lack of balance. While Sigma Star Saga has a number of unique and promising ideas, the game doesn't put them to very good use and in the end, fails to live up to its potential.

   The combat system is a simple side-scrolling shooter engine with RPG mechanics attached at key points - namely an EXP system and two stats, attack and defense. In addition, the player can customize their ship's guns by collecting Gun Data in three forms - blue Cannon data, which governs the shape of the weapon, red Bullet data, which governs the weapon's behavior in flight, and yellow Impact data, which determines what the weapon does when it strikes a foe. Gun Data is an intriguing and unique approach to this system, and it offers a surprisingly wide variety of weapons to choose from. The only real flaw in this part of the combat system is that for every useful combo, it seems there are two or three which no one in their right mind would ever use.

   In addition to Gun Data, the player is given a randomly selected ship to fly for each encounter, each with unique characteristics. While the variety is very much appreciated, the differences between them in maneuverability and size are vast, making switching between ships jarring at times. It also feels as though the designers didn't consider every contingency for every vehicle, which leads to unnecessarily difficult, if not unwinnable situations; for example, the long, slender Fighter in the tight diagonal passages of the Fire Planet. Secondarily, while each ship has two modes of fire, the Gun Data combo and a standard gun unique to each class of ship, most of the standard guns are completely useless. It would, perhaps, have made more sense to allow for multiple Gun Data combos. In the end, the differences between the available ships serve only to frustrate.

The distinction between background and foreground isn't always clear. The distinction between background and foreground isn't always clear.

   The story of Sigma Star Saga follows a fighter pilot named Ian Recker, who is charged with infiltrating the government of the Krill, an alien race who recently invaded and nearly destroyed the Earth. Recker becomes increasingly trapped between two equally despotic rulers, with an ancient bio-weapon capable of wiping out entire civilizations on the line. Though it does lack a coherent theme to tie it all together, the tale twists and turns in some unexpected ways, takes on some surprisingly adult themes, and in general is extremely enjoyable.

   On the whole, control is blessedly solid in Shooter Mode. On the ground, hit detection is a bit spotty in places, but the majority of problems come from poor placement of enemies - on top of ladders, at the base of stairs, et cetera - but for the most part control on the ground is good. The overworld portions make use of a tool system similar to the Lufia or Wild Arms series, but like many of its ideas, the game really doesn't do much with it. There are few actual puzzles, and for the most part these are simple "use X tool on Y object" deals.

Recker generally has an unpleasant time of things. Recker generally has an unpleasant time of things.

   The single biggest problem with Sigma Star Saga is the incredible lack of balance in the gameplay. The levels are given far too much weight, to the point where one or two level ups can mean the difference between success and failure. This means that while Recker may meet his end repeatedly after setting foot on any given planet for the first time, two levels later he'll be sailing through random encounters without any trouble, in some cases without even being damaged. This quickly becomes a serious problem - after a while, combat simply becomes an exercise in holding down the fire button and maneuvering into the paths of oncoming foes. It's a bit of a shame, given that the combat system is far from boring while the difficulty holds out.

   The sounds of Sigma Star Saga are very sci-fi, to the point where the music is at times reminiscent of the more melodic Metroid tracks. Overall, the themes are very solid, showing good variety and atmosphere. Sound effects are a little on the silly side at times, but they tend to fit well. The limited voice acting that shows up when speaking to people was probably a mistake, as its quality is poor and it adds very little to the game.

   The visual style of SSS is a little fractured - the combat system visuals bear little or no resemblance to the overworld visuals - but neither side of the visuals are actively offensive. Its character designs are unique and colorful, though the big yellow eyes and head-mounted purple bat wings of the Krill are more than just a bit ridiculous. The game also features anime-style still cutscenes similar to those found in Lunar Legend that show off a bit of extra visual flare.

   In the end, Sigma Star Saga does better in theory than in actual practice. The combination of shooter and RPG works for a while but becomes tedious with time, a problem that the bludgeoning lack of balance helps not at all. The story is enjoyable, though, and the visuals and music compliment it very well. It just isn't enough to overcome the irritation of having to level up on every new planet in order to avoid near-instant death. On the whole, Sigma Star Saga works best as a testament to designer originality and perhaps to nostalgia for the old side-scrolling space shooters of yore. This game is probably best left to those who can appreciate what it was attempting as opposed to what it achieved.

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