Sigma Star Saga - Preview

Sigma Star Saga

Developer: WayForward
Publisher: Namco
ESRB: Everyone
Release Date: 08.16.2005

This is an RPG? You betcha.

You're kind of hot, for an alien.

A foolproof, Krill disguise.

I only need 5 more experience before my ship levels up, buddy.

I hope you enjoyed your wine, Mr. Recker.

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Can RPG fans develop ace shoot'em up skills to save the human race?

While action RPGs and space shooters may seem as different as kittens and peach cobbler, Namco and WayForward are bringing us a unique game hybrid that blends these two very different game genres. Sigma Star Saga is a legacy to classic sci-fi anime as well as the nostalgic classics of the shooter and RPG genre. Set in the distant future where mankind is engaged in perilous conflict against an alien parasitic race called the Krill, Sigma Star Saga combines the heavy storyline and exploration of an RPG with an action-packed shooter battle system.

Taking place in the middle of an interplanetary struggle between the Allied Earth Federation and the Krill, the storyline features love, betrayal, and revenge spanning the entire galaxy. You play as Ian Recker, the only survivor of Sigma Team, an elite team of decorated pilots, after a surprise Krill attack. As mankind suffers from the tremendous loss of Earth’s best line of defense and stands on the verge of extinction, a top secret enemy directive is intercepted that identifies six planets that are critical to an elusive, unknown weapon for the Krill. Wanting revenge against the Krill, Recker accepts a mission by Commander Tierney to become a double agent in order to infiltrate the ranks of the Krill and reveal the mystery of the six worlds. Naturally, he is humanity’s last hope.

"Sigma Star Saga adds popular RPG elements to the fast-paced shoot'em up genre and a storyline with a colorful cast of characters, both alien and human."

After earning the Krill’s trust, Ian is sent on missions to distant planets. This half of the game takes place in ¾ top-down action sequences where Recker travels on foot across a planet’s surface exploring the secrets of the Krill. This is where the storytelling takes place; Recker will be able to speak and interact with different characters while visiting an assortment of environments. Instead of typical RPG towns, Recker will visit Starbases where NPCs reveal information and suggest side quests for you to take on.

These episodes are not entirely without their puzzle and action sequences. Other than just walking and talking, you will also be able to earn health, bombs, and weapons for your ship as you advance through the story objectives. Recker can fire at alien creatures, at first using a “puny Earth gun.” Recker’s suit is a Krill army uniform that is also a living parasite that is clamped onto his body. This allows you to learn features such as the ability to melt into a puddle of goo, move at high velocity with speed shoes, or use the Flutterpack unit to grow wings and fly over pits. You can find upgrades for your skills and collect new weapons to equip on your ship and on your suit such as a kick mine that allows you to kick explosives at creatures. Eventually, you will also acquire an X-Ray tool that allows you to find extra goodies underground. If the shooting action gets too intense, you can return to previous stages and use this tool to search for more supplies. The action in these scenes is meant to be kept light and primarily serves to advance the story and empower you with upgrades.

The scene drastically changes when Recker runs into a random battle. Apparently, the Krill pilot living ships that patrol the skies like bloodhounds; when they spot Recker they teleport the nearest pilot into the control cavity to take over and eliminate the intruder. At the same time, Recker is teleported into his ship. Instantly, the action will switch to a side-scrolling shooter in the planet’s atmosphere where you must pilot Recker’s ship and blast away the enemies. This kind of action is reminiscent of games like Gradius, Axelay, or R-Type. These fights are meant to be short and random, so Recker will switch from walking around on a planet’s surface, to engaging in dogfights in his ship, to back on the planet’s surface within about fifteen seconds.

The random part comes into play as stages of these enemy encounters are created randomly out of several hundred different chunks of map. You must adapt your weaponry to deal with the unexpected; everything from simply shooting down a wave of enemy craft to navigating through a dense maze of obstacles. Some stages involve “digger” style shooting where the forced scrolling pushes a wall of blocks that you must demolish before your ship is crushed against them.

The over 20 boss levels, however, are specifically designed. The first boss battle is an homage to the NES classic, Guardian Legend. You pilot Recker at an accelerated speed over a planet surface while maneuvering past objects and enemies. The stage eventually slows down as you face more methodological blasting action. Another boss battle involves Recker firing at hidden triggers to disarm the boss.

These space fighter shoot'em up sequences are not without their own RPG elements. Because Recker’s Krill vessel is actually alive it can gain experience by obliterating other ships and become stronger. In the debris of an annihilated enemy craft are bubbles to collect for experience. As your ship gains experience it increases in hit points and becomes more powerful. So shoot'em up newbies can always take on easier fights and level up their ship if the current fights are too challenging.

You can also collect upgrades to your weapon systems and earn new ships in the course of the game. Each has their own strengths and flaws, so it is best to choose a combination of four weapons that can prepare your ship for most situations. These four weapons are customized by binding different Gun Data together to create your own unique weapons. Weapons are built out of a foundation weapon and two suffixes. For example, players could possibly create a spread shot with lasers or bullets. Add sub ships to surround you for defense and extra attack power. Fill the screen by sending blast waves in all directions. Or instead of spreading, focus your attack power into a single devastating shot. With 50 unique Gun Data available there are around 27,000 potential combinations.

Sigma Star Saga also features branching story paths that are partly based on a love triangle. Will the purple-skinned Psyme, one of the Krill’s deadliest pilots, become enamored with Ian; or will the tough-as-nails heroine Scarlett fall for our hero? The choices you make will resolve this drama set in the midst of intergalactic warfare and lead to one of four possible endings. These choices are not just choosing answers to questions but are determined by which enemies you choose to face in the shooting stages.

The character designs, created by the art studio Vuduberi, clearly show a Japanese anime influence with bright colors and squat, super-deformed figures. There are a lot of character animations used to deliver the emotional impact of the story. Characters don’t just spin and hop up and down; they can make faces, drink wine, and make-out with each other. The figures are much larger than most sprites and take up a large portion of the GBA’s screen. Sprites also display detailed animation; you can see tentacles wriggling and hair moving in the wind. The epic story is told by using more than 200 scripted and animated sequences. The side-scrolling shooting stages are like the 16-bit shooters that influenced the game. They use lots of effects like parallax backgrounds, swirling effects, and multi-scrolling the backgrounds against the obstacles. Shin’en, best known for Iridion II and Nanostray, provided the sound and epic score to the game. Also, limited voice-overs punch up the characterization giving them distinct mumbles and exclamations.

Sigma Star Saga has been described as a “spiritual successor” to the NES cult classic, Guardian Legend, which also featured a mix of exploring areas with a character and blasting away alien star crafts in shooting sequences. Sigma Star Saga adds RPG elements to the mix and a storyline with a colorful cast of characters, both alien and human. Will RPGs and shoot'em ups be a match made in heaven? Or will they get along like humans and Krill? How well WayForward combined these elements as well as the fate of the Earth will be determined this August when Sigma Star Saga is released.

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