Every so often there comes a fusion of gaming genres that I haven’t seen before. It doesn’t happen often, as I am quite old and cynical, but when it does, it is a thing of joy.
Which leads me neatly onto the subject of today’s review, Shuyan Saga from Lofty Sky Entertainment and ESDigital Games. This is a fusion of a beat ‘em up game and a visual novel, which I hadn’t been expecting. But is it any good?
Well, you’ll have to read on to find out, as if I gave away the ending in the first paragraph, where would be the jeopardy, the desire to keep reading?
On to the presentation of Shuyan Saga first, and as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, a lot of the game is presented as a visual novel, and so the graphics in this section are very nice indeed. They sport a delicious hand drawn style, which given that the artist responsible is Chinese comic book master, Daxiong, perhaps shouldn’t be a great surprise. The way the graphic panels flow into each other is very nicely done, and this bit of the game looks the part.
The news is slightly less good in the other part of the game; the fighting scenes. They are somewhat stilted in animation and just seem a little lacking in detail after what we have seen of the story. This is even more baffling when you read that the game was apparently motion captured from a real Chinese Kung Fu master! Luckily, the sound comes to the rescue somewhat, as the music soundtrack is very nice indeed, matching the action on-screen. The voice acting is very good as well, with believable performances from the cast.
Story is obviously very important to a game that is, at its heart, a visual novel. While it is somewhat cliched, the news here is also good. We are Shuyan, princess of one of the Five Kingdoms. As the game opens, the Guer have invaded one of the neighbouring kingdoms, killing most of the people in the way, as well as the king. Now, it seems that the kings of all the Five Kingdoms have the ability to summon a spirit to help them in their fight. The Guer king can summon a massive red dragon, and in the beginning, it appears to kill and eat the Tiger spirit of the kingdom that was defeated. With me so far? Good. Now, the Guer are coming for Shuyan’s kingdom and she must not only escape the onslaught and go to fetch help, but must also grow as a Kung Fu master along the way. It’s the only way she will have any hope of defeating the Guer and saving her Kingdom.
Looking at the actual gameplay itself, and as you’d expect, Shuyan Saga is very much a game of two halves. There is the visual novel side, and then there is the fighting side, and I shall address each half separately.
The story/visual novel side of things is where we will start, and there is a good deal of reading involved in this mode; which is not a problem when the illustrations look as good as they do. As we progress through the story, there are a number of points where we have to make a choice – while not all of these choices will change the story to any large degree, there are certain decisions that not only change the way the story plays out, but that have achievements tied to them. In order to achieve a full 100% completion, there will be at least two playthroughs required, so bear that in mind. And remember how you answered the questions last time round! Of course, just as we are getting used to reading and choosing, the game will suddenly flip things around and introduce a fighting section.
The fighting comes in two flavours – strawberry and vanilla. Just kidding, they come in either 1-on-1 situations, akin to a proper fighting game, with health bars and such like, as well as sections where Shuyan must fight waves of enemies in a kind of top-down arena fighting style. The controls for both sections are the same, and while in the 1-on-1 flights the emphasis is definitely on the use of combos, the other mode can usually be won by mashing the attack button.
The single combat screens are a lot more interesting, and while the graphical style is carried over from the story side, the animation, as I mentioned earlier, is a little odd. That means the attacks seem to come out just a fraction later than you think they should, leading to issues with timing combos. For instance, the first combo we learn involves pressing X, X, Y, Y, X in that order, and the first hit in the combo is usually blocked, but the rest of the combo then lands doing decent damage. Other than this, the fights don’t seem to have much of a flow to them, and as long as you keep attacking, you will eventually win. It feels like button mashing may be the path to victory after all…
Besides the story mode, there are a couple of other things to get involved with. Arena mode puts you, surprisingly, in an arena and focuses on the fighting side of things. The Focus mode does the same. There are achievements tied to these, and so you would have to give them a try at some point, but honestly, without the story to pad things out, I tired of these pretty quickly.
In conclusion, while the fighting section of Shuyan Saga is without doubt the weaker of the two halves, it still does enough to keep you coming back for short bursts every now and then. The story is engaging, even if the princess of the kingdom and her friends feel more like characters in a trashy American teen drama than actual people from that time period. The story is also riddled with Kung Fu cliches; if you have watched many Chinese films you’ll have deja vu almost constantly. But that said, the developers deserve praise for doing something different.
Shuyan Saga is by no means an essential play, but it is a fun way to kill a few hours.