I am a big fan of an RPG, loving to lose myself in a fantasy world of swords and spells, and forgetting about the state of the real world. So, when Sin Slayers: Enhanced Edition arrived, I was all over it and eager to get cracking. Coming from Goonswarm, the premise seemed interesting, blending turn-based combat with procedurally generated levels, with an evolution of old-school Command & Conquer’s Fog of War system. This sounded like a heady one indeed.
First impressions, sadly, are not good. To load into the main menu, on an Xbox One X with the game installed on the internal drive, takes about four minutes, and it seems a lot longer. This is a theme that runs through the whole game, unfortunately, as every time a battle is finished you’ll see the loading screen, and every time you go into a level you’ll see the loading screen. Every single time it outstays its welcome. But the loading screen to actually get into the game is far beyond the pale. Once we are in, however, we are “treated” to a voice-over, explaining what is happening in the game’s world. And while the tone of the voice acting is supposed to be doom-laden and menacing, its actual acting is not up to the task, strangely stilted, and just generally wrong.
The basic premise of Sin Slayers is that a motley crew of adventurers have got stuck in a church, which is protected by an old, blind Sage. Surrounding the church are a series of levels, each named after one of the seven deadly sins. When we begin, the only level open to us is Gluttony, and in order to gain the right to fight Gluttony himself we first have to explore the area and defeat a kind of mini boss. So, having had very little explanation of what was what in terms of game mechanics, I ventured into the forest.
Once the inevitable loading screen had gone away, I found myself in a forest, as advertised, made up of a grid pattern with various paths through the map. The surrounding area was lit up, for want of a better term, allowing us to see what was in it. You will always spawn into a level next to a fountain, which when your team is a bit battered (and they will be, especially at the start) you can return to in order to rest, restoring the team’s HP levels. It doesn’t, however, revive anyone who is dead, and wandering around with a weakened team is a good way to find yourself done and buried, so be warned. Anyway, as we move to new, dark squares, we come across a variety of things. There are NPCs who can give you quests to carry out, like bringing a pigman mushrooms so he can make soup, to any number of varieties of traps which can be disarmed if you have the correct item. If you haven’t, the trap will hurt the team, meaning you start the next fight weakened, as for some stupid reason you can only heal the team in an actual fight. Why you can’t use a potion in a quiet forest glade is beyond me. Other things you can find include various enemies, leading to a fight, bosses, and other items that you can choose to interact with, such as tombs or corpses on the road.
The items you can interact with introduce an interesting mechanic, that of Sin. You see, in this game, messing around with graves, tombs, or even corpses increases your overall Sin level, shown as a bar at the top of the screen. As your Sin increases, so too does the strength of the enemies, and particularly the bosses. It’s no exaggeration to say that the success of your mission to kill the big bosses of each area is directly related to your Sin level. You have to balance the increase in Sin against the potential rewards for robbing, for instance, a specific tomb, and then make your move. Luckily, there are sometimes altars around the levels that the priestess character can pray at, reducing your Sin level. Choosing not to interact with the various tombs also has the effect of reducing it. Given that it seems rare to get anything good out of these events – usually ending up with a trap or nothing – it’s generally best to leave them alone and fight the enemies at their actual levels, instead of them being boosted. Maybe it was just my luck, but then again…
So, having explored the level and found the boss, you then just have to defeat it. Here I’ll throw in another of my pro tips: don’t fight the boss until you have explored the map fully, as defeating one will return you to the church without so much as a by your leave. As with many things in the world of gaming, defeating the bosses is very often easier said than done. The combat system in Sin Slayers is pretty good fun though, being classic turn-based fighting. The moves that your characters are capable of using are driven by Rage, which accumulates over time. And if you skip a turn, the next time you get to have a go your Rage level will have built and you’ll be able to use stronger attacks, assuming you have unlocked them. So, in your basic configuration, you’ll have the priestess, a healing-based character, the warrior, skilled in the application of pointy metal to monsters’ faces, and the huntress, an archer. As you encounter monsters, you’ll gain information on them so you will be able to see how the HP levels for each foe stand. Also, some creatures are more susceptible to arrows or swords, so learning what works well on the enemies forms part of the learning curve. The combat works pretty well and is a good deal of fun.
Obviously, you can’t spend all your time fighting, and you will have to return to the church to interact with various NPCs. The Sage will give you missions every now and again, and the first of these is to rescue a blacksmith who was in the church, but seems to have decided to go for a stroll. Once he’s been located and recovered, he starts to ply his old trade again in the church, and from here we can collect raw materials which can be crafted into various potions and items. The list of characters to recruit doesn’t stop there, as there are a large number of different classes of warriors that can be found and signed up. Some will join and be selectable straight away, but others will come with conditions. To have the Blade Master for instance, I’m currently required to kill 200 monsters. Now this shouldn’t be an issue, as you would have to kill them to get stronger, but with most encounters not having more than three monsters in them… you can see the scale of the task.
While you are in the church, it’s also a good idea to have a look through the menu and see if you can figure out what to do. There is no explanation of the levelling up mechanic, which is tucked away inside a sub-menu despite being absolutely vital. As your characters fight and gain experience, the only indicator that they can level is up is the word “MAX” that appears on their EXP gauges after a battle. And until you level up, you won’t gain any more EXP, which to me seems a tad silly. But it is what it is, and Sin Slayers is handicapped by this lack of exposition. Want to equip new gear? Well, you can, but in a sub-menu of a menu, and only certain people can use specific items. It’s a real shame as this kind of thing really hamstrings the game, in all honesty.
To sum up then, Sin Slayers: Enhanced Edition on Xbox One is very much a game of two halves. Exploring and fighting are fun, and the Sin mechanic – while being a gimmick – is a nice one to have. Other than that though, the menus are confusing, the presentation is distinctly average, and it just feels like a bit of a beta rather than a finished product. There is fun to be had here, and once you figure out the menus it’s really not too bad, but flailing around trying to understand what is what is hugely off-putting. It’s a shame that Sin Slayers just seems to trip itself up at the final hurdle.