When we think about shoot ‘em ups, or shmups, we think about some of the legendary heavy hitters like R-Type, Gradius, DoDonPachi, Ikaruga, and numerous others. The list of essential shooters is a long one, and these games have a way of really standing the test of time. Japanese developer Alfa System may not be a household name like Capcom or Square Enix, but they have been around the industry for over 30 years now although they have never quite had the legendary video game hit that would put them on the map, instead getting by with a steady stream of decent titles, many of which have since become collectible rarities. Among the shmup purists, the developer is probably best known for the Castle Shikigami series, which has unceremoniously been ported to modern platforms. Sisters Royale: Five Sisters Under Fire marks the developer’s first major release in a very long time, but for a release commemorating three decades in game development and publishing, this is far from the best showcase.
Sisters Royale is a comedic anime romp that almost feels like a parody of itself, and it is often hard to tell if this is intentional or not. It involves a cast of female anime stereotypes all vibrant and dolled up, caught in some battle amongst themselves with demons and angels looming over events. There is an attempt at delivering some comedic narrative here but none of it really feels interesting, especially when there is hectic shooting action involved. There’s some sort of wedding involved where the sisters have to battle for the groom – it’s really hard to make sense of it or even care really.
As a shooter Sisters Royale is a short and passable adventure at best: the level design is clustered and suffocated with the occasional interesting idea (such as the dark stage where lanterns need to be lit) but the boss design in particular is an uninspiring slog. These boss battles last far too long and they don’t exactly present a novel challenge, with even the final boss not posing any alarming threat. Sure, it has the shmup challenge and could be fun for some, but the whole experience feels pointless even as a score chaser.
The game certainly tries to attempt something different in its game design, especially when it comes to the score multiplier dubbed as the Tension Bonus System, which rewards players based on their proximity to enemies. The problem is that the congested map design doesn’t quite lend itself to this system, especially when basic movement feels ever so sluggish. There are plenty of screen-filling magic bomb attacks and other special moves too, but all are typical of what you’d expect from a scrolling shooter.
The graphical presentation of Sisters Royale is the source of most of the disappointment, looking like something which would be right at home as a Nintendo 3DS eShop release, and that’s not really a compliment. With blocky 3D models the graphics of the game look dated, and the generic cliché art style doesn’t help matters either. There are plenty of vibrant effects here, but they don’t really add to the presentation other than blind players with bright pink lighting effects. At the very least, the music has a bit of charm although most of it isn’t very memorable.
For a game that proudly flashes the logo of a 30-year veteran of the video game industry, Sisters Royale: Five Sisters Under Fire on Xbox One feels like an amateur indie effort at best. This is as average as shmups get, and the whole set-up and premise is far too silly to the point where it blurs the line of being a parody of itself. For the developer that created the cult hit Castle Shikigami, clearly a more memorable release was expected of them in 2020.