Reviewed: October 2, 2005
Released: August 16, 2005
Is it just me, or are we getting more impressed by lower quality these days? All you have to do is throw a neat idea into something resembling a game and the media drools all over itself in order to be the first to kiss somebody'sÖ well you get the idea.
Sigma Star Saga is just the latest title to fall victim to the media over-hyping a title over what is ultimately very little. Smashing an RPG together with a side-scrolling space shooter is a bold idea, and one that could work, but the execution here is more frustrating than satisfying.
You start the game as a fighter pilot from Earth who is leading an elite squadron against the evil alien invaders. Unfortunately elite just isnít good enough these days and the squad is killed except for you of course. After driving off the alien force you are called on by your planet to go undercover, infiltrate the alien forces and bring back whatever intelligence you can. The one problem with this little plan is that, surprise, the aliens arenít really as evil as you thought, threats to the galaxy, etc, etc.
Aside from a certain staleness of plot the game is ok, despite a misguided attempt at a combined genre and repetitive gameplay. Did I just say repetitive? I meant very repetitive. The problem is the basic mechanic of the game. Like all RPGís you have to wander around getting into random encounters in order to get experience, gain levels, complete quests, etc. Sigma Star takes this and tweaks it by making all of the random encounters little 15-60 second segments of side scrolling shooter. So far so good, an interesting take on a very stale gameplay mechanic which should liven up the title; get some adrenalin flowing.
What makes the whole system break down is that random encounters happen a LOT, and even though they did try to keep it fresh by having you hop in different ships at random, and fly through different maps, after about five or six minutes on a planet youíve seen most of them. Now itís just repeat and repeat and repeat. Further complicating matters is that some ships simply cannot finish some maps unless you are appropriately over-leveled, so youíll be running around for half an hour looking for the next save point and get killed with nothing you can do about it. Congratulations, youíve won a chance to replay that half hour!
Things break down even further when you realize you have to fight monsters outside of random encounters, and even worse, you get no xp for doing so (thatís right, you only get xp from killing things in your ship). On the plus side they sometimes drop smart bombs which you can use in your ship, or healing items, but otherwise they are just a fun little delay for you.
To confront all of these evils you are given a customizable weapon (at least for your ship, while youíre a ground pounder you get deadly and terrible weapons, such as a hockey-puck) with three different slots which let you determine your direction of fire, type of bullet, and effect on impact. Each slot has a maximum of 28 different options, so you have a large arsenal to choose from, but you have to find all of those cool little toys on your own as they are scattered through out the game worlds.
Even worse, most of the options arenít really that useful in a general sense. There were some instances where I would have liked to have equipped a cannon that only fires up and down, but they were fairly rare. Since your custom weapon is something that you cannot change on the fly and you are constantly facing randomized encounters most weapon combinations just arenít going to be used. You get the spread cannon and the biggest bullets and the impact that drops xp after thirty hits and thatís pretty much what youíre going to be using.
I could say that this game has the best graphics Iíve seen on the GBA, but Iíve played Chain of Memories, so that would be lying. Truth be told though, they arenít half bad. The detailed sprites and rich colors make you feel like youíre playing an early SNES title as opposed to something on a hand held.
It is troubling that there are so few effects to the game, and that the art direction is, well, lame. Sure the graphics render what you see on paper from the manual as faithfully as possible, but when your character designs are bad that does little to help you.
Special effects are sparse as well, with a few nice transitions and teleportations, but most of the explosions just end up being a screen white out, with some minor little booms beforehand.
Playing console titles as often as I do does more than a little to spoil me, so when I come back to a GBA title Iím always left feeling a little disappointed. No matter how you tweak the hardware, you arenít going to get too much that impresses out of this system. Musically you are restricted to what amounts to low grade techno, the possibility of voices is slim to none, and anything more than the most basic of effects are going to turn out tinny and small.
Sigma Star does try itís darnedest to squeeze what it can out of the GBA, and what is manages is more than serviceable. Music that has a catch to it without grating too much (after the fifth or sixth run you wonít notice anyway), and sound effects that for the most part complement your space-faring adventures
This game dead ended for me about half way through. I just canít find the little ďblack boxĒ Iíve been sent after for the life of me, and this is after having circled the map about five times and going into every nook and cranny I can find. There are two places I havenít been on the map, neither of which I can get to. Really this section score should be lower, because if I spend money on a game it would be nice to be able to finish the thing, however I will allow that I suck and not the game.
Aside from that issue, there isnít a whole lot of replay value to the title. The story is not that engaging, and with the repetitiveness of the game play I canít imagine anyone going through it again. If you can suffer through everything there are about 20 hours of game for a single run through and the story has four different endings, so there may be something worth pursuing, but thatís for a stronger man than I.
Gamespot gave this title an E3 Editorís Choice Finalist award (thatís right, advertisement through media coverage, ainít it great), which is either indicative of a really crappy selection of GBA games at the show this year, or Gamespot is more concerned with getting their logo embossed on a game box. For those that trust this site, that logo could be a bit misleading.
This game has great potential but really mucks it up on delivery. If you really like shooters, or donít mind beating your head against a wall to see which one gives first, then go ahead and pick up this title. Otherwise, you can probably find better shooters and RPG's, each in their own respective titles.