Lofty Sky Entertainment have put together an intriguing prospect. In an era where digital visual novels are innovation with rapid pace, Shuyan Saga manages to shake things up even further. It’s bringing real-time action to the genre in a way we haven’t seen before. But as you’ll learn in this Shuyan Saga review, it doesn’t quite deliver on the promise in that premise.
The core gameplay mode of Shuyan Saga is divided into three ‘books’. The action takes place across a series of finely detailed stills. The player is frequently given a choice of two or more options which will determine how the story plays out. In truth, it largely seems to be relatively minor differences for the most part. Yet it is nice to have some agency as the graphic novel unfolds.
Where the player does have a great deal of agency is in the fight scenes interspersed within the static scenes. These play out like many top-down beat-’em-ups. Think The Warriors or Fable Heroes. The player will generally face a number of enemies, requiring blocking incoming attacks and executing combos in a test of endurance. Tougher battles against a single foe (or when executing a special Qi ability) will change perspective, with a simple tête-à-tête of fighting playing almost like rock, paper, scissors.
The two combat modes are a welcome addition to the game, providing some landmark moments in the unfolding story. Of the two, the top-down gameplay was certainly preferred during the course of this Shuyan Saga review, but both remain welcome. Each of the additional modes specialise in one of these combat systems (more on these below).
As you progress you’ll earn XP and gain levels. Doing so will unlock a number of upgrades, such as taking less damage when blocking or ‘greeting’ enemy moves for a counter attack. Interestingly, new moves are not just unlocked with progress, but also by experimenting with button presses. For skilled beat-’em-up players, it’s possible to unlock entire strings of combos before the game spoon feeds them to you.
There are a few other interesting asides, such as fighting ghost warriors or green pendants. Sadly however, the control system lacks a reliable automatic targeting, making some of these sequences a little tiresome. The same could be said of Jade Temple Adventure; a mode unlocked after progressing through the three books of the story mode. Here we go full blown scrolling beat-’em-up. A would be worthwhile addition, were it not for the awkward controls. The Tournament also offers a boss rush of sorts, which again would be welcomed were it not so basic in its presentation.
Ultimately, Shuyan Saga is a game that attempts to do many things, but as a result delivers them all in mediocrity. The PlayStation 2-era 3D graphics are charming at first, but soon begin the grate. The voice acting flutters between fantastic and woeful with wild abandon. The combat is a wonderful idea poorly executed. Shuyan Saga is not quite the game you might hope it would be, but there is a good attempt here. If developer Lofty Sky can muster a second try, we wouldn’t put it past them nailing it.