Sigma Star Saga
-Namco / Way Forward (2005)
Humanity is in a war with a race known as the Krill, purple humanoids that live with parasites as their clothing. Ian Recker was a decorated pilot that commanded his own squadron of fighters for Earth against the menace of the Krill. After a mission where many of his men were killed, he is informed of a new mission where he must infiltrate the Krill from the inside. Although Recker is against it, his superior, Commander Tierney, tricks Recker into doing the mission. Recker is expelled from the Earth and placed so that the Krill find him. They discover that Recker is one of humanityís worst, thanks to a fabricated story by Tierney. Recker now must earn the Krillís trust and attempt to climb the ranks of the Krill hierarchy to discover their master plan. He will need to decide who his allegiances belong to.
Sigma Star Saga is a rare type of game. It combines the exploring and grand story-telling of an action RPG with a battle system of a side-scrolling shooter. While the game excels at neither the RPG or shooter aspect, it does have an excellent story and a unique weapons system to keep it interesting.
Most of the story takes place in the usual RPG top-down perspective where the gameís hero, Ian Recker, tries to discover what exactly the Krillís master plan is. Recker is given missions by his new superiors to perform some kind of task on whatever planet the Krill ship is orbiting. There are six planets that must be explored and many of them fall into the typical sci-fi planet classification scheme where there are separate fire, ice, green, and desert planets. There are plenty of obstacles and out of the way paths that can only be accessed by obtaining the correct item. There are some things you will get later on in the game that will allow to access areas that were inaccessible on all of the previous planets. This unfortunately means that there is a lot of backtracking. Most of it isnít really necessary, but if you want to obtain every item in the game it is a must.
Recker can whip out a blaster at any time to shoot any of the planetís creatures that may impede his progress. Killing off all the creatures you come across wonít raise your experience, however. They merely serve to impede your progress through the story. Some of them leave behind valuable bombs that can be used in the shooter sequences or health.
Sigma Star Saga adheres to the random battles formula. But, instead of a random battle being a place where you select actions from a series of menus, the battles here are randomly generated shooter levels. It is a great idea and the reasoning behind it works. The Krill use living ships, but the ships canít completely function without a pilot. When the Krill are on a planet, their ships patrol it in case of other dangers. If a ship encounters trouble it warps the nearest pilot into the cockpit. The pilot must then perform his best piloting skills to destroy as many enemies that are needed to complete the random battle. This number can range from one mini-boss to an assortment of ninety-nine enemy ships or creatures indigenous to the planet.
The shooter sequences are where Recker will increase his experience. Every time an enemy is destroyed, Reckerís ship absorbs experience which will level-up the ship and make it more powerful. Some enemies are tough to beat and will take numerous hits at first because Reckerís weapons are so weak. Anytime he arrives on a new planet his weapons donít seem powerful enough against the new threats. However, there will come a point when Reckerís ship is so powerful that nearly every enemy can be destroyed in one hit.
Not only are the encounters random, but so are all the aspects of the battle. You never know what level layout youíll be flying in, what enemies youíll have to face, or even what ship youíll be piloting. The ships you pilot range from small, quick fighters to large, slow transports. There is also one big ship, that when hit, opens and releases a small fighter from its cargo bay. It is rare but sometimes the game screws you over by giving you a ship that is bigger than the caves you must navigate. When that happens you just pray that you can destroy the need amount of ships before your health reaches zero.
Weapons found on the planet can be attached to the ships you pilot in battles. You can use any combination of cannon type, bullet type, and impact type for seemingly endless shooting possibilities. Many of the weapons youíll find are kind of useless though and can potentially make battles more difficult. Although, it is nice to have so many options available.
While the endless weapon combinations make battles interesting, the randomly generated battles do have their limits. Each planet only has so many side-scroller layouts available and you will be intimately familiar with each and every one of them because of the high frequency of random battles. Participating in another battle fighting the same enemies in the same stage became a bit monotonous. While it is to be expected in any RPG there just came a point where I wanted a way to skip the battles so I could keep going with the exploring so I could advance the story.
The story is entertaining, but I found it just a little odd how many of the Krill trusted Recker and how he was able to rise through their ranks rather quickly. Recker eventually finds himself in the middle of a love triangle between Psyme, a Krill female, and Scarlet, a military girl. It is interesting and many times humorous, how Recker tries to keep his cover to save the girls. Much of the plot is focused on lies, betrayals, and who Recker can really trust. Some of the plot threads may not be new to an RPG, but they are done very well here, with some fantastic character development throughout. There are also four possible endings to the game, making replayability a must if you need to see everything.
The game is focused on many bad things about war, but it doesnít take itself too seriously as there are enough quirky or funny moments. For one, the ruler of the Krill is called the Tyrannical Overlord. You canít help but laugh the first time you see that. At one point, the game itself makes fun of Recker for obtaining fairly-like wings. ďYou got wings. Like a girl!Ē The wings are a valuable tool of being a male KrillÖ or a human in a Krill parasite suit.
The visuals are done well and take advantage of the GBA color palette. The planets, enemies, and shooter stages are visually interesting until you are backtracking again and repeating another random shooter stage. The music and sounds are also very good. Experimentation with the weapons comes in to play with the sound effects as well because there are a few weapons that have incredibly annoying sounds that you will not want to use because of them.
The characters have an anime-inspired look. It is interesting to see how the parasites of all the Krill women donít cover much while the men are all fully-clothed. In particular, Commander Zellyís parasite looks to have hands that grab her breasts as her clothing of choice. Obviously there were not any lonely game artists or developers worked on this game.
Sigma Star Saga should be appreciated for taking a huge risk on trying to combine shooters and RPGs. For the most part it works and I love it because itís so different than a typical RPG. Iím not holding my breath, but I am hopeful that a sequel will be made. It would be a shame to not see the unique gun customization again.