Sigma Star Saga (Game Boy Advance) Review

By Matthew Evans 04.06.2006

In a world bereft of original ideas the easiest way to innovate is to mix two things that have nothing in common and make something new in the process. Coffee, the world's favoured caffeine boost and hot source of business meeting energy, have it with chocolate, mint, hazelnut and even caramel but the second it goes below luke-warm you're spitting it all over your boss in disgust. How or why someone would mix coffee with ice is beyond me but for some bizarre reason the end product is actually rather nice and a popular choice down your local Starbuck's. But for every Frappuchino there's always that idea that never quite worked like deep-fried cheesecake (yes the heart-attack inducing equivalent to a WMD does exist) and moving swiftly on here's the review for Sigma Star Saga.

On paper Sigma Star Saga is a compelling idea, you can't really get two franchises more in opposition to each other; the shooter whose major aspect is quick short bursts of frantic fun and RPGs the long-winded, thoughtful game which requires a considerable amount of effort to play, sadly for Sigma Star Saga the genres are just too different, instead of coming off as a fresh idea like the real-time fighting in Tales of Symphonia it feels like the outcome of a bad divorce settlement. The game is taking the basic elements of both genres, warts and all and meshed them together with what appears little thought to how it will all fit together, Sigma Star Saga is essentially two games that intertwine rather than a complete package. To make matters worse the two separate games aren't complete games either.

Screenshot for Sigma Star Saga on Game Boy Advance

The core fighting of the game is the flight battles, when you start the game you are welcomed to an opening level reminiscent of the R-Type series of games, the sprites are a bit basic with little scope for change in them, your fighter can bank when you go up or down the vertical axis but the graphical change is slight and barely noticeable, the opposing craft are just as sparsely animated. The backdrops for this opening level are a different matter, as the level progresses you go from cityscape, to clouded sky, further up into the moon-lit atmosphere before descending back into orbit and taking on the boss battle in a cloudless sky, all simply but beautifully drawn out. The levels plays out at a fast but controllable tempo that gives that feeling of speed many games fail to create; it sets the game up for a wonderful shooting experience, so its well beyond my ken as to how they screwed it up for the rest of the game.

After this initial foray into combat the typical RPG random encounters that follow, are tame, bland, boring and ultimately annoying. The levels plod along at a snails pace, with predictable waves of predictable enemies that move in predictable patterns. Now I know that's the same for all scrolling shoot-'em-ups but not all of them require you to play the first level over and over again about twenty odd times before it will let you progress to the next stage of the level, variation it seems is a swear word in this game.

Screenshot for Sigma Star Saga on Game Boy Advance

Admittedly there is the occasional mini-boss but where they should prove to be a nice distraction from the endless drone smashing but they quickly become an infuriating part of the game as well, this requires a bit of explanation though. In the RPG segment you can find weapon upgrades with which to create a single custom weapon in addition to your ship's rather pathetic standard cannon, some of these upgrades are ideally suited to taking out the hordes or cloned enemies that frequent the flight battles then all of a sudden you encounter a random mini-boss who's weak-point requires one of a specific few weapon combinations that is of very little use against the majority of enemies so you haven't equipped it, without a suitable form of attack you get your arse whupped and are sent back to the last save point with your tail in-between your legs. The point is that it isn't fun. With the few main boss battles you would expect it to get better but at no point does it even come close to re-imagining the opening battle. Boss battles are over-extended random encounters which get dragged out beyond the point of tedium and the boss encounter at the end is little more than a souped up mini-boss. Oh and that's what I forgot, what's the reward for all this? Varying levels of experience points, the only difference in the reward given by a bog-standard enemy and a main boss is how much experience they drop, definitely makes those encounters feel much more special.

My main concern with the RPG side of the game is that it is so bare-bones I'm not sure if it even qualifies as an RPG. You don't gain experience from killing enemies, just health restores and smart bombs. There's only the main story, no sub-plots, no side quests and the non-important npcs either repeat what's said in the manual or they summarise what the important people told you. Missions merely require you to get to X, Y point on the playing field and the only things to find on the map are gun parts and best of all there are no shortcuts.

Screenshot for Sigma Star Saga on Game Boy Advance

There are only six worlds in the game so to flesh it out there's a lot of back-tracking and I do mean a lot. You will be required to revisit the first planet, the forest planet at least four times throughout the game but each visit will only allow you to progress a few screens further than the last one, and on top of that you then have to search the map for gun parts. Once you are done you have to trudge through world map enemies and the same random encounters you went through on your last few visits (and had got bored of on your first visit) just to get back to the mothership because there's no return to base/save point option. Its also very easy to get lost in the game as the menu has a very basic map that isn't always on and no progress reminders to tell you what you should be doing, if you were to switch the game off and not play it for a few days, unless you had a good memory you'd have no idea what to do next and the game won't help you.

The whole issue of receptiveness carries itself onto the music, there's nothing wrong with the music as such, it's your basic sci-fi 16bit sounds with some occasional voices but when they play the same music for EVERY space station you'll quickly be turning the volume down and the radio up.

You may have noticed by now that I've made no reference to plot or characters, the reason is simple; it'll be the only reason you will want to continue playing this game and I didn't want to spoil it. Life as a double agent with a woman on either side of the border and Earth's future at risks lends to a fulfilling plot. The characters are basic with little depth to them and the story isn't told all that well but for some reason, in spite of this games obvious annoying flaws I still wanted to play it just to continue the story and I'm playing it a second time through just for the alternative ending. Sadly though not even the story can make up for the game's flaws and glitches, one of which puts you in a continuous loop requiring a restart, and there's little for me to recommend the game on.

Screenshot for Sigma Star Saga on Game Boy Advance

Cubed3 Rating

3/10
Rated 3 out of 10

Bad

It seems this game was doomed to failure, shooters are pick up and play titles, RPGs require dedication and in an effort to make it work WayForward has removed what makes both genres work and left an empty shell in its place.

Developer

WayForward Technologies

Publisher

Namco

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  3/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10 (3 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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