REVIEW: Sigma Star Saga

WayForward Technologies developed Shantae (Gameboy Color), the ill-fated Ping Pals (DS), some licensed games, and Sigma Star Saga—an RPG favorite of mine on the GBA alongside Shining Soul 2 and Mazes of Fate.  Sigma Star Saga is an RPG with a scrolling shooter (or shmup) battle engine. Better yet, it’s fun, and I even liked the story (concerning alien bio-WMDs), which is so rare.

You traverse 5 planets on foot (jungle, fire, ice, spooky, and ruins) in an overhead view with humongous sprites. During planetary exploration you’ll encounter a variety of dumb slow-moving enemies and kill them with your gun. These are just to keep you from falling asleep—they’re never a challenge and aren’t worth experience points. Real combat happens during random encounters where suddenly you’re transported into a spaceship (the story explanation for this is actually pretty good), navigating caves and blasting enemies in a horizontal-scrolling shmup mini-level. Here, enemies drop experience pellets and you level up exactly as you’d expect.

The shmupping is smooth and enjoyable (if too easy), but marred by one bad design choice: Upon entering a battle, you randomly pilot one of several ships varying in speed and size. Larger ships are crappy for dodging and their extra armor is poor compensation. Worse, they can’t negotiate tighter tunnels and occasionally you start an encounter by immediately hitting a wall and losing health before you can slowly respond. Since you never chose your ship, this is quite unamusing.

Regardless of vessel, you’ll wreak havoc with the same customizable main weapon—Sigma Star Saga’s best idea. While exploring the planets, you find (hidden) Gun Data, of which there are 3 categories. “Cannon” controls the direction and fire rate (spread, rapid, reverse). “Bullet” controls shot type (charge, penetrating, ricochet). “Impact” controls the shot effect (blast radius, experience bonus, health drain). Each category has 20-some different Data (all of which are inventive) and you combine 1 Data from each. It’s a very flexible and encourages experimentation, with no obvious “best”.

Sigma Star Saga is good. Sci-fi plot, shmup battles, and customizable weaponry make it unique, and it all gels into an excellent and straight-forward RPG. There’s even human/alien cross-species romance. I beat it twice and Wanda still carries the  pre-order slip in her wallet 5 years later and bought another copy (at full price retail price) after losing the first. Those are the highest recommendations I can think of.


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