2005's 'Sigma Star Saga' a trial and error game
The year was 2005. The Nintendo DS has been released for a good year by now, all but outclassing the Gameboy Advance. But a certain developer based in California decided to develop for the outdated handheld regardless, WayForward. The fruits of their efforts materialized in the form of "Sigma Star Saga." An odd hybrid of shoot-em-ups like "R-Type" or "Gradius," the game's release was much like WayForward's breakout hit, "Shantae," a 2002 title for the Gameboy Color, though their genres completely differ.
You play as Ian Recker, a squadron leader of the Sigma squadron, as he joins the rest of Earth's forces as they fight a menace referred to the Krill, who are anything but shrimp-like. Recker is chosen to be a spy for Earth, and infiltrate the Krill's forces, as there has been suspicion that the Krill are yearning for a super-weapon to annihilate humanity. Soon he finds himself meeting Psyme, a female Krill who wouldn't look too out of place in the original "Star Trek" series, as well as Scarlet, a female human scientist. As you can assume, this game can be part soap opera as much as a space opera, as a love triangle ensues. Whoever Recker ends up with is depicted in four different endings, half of which can only be acquired on a New Game Plus.
As for the actual gameplay, it's a very interesting take on the two genres. You walk around an overworld with a pistol, and other gadgets you obtain throughout the story. At random moments, you are thrust into battle, like a classical Japanese RPG, but each "battle" is a randomized shooter segment. The game's reasoning for this is explained early on before the player can raise any questions, and fits quite neatly in the narrative. It's a relatively welcoming change to see a developer try to get as much of the gameplay to fit the narrative as the team can, as opposed to other games that hand wave logic with some derivative of magic, or as the Simpsons' "Tree House of Horror X" put it eloquently, "A wizard did it."
There is a bit of trial and error game play, but even so, Sigma Star Saga is no Touhou, so a tiny bit of perseverance should allow players to progress nicely. The story has some very nice writing, with an emphasis on a black-and-black mentality for the war that the game depicts. The art, by Matt Bozon, nicely emulates Japanese-styled art that typically dominates the RPG market. Players with an eye for detail will see that WayForward has yet to disappoint on the game's animations, as the team has incredibly fluid animation for nearly everything, from NPCs to boss enemies to computer screens. It's understandable that this game was greatly overlooked by the release of the Nintendo DS, but if you can find this game, I'd certainly say it's worth at least one playthrough.
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