Review: Shuyan Saga (PC)

Developer: Lofty Sky Entertainment Inc
Publisher: Lofty Sky Entertainment Inc
Genre: Action, AdventureIndie
Rating: N/A (more appropriate for mature audience due to violence)
Platforms: PC
Price: $19.99
Shuyan Saga is an action game that takes a lot of its style from the world of kung fu. It mixes the beat-em-up genre with the tournament-fighter and weaves them both into a story that is wonderfully presented in a comic book style. Developed by indie studios Lofty Sky Entertainment Inc, there’s a lot to talk about for this game, both good and bad.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: There’s a lot of eastern philosophy in this game. The main character has a phoenix as her familiar to protect her people. A kung fu master emphasizes the Yin and Yang of the universe, the importance of balance, and detachment.
Violence: Kung Fu is the main pull of this game, and there is a lot of it. The combat in this game is martial art based. There is blood and graphic depictions of killing.
Positive Content: The story is about saving the kingdom from an evil warlord. The only way to do so is to achieve inner piece.

Review

Shuyan Saga is  game is a love letter to kung fu and a game I feel split about. There’s a lot of great things about it, but there’s also a lot that needs to be improved. If you’re familiar with a lot of kung fu movies, Shuyan Saga will seem very familiar to you. The biggest piece of praise I can give to this game is that it is dripping with atmosphere. The main campaign mode is done in a visual novel style. Each story event is shown through a series of pictures and the artwork is breathtaking. It’s very reminiscent of the art style for Avatar: The Last Airbender series and is really fun to look at. There were points in the game where I paused the screen just to admire the art. The music was memorable and fitting for the setting, and the voice acting was, while hammy at times, very complimentary to the art. The 3D is a little bit low resolution, but isn’t distracting from the game.

If it plays as good as it looks, we’ll be set.

Unfortunately, the really good things about Shuyan Saga end here. The story is about Princess Shuyan, an Asian girl who would rather spend time learning to the ways of kung fu from her master that learning how to rule under her mother and father. Young and impetuous, Shuyan often ignores the court in order to compete in fighting rings. The opening scene has her easily evade the palace guards chasing her, not unlike the opening to Aladdin.
Things get serious when the evil warlord, possessing the avatar of the Red Dragon Spirit invades her city, captures her family and friends, and takes over. From there it’s a race to the end as Shuyan learns to develop the great power gifted to her from her father. She has to learn to hone her kung fu skills, meeting a wizened old kung fu master and new allies along the way.
If this sounds familiar to you, don’t be surprised. It’s every kung fu movie. There are no surprises or twists in this story and the characters are superficial archetypes. It doesn’t even work as a parody or spoof of kung fu film cliches because Shuyan Saga is played so straight. There’s so much effort put into telling the story that it’s disappointing that the story is so bland. There are a few times during the story where you can make choices, similar to the Telltale game series, but these don’t matter because they don’t change the ending.
There are some story moments that are unsatisfying. Throughout the first part of the story, it’s established that Shuyan doesn’t get along with her mother. Shuyan has her mind on becoming a great fighter and her mother would rather see her in the court. This never gets resolved. The main bad guy’s number two kills someone important to Shuyan right before the finale and he never gets his comeuppance. Shuyan can call upon a phoenix to protect her people. The evil warlord can do the same, but with a red dragon. I expected the final conflict between the two to be fun and exciting, but the resolution is anticlimactic. These things really stick out and reinforce how weak the story seems.

Psst…these will end the same way.

One might argue the hackneyed story is the point, and Shuyan Saga serves as a love letter to the kung fu genre of movies, and it’s meant to be trite. After all, not many kung fu films are known for gripping plots. It that’s the case, the real meat of the game should be in the game play. Like watching Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee films, most of the entertainment from this game should come from the action.
There are two ways of fighting in Shuyan Saga. There’s an overhead horde mode, meant for multiple enemies, and a one-on-one combat style mode more like a traditional fighter. The overhead mode gives you a few movement options and moves, and are meant for weaker enemies which won’t give you much trouble anyway. Sometimes the game will switch you between the modes on the fly, but most of the time it’s one or the other.
The one-on-one combat is Shuyan Saga’s biggest failing, quite frankly, by a long shot. When Shuyan faces an opponent, she has a few combat options. She can either attack high or low, block high or low attacks or use power attacks to break through her opponent’s block. For PC you do this by… clicking. There are no button presses for regular attacks. The keyboard isn’t used at all, giving me the impression the Shuyan Saga was meant to be played on a phone or tablet, not a PC. Game play is finicky and not always responsive.
Later on in the game, about halfway through, Shuyan learns a move called “Greet”, essentially a dodge, which can be followed up with a counter-attack. After she learns this, you basically never have to worry about combat again, and in a game that’s arguably centered around combat —certainly kung fu—, that’s a huge problem. With the block, you have to be able to read the opponent and predict whether they will throw a high or low attack. Simple, but can catch you off guard if you’re not careful with your blocks. But if you use the Greet to dodge instead of using blocking maneuvers, you don’t even have to know what type of attack is coming. Just get the timing right, swipe left with the mouse, then swipe right, and you’ve just successfully dodged and countered the opponent’s attack. Repeat as necessary, and you’ll win every fight.

Shuyan can also learn combos…you’ll never use them.

The combat is so broken, even the big bad evil guy can’t stand up to it, and I completely spanked him and got hit only once. In addition the the story mode, there’s a tournament option where you fight the main characters of the game one after another until you beat them all, and the Greet made it so easy to do, I was able to win the tournament using only my left hand while eating a slice of pizza with my right. For the record, I’m right handed.
It’s difficult to say these things about Shuyan Saga because I really wanted to like this game. It’s beautiful and drenched with culture and the kung fu tropes, while overdone, are ones that I enjoy. Shuyan Saga could’ve been a great comic book and might even work as a phone game, but as it is right now, Shuyan Saga feels like a gimmicky game that needs to be polished up a lot more.
As a final note, I wouldn’t be as hard on this game if it wasn’t priced at $20. There are many better games out there for that price, many from independent studios as well. To demand that kind of money for a game this underdeveloped, with three story chapters, half-an-hour each, is asking way too much. Your money and time are better spent on some other game.

The Bottom Line

Shuyan Saga is a game that works best as a comic book, works okay as a mobile game, but just doesn't cut it on the PC. Its clunky and awkward combat and its lackluster story don't quite make up for the great artwork. It might be worth getting if there's a really good sale for it, but otherwise it's not worth its current price.

 

5

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Simon Jones

God, games and good times. When not playing videogames, you can find Simon at the D&D table, doing parkour or muay thai, or napping.

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