By Tom Tolios / October 1st, 2016
|Publisher||Rising Star Japan|
|Release Date||February 25, 2016|
|Genre||Action Adventure, RPG|
|Age Rating||T (Teen)|
Feudal Japanese dark fantasy is a time tested formula for the electronic entertainment industry. From Onimusha to Toukiden and beyond, it’s a setting that gamers never seem to grow tired of. And now we can add Sadame to the ever growing list of games that belong to the venerable and exotic genre. This one’s a top down action RPG rather than a hack and slash adventure, so it defies the established norms for the more popular and well known games in this genre and that’s refreshing, at least.
Sadame takes place during the sengoku era of Japan’s history, which many of you will know to be the ‘warring states period’, roughly from 1560 to 1600, give or take a decade. During this turbulent era, daimyo (feudal lords) battled to unify Japan and become the shogun, or the military leader of the nation and, thus, the true leader of the country. Sure, there’s an emperor but by the time the sengoku era is in full swing that individual is nothing more than a figurehead whose support is greatly desired but not necessary.
And like most sengoku era historical fiction, the daimyo Nobunaga Oda is, more or less, the de facto villain of the piece. His dismissive attitude towards tradition and his ruthless politics make him a natural to cast as the ‘big bad’ for any garden variety sengoku story and this game doesn’t break from that oft-used fictional premise. Now I assure you that historically, Nobunaga Oda did quite a bit to earn this reputation but I still find it curious how potent and affecting a villain he can still be in various stories despite being a well worn narrative path.
When the game starts, you pick from one of four protagonists to play as; Samurai, Ninja, Monk or Rogue. The Samurai is your straight up combat monster, limited in offensive variety but resilient against damage and a good starting character. Ninjas specialize in mid and long range combat with decent magic use while Monks have a solid long distance attack, respectable melee combo and elemental buffs when spells are used. Last but not by any means least, Rogues have a pole arm and bow for a good zoning offence and can keep multiple spells active at the same time. All in all, the class variety is solid and allows for people to play Sadame in a fashion that best suits their particular strengths as a gamer.
Once you’ve chosen your character, who you’ll be saddling up with for the entirety of the campaign, you’re off on your adventure. You arrive in the first area and quickly discover that things are amiss as monsters appear suddenly and you have to fight your way through them to converse with key individuals that will tell you that, of course, the land has been invaded by the supernatural, it’s all Nobunaga Oda’s fault and you’re the only one that can stop him. Various bosses you face will also drop bits of information as they gloat about their hold on the land, your helplessness and the destined inevitability of their ambition. It’s fairly archetypal storytelling for this genre, but there’s a reason that it still works no matter how many times we see it. No complaints here, and unless dark samurai fantasy isn’t your cup of tea you’ll find it enjoyable enough without really surprising you that much.
Gameplay is what I’d describe as a mixture of the first Zelda, the aesthetic themes of Onimsha and loot gathering aspects of the ‘Igavania’ games. You enter an area, enemies appear and must be defeated before you can go to the next zone. These foes are your garden variety mixture of undead samurai, demon ninja and evil mystical monks, and usually when the first wave is destroyed, a second and sometimes even third wave appear. You can’t leave the zone until you clear all waves but thankfully they don’t respawn in the event you want to backtrack, which is likely a design choice; one part player convenience and one part game balance, since enemies drop money and various types of gear you can equip between stages. You can also get loot from various destructible objects like crates, vases and treasure chests. Bosses are giant monsters of various tried and true fantasy motifs (dragons, giant skeletons, etc.) that are more difficult to kill but not too drastic of a challenge. Ki and Aura have different uses for each class. For example, the samurai’s Ki meter acts as damage shield, depleting as you take hits. When his Ki is gone, his Health bar is vulnerable and when that goes away, he’s finished.
You have a basic attack combo that you can employ, a stamina draining dash feature to get out of a tight spot and the ability to use different types of spells to enhance your chances for success. The range of mystical abilities spans from what you might expect, from life restoration and damage mitigating buffs to offensive magic. Spells depletes your Ki meter and Karma abilities can only be used once per stage. All of the meters gradually replenish as you play if you can avoid using them with the exception of Health, which must be restored through the use of spells or by completing the stage.
All in all, it’s a pretty forgiving battle system that gives you a ton of options for surviving even the most grueling of encounters. I was only ever at risk of death one time during my playthrough, and a few successive uses of the healing spell bailed me out. I would not describe Sadame as a difficult game. I felt the controls, while responsive, had a recovery time that was sometimes frustrating. While the maneuvers chain just fine, I think that the developer could have worked on this a bit more to make the combos flow more smoothly. They got the job done but didn’t have the kind of easy rhythm that helps one settle into the kind of zen state that nurtures engagement.
After a stage is completed, you can upgrade your base stats and change equipment and, when the gear allows for it, enhance your items with crystals. The type of equipment and its rarity determine its strength level and modification parameters, so you’ll be well served by checking your loot after each stage to see if you found a better item during your quest. Gear is specific to the classes and you will get drops for all four of them, which can be sold off to fill your coffers. Sometimes, merchants will be available for you to purchase weapons from a randomized set of goods. Sometimes, they’ll have just what you need and other times…not so much.
You can also change up your spell set here if you want to alter your character’s arsenal for the next stage. Loot drops can get pretty excessive and there is a maximum amount that you can carry at any given time so it’s always a good idea to engage in inventory management after every stage and sell off what you don’t need. That way, the new stuff is easier to find in your menus and you don’t have to sift through lists to check their stats or equip them.
The graphics are lush and varied for a sprite based ‘chibi’ style fantasy game, colorful and vibrant with characters that are very well illustrated and have some really cool anime style portraits on the status screen. The enemy animations are somewhat limited except for the bosses, and sometimes the details get lost in the haze of the fast and frenetic combat. When enemies bunch up, that’s the best time to cut loose but the tradeoff is that they become a giant series of stacked sprite blocks. It’s a tradeoff that didn’t really bother me all too much as the graphics aren’t so stunning that I felt anything was lost while at the same time appreciating when the extra care and attention was visible.
Environments are pretty much what you’d expect out of a game set in a dark feudal Japanese fantasy storyline; stone paths or well worn dirt roads, an abundance of trees in forested areas and standard Japanese architecture of the period when you’re in population centers and castles. There are branching paths if you want to hunt for more loot, as well as achieve various side objectives that may enhance your performance in the level. The exploration elements of Sadame wore thin with me after a little while. I appreciated the option to get to the destination in the manner I chose, but the combat grew monotonous before too long and while not very challenging, perhaps even as a result of being so, it loses its sense of engagement in larger doses. It’s good, then, that Sadame’s stages are short, between 10-15 minutes each on average, and there is an opportunity to save between them.
The music is what you’d expect out of a game of this genre and, while competent and well composed, is satisfactory but unremarkable. You’ve got your basic arrangement of shamishen strings, shakuhachi winds and taiko drums. It’s largely traditional music but sometimes with an upbeat tempo, especially when facing bosses. The dialogue scenes have more moody tracks and appropriately match the tone of the exposition. It’s workman material but nothing that will drive you to iTunes to see if it’s available for purchase. It gets the job done and not much more than that.
Sadame, currently available for $14.99 on Nintendo’s eShop for the Nintendo 3DS, is neither difficult nor complicated. The short mission length coupled with the time tested genre and setting are its strongest virtues, while the simple and sometimes tedious combat can wear thin before too long. I spent twenty hours playing Sadame and I feel that I got enough out of the game that I have no real desire to revisit it. If I have to levy a serious criticism against it, Sadame just doesn’t foster any eagerness to fire it up or go back to it. It’s a well trodden path as video games go and isn’t very remarkable in any given aspect. Still, if you like dungeon crawlers and feudal Japanese fantasy stories, there are definitely worse games in this genre.
Review copy provided by publisher.
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