I have a certain affinity with video games set in Feudal Japan, with Tenchu and Onimusha being two of my favourite franchises of all time. The latter is particularly special to me, which is a shame as it’s a series that has long been neglected – I need my fix of Japanese demon slaying…
Baring that in mind it would seem that Sadame, the action RPG from Rising Star Games, would be perfect for me. Feudal Japan setting? Check. Countless demons to slay? Check. Plenty of loot to collect? Check. Giant bosses? Double check. Sadame has a lot of offer, but unfortunately it doesn’t always deliver on its potential.
The game is set in a fictional Feudal Japan, with Nobunaga (taking the form of a giant monster) on a conquest to take over the land through the use of a demonic army. There’s some mystery involved with ‘evil karma’ throughout the land too, though it all got a bit lost on me after the opening introduction. Either way, it’s up to you to take out Nobunaga and bring peace back to Japan.
You’re given the choice of four character classes when you begin the game – the Samurai who focuses on swords and close range combat, the Ninja who depends on speed and traps to take out his foes, the Rogue who primarily focuses on long range weaponry and the Monk who can use a combination of either close or long range weapons. Each class has their own unique introduction to the game and reason for joining the fight against Nobunaga, though the end goal and story progression pretty much stays the same.
Characters have access to different attacks that are mapped to each button. When used together they can from dangerous combinations – whilst you start out with a standard three button combination you’ll eventually unlock more as you progress through the game. Your character will also have ‘spells’ and ‘karma abilities’ at their disposal. Your spells are more offence based that utilise the various elements whilst your karma abilities instead focus on support abilities such as healing or enhanced speed. Spells recharge over time but karma abilities are tied to your ‘karma’ meter that’ll slowly recharge as you defeat more enemies.
As you progress through levels you’ll unlock an absolute ton of loot. Seriously, Sadame is a very generous game in that respect – at the end of some levels I had around thirty new pieces of equipment. You never know what item you’re going to get until the end of each level too, so there’s actually a moment of suspense as you wonder if you’ve unlocked a new ‘epic’ item or if it’s all just ‘common’ rubbish that you’re not going to use. As you progress further through the game you’ll unlock better items, though the game isn’t shy in offering some great equipment early on.
You’re able to upgrade your equipment by attaching different gems to them too. I didn’t fully understand why but you were only able to attach gems to specific items – I wasn’t able to work out the reasoning why though the game would make it pretty clear what equipment could be upgraded. Each gem comes with different stat boosts so you can customise your equipment to suit your style of play.
Unfortunately Sadame does a bad job of offering any useful form of inventory management. You can’t organise equipment yourself or even search by equipment type – you simply have to search through each piece you have manually and work out what’s best for your character. Whilst this isn’t normally too much of a problem, the fact that you find so much loot means you have an absolute ton of stuff to sort through. It’s frustrating and it’s a shame there wasn’t a more streamlined method to manage your equipment.
Sadame allows you to change equipment, unlock new spells and level up your character at the end of each stage. You’re given quite a lot of freedom with how you level up your character with a series of different skill trees to follow. If you want to go for maximum damage output then you can choose to level up your strength. Alternatively, if you want to focus on the defensive side you can level up your resistance stats as well as your maximum HP. It’d be most sensible to have a balance of everything, but at least you’re granted the freedom to choose.
Your characters stats can get a little confusing with so many different stat types to manage – at one point I was trying to level up how quick my ‘ki’ would recharge, but there were four different stat types associated to it so I wasn’t sure how exactly to increase it. When I finally thought that I’d worked it out, it turned out that I was levelling up something completely different. It was baffling and with so many different stats to keep track of I ended up just sticking to levelling up the stats that I knew would be beneficial.
Thankfully gameplay itself is fairly straightforward. You’ll work across multiple screens, wipe out all the enemies and then work on through more screens until you eventually reach a boss encounter. The game plays from a top down perspective as you take down countless foes through the use of your combos and spells. There’s a great variety of enemies on offer too, coming in all different shapes and sizes.
Unfortunately, you won’t have any trouble fighting through your enemies for the first three quarters of Sadame. I barely even lost any health, let alone my life during the first three acts of the game. Enemies went down too easily, falling with ease after a few standard attacks.
The same applied for the bosses too. To Sadame’s credit it has some fantastic looking bosses that have a decent variety of attacks – it’s just a shame that they can be defeated with so little fuss. Seriously, the first few bosses I managed to beat just by running up to them and spamming the attack button. I don’t know if there was a glitch with the hit boxes, but when they swung at me their attacks didn’t seem to do any damage. Whilst I might’ve been unintentionally exploiting some gameplay glitch, the fact I was able to do it so easily and across a variety of different bosses felt more like a case of poor design.
Whilst the game feels like a cake walk for a long time, out of nowhere it suddenly hits a nasty difficulty spike. When I hit the fourth act of the game enemies started taking me out with a couple of hits, whilst bosses also became ridiculously tough to take down. It’s typical for games to get tougher the further you progress, but the sudden switch from push over enemies to foes that utterly destroy you will be painful for even the most experienced of gamers. Sadame certainly isn’t for casuals, and by the time you reach the fourth act the false sense of security that you’d have been lulled into will quickly feel like a thing of the past.
Fortunately when you die you still get to keep any experience and loot you’ve earned, offering some consolation with each death you suffer. It’s funny actually – all throughout the start of the game I just wanted a bit more challenge and when it finally came around it was a little overwhelming. It took me around five hours to complete the game, but most of that was spent constantly failing the final few levels.
Whilst Sadame suffers with many issues I have nothing but praise for the aesthetic style, with the 16-bit visuals a real throwback to the classic SNES RPGs. It’s reminiscent of the likes of Secret Of Mana (in both gameplay and design actually) which is only a good thing. The pixel work is excellent though, both with the environments and in character design. It’s the bosses that stand out the most though, with fantastic looking grotesque beasts that are based on Japanese mythology.
For everything Sadame does right, I feel like it does something wrong. It just seems to struggle to find a balance between all of its gameplay features. It gives you an incredible variety of loot but makes managing your equipment an arduous task. You have full flexibility in levelling up your character but the sheer volume of stats on offer is simply baffling. There’s enjoyable combat to be found throughout the game but it can’t find the right balance between gameplay that’s either too easy or extremely difficult.
Whilst Sadame deserves some credit due to the fact it’s a budget release, I can’t help but to see it as a bit of a missed opportunity. There are so many concepts on offer that if utilised correctly would make for a fantastic action RPG experience – it just wasn’t meant to be here. There’ll be times when you’ll really enjoy Sadame, but there’ll also be timed when it’ll make you want to through your 3DS at the wall. It’s not an awful game by any means, but it’s certainly hard to recommend to those looking for an enjoyable action RPG experience.
– Absolutely fantastic visual style
– Decent combat with a good variety of abilities
– Bosses look fantastic
– A poor balance of difficulty that’s either too easy or too hard
– Your inventory is an arduous task to manage
– Levelling up can be baffling with too many stats on offer
– Early bosses hit boxes seemed non-existant
Publisher: Rising Star Games (www.risingstargames.com)
Release Date: 25/02/2016
Format(s): Nintendo 3DS