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October 2021

Sisters Royale

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
Genre: Shoot-'Em-Up
Publisher: Chorus Worldwide
Developer: Alfa System
Release Date: Jan. 30, 2020


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Switch Review - 'Sisters Royale: Five Sisters Under Fire'

by Cody Medellin on July 1, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Sisters Royale is a vertical-scrolling shoot-'em-up rooted in the style of a classic title, "Castle of Shikigami."

Alfa System has had a very interesting 30-year history. It started off as a developer exclusive to the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 system before dabbling in the SNES for a game or two. It was during the PlayStation era where it began to focus on developing shooters with the occasional foray into the RPG space. For every Tales of Innocence you'd see, there would be a few Castle of Shikigami games. It's been rather quiet recently, with its last title being the RPG Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines on the PS Vita, but it's back with a new shooter debuting on the Nintendo Switch, Sisters Royale: Five Sisters Under Fire.

Although stories in shooters are basically throwaway elements, the game pays attention to it. Long ago, legend foretold of five sisters who would be powerful enough to defeat the evil lord Saytan if they combined their powers. Unfortunately for the people, the sisters are more interested in bickering than fighting together, and that has caused them to go their separate ways. Time has passed, and the sisters have finally reunited in the name of wooing the angelic Yashin, so they're fighting each other to get the right to woo him.

The whole thing is silly, and not in an endearing way. The slow text crawl in the intro would've been more bearable if there were an appealing background to look at, but the diamond background makes you thankful that you can skip the whole thing. The sisters are one-dimensional from beginning to end, and the dialogue is painful to go through. There's a lot of dialogue between chapters, and although that can be irritating, players have the option to skip the scenes entirely.

As expected, this is a cute-'em-up bullet-hell shooter that seems tailor-made for vertical monitors and those with the Flip Grip accessory. You have a rapid-fire gun with different firing patterns depending on the sister you choose to control, and bombs can clear the screen of enemies and bullets, in addition to providing a decent amount of damage in boss fights. There are tons of coins to pick up, and there's the ability to power up your primary shot. You still have a specific spot on your body that needs to touch a bullet in order to die, and getting closer to an enemy lets you increase your damage output.

There are some notable changes to the formula, though. For starters, the game has you walking instead of flying . That seems like an inconsequential thing until you realize that the battlefield has barriers that'll block your shots or blow you off course. The big change is that you now have access to a secondary attack that isn't limited in supply. You can't fire it at the same time as your primary weapon, but you have access to different attacks, like a trio of revolving swords or heat-seeking fire.

One thing that players will appreciate is that the Sisters Royale comes with a number of options that affect gameplay. On the surface, you have three difficulty levels that vary in terms of how much health is being given to the level mini-bosses and main bosses. Go deeper, and you'll be able to modify the size of enemy bullets. The customization of the difficulty level makes it a tailored experience that few other shooters provide.

Options aside, what sounds like a solid game on paper falls apart in practice. Part of that stems from the level design, which displays little variance from the beginning of the game to the end. Obstacles, such as dark areas that need to be lit by shooting lanterns, aren't enough to make things all exciting. You basically see all of the enemy designs on the first level, and the mini-bosses are lazily constructed since they're little more than cubes with a circuit texture. The bosses change up their bullet patterns a little, but they also highlight the game's issue in letting the player know they've been hurt. The explosion of coins looks similar to when you're vacuuming up coins, and there's no other flashing indicator or an audible hit sound, so you'll get hurt before you realize what's going on.

Those things don't necessarily make for a bad experience, but there's not much here to keep players engaged. Even at the highest difficulty level, continues are infinite, so powering through to the end isn't a problem. The game is short enough that a run lasts for a maximum of 30 minutes. You can do this five times to see everyone's story, and the leaderboards are separated by difficulty and character, but the lack of unlockables and true bosses means that casual players can take an afternoon to see all of the game's content. The only other mode available is a practice mode. Again, if you're a leaderboard fiend, you'll enjoy the treasure chests on the high difficulty level that tempt you to ignore enemies, but for everyone else, this is a "one and done" endeavor.

Presentation-wise, this is unexpectedly retro — and not in a good way. The character designs have a chibi look, but you'll only get to appreciate that during the score screen at the end of a level; at all other times, the sisters just look like blobs of color. The environments are mostly devoid of color, even when the mass of bullets starts painting the screen. Accompanying the dull look are cut scenes that only feature the characters sporting one pose. Meanwhile, the sound effects are fine, and the lack of voices means you won't be aware of when the sisters get hit, but you also won't have to hear them say all of the lines in a scene. The music is bouncy as expected in a cute-'em-up, but it's forgettable enough.

It is difficult to recommend Sisters Royale: Five Sisters Under Fire, especially when the Switch has many solid bullet-hell shooters. The level design feels basic, and the combat isn't exciting. Even if you take the terrible cut scenes into account, the game is woefully short for something without an arcade origin. This may still be enjoyable for bullet-hell shooter fans, but most people won't be missing out if they pass on this.

Score: 5.5/10

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