Sunday, 21 April 2013

Review: Sacred Citadel (PC)

Boss fight against Queen Digestya
Queen Digestya is one of the few somewhat interesting bosses in
Sacred Citadel
Growing up, I played my fair share of beat 'em ups. It was a genre that was pretty hard to miss in the early 1990s with games like Final Fight, Streets of Rage, and Golden Axe dominating consoles and arcades. Eventually companies got to thinking it would be fun to toss in RPG elements first by adding a level up system, then fancy loot with even fancier stats on it. Capcom was particularly good at this, creating some of my favorite beat 'em up / RPG hybrids like The King of Dragons and a pair of Dungeons & Dragons games. Sacred Citadel appears to try and hark back to those days, being a beat 'em up with some role playing elements tossed in. Unfortunately, as rose tinted as my glasses can be towards the glory days of this genre, Sacred Citadel falls well short. It's biggest problem is that the game is just too easy. AI in the title is so poor that everything feels incredibly tedious while traversing it.

Mage using a knock back ability in Sacred Citadel
Much of the game will be spent
herding enemies into the corner
Right from the first level, enemies seem all to happy to walk into the area in front of players' characters where their weapons just so happen to be swinging around. Making matters worse is that once monsters start getting hit, they become stun locked, and are unable to do anything, so they offer up even less resistance, ultimately trivializing a lot of fighting. In some of the latter stages of the game, enemies are more prone to swarming, and there are a couple of units in particularly that can be troublesome (the acid spitting insects, and bomb tossing nomads in particular). However, even these guys become easily manageable after a short time. Some of the boss fights can be reasonably entertaining, but much of the challenge there comes from all of the additional enemies that join the fray, requiring players to deal with both crowd control on those baddies while also having to deal with the actual boss. The only fight that I truly enjoyed, and felt like I had to put an effort into was against the final boss of the game. Sacred Citadel is just too easy, and here isn't even an option to toggle game's difficulty.

It would be nice if the developers found a way to patch in more challenging settings for the game, because as it stands Sacred Citadel is a pushover. About the only way the game becomes remotely tough is through the betting system. This happens by placing a bet with a specific NPC in town whereby players must complete a stage while meeting specific conditions like getting through it within a certain time limit. Unless one tries playing the game while these bets are active, there really isn't much challenge.

Hungry Yeti boss fight in Sacred Citadel
While the yetis look tough, they're some of the easiest
bosses in the game
A lot of the other elements to be found in this game are about what one would expect from a beat 'em up / RPG hybrid. There are four classes of characters: a warrior, a ranger, a mage, and a shaman, and their roles are quite predictable. On top of this there is a loot system whereby enemies occasionally drop new weapons and armor when defeated. There are also merchants in town selling gear. So, players have the fancy gear carrot dangled in front of them constantly. Oddly, there isn't an option to sell off unwanted gear to the merchants, which can sometimes be a bit frustrating if you're just shy of the gold needed in order to buy some new equipment. Then there's the level up system, which is very rudimentary with only four stats to modify with each new level (attack, defense, dexterity, and power). Since the game is so easy, and I don't really need to worry about defending myself, I just poured all of my points into stats that would increase characters' damage output, helping them to melt enemies even faster. There is a simple combo system in the game, but a lot of the moves aren't necessary since it's so easy to force enemies into a corner and slowly wear them down there. Even if you want to try and get fancy with your attacks, the combo counter has a cap of 99 hits which is very easy to reach. I've tried to entertain myself by juggling bad guys, and kill them while they're airborne, but this hasn't really helped improve my enjoyment of the game.

The game also manages to dredge up one of my big pet peeves with PC gaming: the only gamepad that it competently supports is the wired Xbox 360 controller. If you happen to use something else, expect to have to do a lot of fiddling around to get the thing working. Some people have had success using the X360CE controller emulator, but I'm not one of them. It's not the end of the world, as the keyboard controls work quite well, but I really hate it when developers don't make an effort to support more than that one bloody controller.

Fighting on a wind-swept mountain in Sacred Citadel
At least the game looks kind of pretty
Even when these sorts of games are easy, what can make them at least a little bit fun is playing with a friend. Good times can be had grabbing a buddy, and blasting through some baddies for an hour or so. My friends and I used to do that all the time in arcades with games like The Punisher, The Uncanny X-Men, or The Simpsons. It's just too bad that there seem to hardly be any people playing Sacred Citadel online. Every time I've gone to look for a game to join, it's been a ghost town, or the levels of players in games is all over the place, making for a very uneven experience. It doesn't seem like a lot of people are bothering with the multiplayer mode, so anyone looking for some coop play are going to have to convince a friend to get the game and play with them.

Another odd thing about the game is that it's a spin off of the Sacred action RPG series. A lot of people, myself included, have been taken aback by this because it seems like such an odd series to choose for a spin off. What makes it even odder is that the story is so amazingly simple that it feels hard to justify it being in the same universe. With a few tweaks the game could have just taken place in a completely unrelated world. It just doesn't benefit from being tied to the Sacred franchise, nor does the franchise benefit from being tied to this game. If anything, Sacred is a bit tarnished for it.

Mage versus Mosshide
Don't be fooled.  This fight looks
epic, but it's actually super easy.
As much as I've complained about Sacred Citadel so far, there are some aspects of the game that I actually do like, that being its graphics and music. The visuals have a nice cel shaded look to them, and the game's use of colors is quite nice. Several of the character and enemy designs are well done also. Musically, the score is pretty good. It feels like something that I'd expect to hear in an arcade brawler and performs its role nicely.

At the end of the day, though, the one thing I feel toward Sacred Citadel is disappointment. I really like the old beat 'em up / RPGs. Stuff like Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara and Guardian Heroes are great games, and I was hoping that this game would at least somewhat live up to those classics. Unfortunately it doesn't even come close. A lot of what it does feels like a paint by numbers approach to ensuring basic gameplay elements to the genre are present but fail to be interesting, but what hurts this game more than anything else is that it is so ridiculously easy to the point of being boring. If you have a hankering for a beat 'em up / RPG hybrid, you can do better than Sacred Citadel.

- Jeff Nash

- Nice visuals and music

- The game is way too easy
- Hardly anyone playing online
- Combo counter is capped too low
- Only supports wired Xbox 360 gamepad competently, other controllers don't work so well

Score: 5 / 10