Friday, October 17, 2008

Sin and Punishment

I finally got around to downloading Sin and Punishment onto my Wii's Virtual Console yesterday. I have been curious about this game for a while now, but I don't think I was really prepared for what I was getting into. Certainly, I was not expecting the game to be so short. I downloaded the game yesterday and played through it for an hour or so, and restarted this morning (because I wanted another chance to make sense of the story) only to find that my original stopping point was more than halfway through the game, and I beat the game on my second session of playing it today. Normally I do not really mind short games, but in this case it seemed incredibly unsatisfying.

I suppose a large part of reason I dislike the length of this game is because it really limits what would otherwise be a really interesting story. Sin and Punishment's story is pretty complicated, involving an evil military force, an enigmatic "savior" with twisted schemes, rampaging monsters, a growing romance between the two main characters, and the monstrous power of the "blood of Achi" that links all of these together. However, this entire complex story is thrown at the player in a game that only takes two hours or so to beat, and suffers for it. The game doesn't even really have any kind of proper exposition, and the plot starts with the complete destruction of the rebel group the heroes are part of at the hands of the "Volunteer Army", a force that is hunting down a monster leading another group of monsters (a monster that seems to be a former lover of the Army's leader before she transformed into a dog thing), before the heroes decide to go steal a military transport for some unexplained reason. Also, the entire first stage of the game seems to be a dream sequence. The game progresses at such a rapid pace that the leader of the Army was explaining that he received his power from Achi before I even realized that this "Achi" person was the girl who was following the main characters around the whole time (I was around a third of the way through the game at this point). The ending of the game might be even more truncated than the beginning, since it feels like it suddenly transitions directly from a normal stage (which is pretty much just running through some fields) directly into the epic final battle (against some kind of evil Earth?), leaving a lot of the plot completely unresolved. There is simply too much going on in too short of a game. In addition, the game isn't really helped any by the often-incomprehensible dialog (I think this may just be poor sound quality on the voice-acting) and lack of English subtitles (seriously, every game with voice-acted cut-scenes needs subtitles).

Complaints about the story and length aside, this game is pretty good. It combines a classic rail-shooter with a free-moving character to a surprising degree of success. As the stage scrolls automatically, you can run from side to side or jump while freely targeting anything on the screen. The controls are a bit unintuitive (I had to switch from the default controls to an alternative just to keep myself from jumping when I meant to step right), and far too often the movement of both the character and the targeting cursor seems sluggish, but for the most part it works well, and a lot of my problems probably stem from the fact that the controls were designed with the N64 controller in mind, not the Wii Classic Controller. One thing that is certainly a problem, though, is the lock-on firing mode. In that mode, it can sometimes be pretty hard to actually lock onto a target, and once you do the slightest touch of the control stick will break the lock, pretty much defeating the point of having a lock-on mode (and what is more, some sources say that the lock-on mode does less damage than the free-shooting mode). Also, it would have been nice to have some visual indication of whether or not an enemy is in range of the sword attack.

Still, controls aside, I am amazed at how well the game designers at Treasure were able to use the basic system to provide so many different game experiences. The most common and basic type of area is the classic rail-shooter, where you are either running forward or standing still while there are a lot of enemies to shoot in front of you (in this case, running back and forth is used to dodge attacks and obstacles). In some cases, such as parts of the training mode or the "rescue Achi" boss battle, the game practically becomes a "rail-platformer", in which you have to quickly move to dodge pillars and jump to climb walls and clear chasms. At other times, all of the enemies move into the same 2D plane that the hero is running around in, and the game begins to feel more like a conventional 2D game (other than the cursor and the fact that enemies appear in the background and foreground). I do think that the game is at its best while the player is moving forward automatically as a rail-shooter, rather than as a 2D game, though, and I really question the decision to make the entire last level in the 2D style.

Overall, I would say that Sin and Punishment is a game that needed to have slightly more refined controls and quite a bit more length to help flesh out the story and give more time to expand on the different possibilities the game had to offer. I would have loved to play through a full level as "Monster Saki"...

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