Developer: Lofty Sky Entertainment
Platforms: iOS, Steam
A review of the iOS version by Brooke Ali
Before now, Lofty Sky Entertainment’s output has been the kinds of apps I would download to my 4-year-olds’ iPads: apps with titles like Fun with Colors, Kids First Mandarin, and Miaomiao’s Dumpling Adventure. But the Toronto based production company has taken a break from teaching preschoolers to deliver a unique and fun adventure game in Shuyan Saga.
If you’ve ever wanted to play a manga, this is your chance. Set in a mythic world inspired by ancient China, you play as Shuyan, the fierce and independent princess of Nan Feng. The Five Kingdoms are under attack by the Guer army, intent on conquering the whole land. When the army arrives at Nan Feng’s gate, Shuyan must use her fighting skills to help save her kingdom.
The story moves along by the player’s choices in both dialogue and action – although I haven’t done multiple play-throughs to see how much this decision-making affects the story. The artwork consists of over 1,400 hand-drawn panels from comic industry master Daxiong (Justice League, Dark Horse’s Star Wars). The art is beautiful and gives a sense of action and movement to otherwise still panels between the fight sequences. The voice acting is good and includes Kristin Kreuk (Smallville’s Lana Lane) as the title character. The soundtrack and audio effects fit the mood of the art perfectly and do an excellent job of adding life and a sense of action both the still panels and the fight sequences.
Other than the choose-your-own-adventure-style decisions, the only time you take control of Shuyan is to fight. There are two types of fight mechanics in this game: Arena and Focus. Arena fights are for dealing with several enemies at once, and Focus is one-on-one. Arena fights can transition into Focus fights to combat a single opponent mid crowd battle, and Focus is also used to fight a single opponent as part of the story.
Each type requires different taps and swipes: in Arena fights you tap the enemy you want to attack and tap an icon in the lower left to block; in Focus fights you create attack combos with high or low taps to the right of your opponent, and tap or hold to the left of Shuyan to block. The different methods for blocking seems unnecessary to me. When an Arena fight suddenly switches to a Focus fight, it can take a moment for the muscle memory to catch up and the opponent can get some hits in before you’ve realized you’re tapping the wrong spot. There’s no nuance added to blocking in Focus mode, so it would have made for smoother gameplay to just keep the Block icon in use for both types. In the end, the fighting doesn’t really matter. You have the option to skip the fight altogether and continue on with the story.
The story plays out over three books. After you’ve completed the story you unlock Temple Adventure, a top-down platformer level where you play as Jade, one of the characters Shuyan meets on her journey. There is also a tournament mode, a Street-Fighter style game (unlocked after completing Book 1) that is excellent for practicing combo moves in Focus mode, and adds more playability beyond the story mode. The Pause icon opens up a few menu icons, including character stats and a way back to the main menu, but the icons are very small on the iPhone screen and sometimes took a few taps to get a response, even with my tiny fingers.
Play it! Fans of Legend of Korra will especially like Shuyan Saga‘s story of a strong-willed fighter princess and her quest to save her people. The story is engaging, the art is beautiful, and the gameplay is enjoyable. The combat progresses throughout the story, saving it from what could have been a repetitive experience and making it something that always gives you new moves to master. With a lot of iOS games being intentionally unending, its nice to have the satisfaction of completing a game. I hope Lofty Sky gives us more playable manga stories in the future.