While Sin Slayers, developed by Goonswarm and published by Black Tower Entertainment might initially look like little more than your standard retro-inspired turn-based RPG, beneath the surface there are some really interesting design choices at play here and plenty of content for any seasoned RPG veteran to sink their teeth into.
Following an opening menu where we get a first glimpse at the game’s unique art style – which features crisp, vibrant medieval-inspired foregrounds and dynamic, colorful moving backgrounds, we’re plunged straight into the storyline. A dreary tale of war and woe told in the form of scripture style storybook imagery, and complete with a dramatic voiceover reading that wouldn’t sound out of place in any of the Lord of the Rings movies.
Priestess, warrior, blind sage, protector and huntress… all your usual dungeons and dragons archetypes are here. The gist of it is, they’re taking refuge in a holy sanctuary from the creatures that lurk outside in the ‘Valley of Fallen Sinners’. These creatures, it transpires, “are the product of human sins, and are known as Sinlords.” Crikey sure sounds like we’re gonna have our hands full here, especially if the daunting, unsettling soundtrack that accompanies this revelation is anything to go by! Turns out we ain’t getting out of here till all seven Sinlords (each representing one of the 7 deadly sins) are defeated…. best get to work then.
Luckily we have Pokemon’s very own Staryu on board to help us out of any tricky situations. What’s that you say? That isn’t a Pokemon?! Maybe it’s not just the blind sage who needs his eyes testing… Well, whatever the case may be, it’s part of our inventory, along with other genre staples like Elixirs, Potions and some kind of skeleton key which I’m guessing will be super handy until we find ourselves faced with the door or chest we need unlocked most. Call me cynical, but you know damn well I’m right!
Supposedly the local blacksmith took a stroll in the Forest of Gluttony a while back and hasn’t been since, so of course, it’s our job to set out to find him. I’m having visions of a grown-up version of the fat kid from Willy Wonka drowning in the candy river, but if he’s not already dead yet then he’s probably our only hope of upgrading our level 1 tier weaponry, so off we trot.
The world map, by the way, is nothing more than a glorified menu in which you click on a location and are immediately transported there, with only the aforementioned Forest of Gluttony available to us from the off. Normally I might be critical of this but it’s hard to be mad when you can clearly see the attention to detail put into it. Plus I have a terrible sense of direction so for me, this might actually prove to be a blessing in disguise.
There’s no true free movement in ‘Sin Slayers’ – rather the action takes place on what is little more than a giant chessboard, with tiles to navigate you to your chosen destination. The choice of which route to take is entirely up to you, but you’ll find yourself essentially fumbling in the dark, as the map only reveals itself once you’ve traversed successfully through an area.
There are different obstacles along the way to keep you on your toes and it’s your decision how you choose to interact with them. Be wary though as the choices you make have consequences. There’s a system called the Sin-O-Meter which directly affects the strength of the foes you’ll be up against, so choose wisely… unless you’re a masochist who enjoys getting slaughtered. I wouldn’t recommend it though because losing in battle means any progress you’ve made in an area gets wiped and you have to start over from scratch. It’s every bit as frustrating as it sounds!
Battles take place much like in Final Fantasy games of old. Party members and enemies alike take it in turns to attack and chip away at one another’s HP until only the mightiest survive. Rage points are accumulated when certain conditions are met and allow for stronger, more devastating attacks, or in the case of certain party members, healing magic.
They’re sort of a cross between limit breaks and MP, but they do provide a nice bit of strategy in terms of it being a ‘risk/reward’ system. Is it better to stock up on rage points for future, more troublesome foes? Or use them at the first available opportunity to cruise your way through battles with ease? These are the questions you’ll be asking yourself as you play. Winning a battle rewards you with experience points, items, and coins that can be used to buy stock from any of the wandering merchants who inhabit the land.
After finding the blacksmith we’ve been seeking, shackled in chains by none other than a crazed librarian, we’re plunged headfirst into a boss fight against him and his minions. In no time at all our huntress has fallen. Time to use that Pokemon looking thing (which it turns out is actually a Phoenix star) to bring her back to life…
But wait! Turns out Librarian dude’s not really in the mood for fighting at all. He decides to take pity on us, or… something? and lets us leave, with our Blacksmith friend in tow – Success! What follows is some kind of thinly veiled threat that ‘you haven’t seen the last of me’ which sounds like it was lifted straight from Scooby-Doo.
But either way, now that the Blacksmith’s free and taking refuge back at the church, we can speak with him at any time, and use any of the loot we’ve collected during our travels to craft new weapons and armor to assist us in battle. Neat!
Crafting isn’t the only form of customization here. There’s also an ‘Ability Tree’ which gives you further control over which powers your party has access to. As you level up or gather the required raw materials needed, more of these abilities are unlocked. You’ll want to focus on building as well rounded a team as possible to make it through the dungeons unscathed and be fully prepared for any formation of foes (no pressure then!). Thankfully, you’ll encounter other characters throughout your journey who you’ll have the opportunity to recruit to aid you in battle. You can only ever have 3 party members at once though so be sure to choose wisely.
Sin Slayers boasts a feature wherein the dungeons are randomly generated each time you traverse through them, meaning no two playthroughs of any area are the same, and whilst I appreciate the desire to keep things fresh, I still found the game to be exceedingly repetitive at times. It seemed like I was constantly up against the same selection of enemies and using the same techniques to beat them. I can’t help but feel a little more variety would go a long way here.
Defeating each of the Sin Lords unlocks new areas of the world map to explore, and the rest of the game plays out in much the same dungeon trawling manner. There’s a variety of optional side quests, which will surely be great news for true completionists, but otherwise, random dungeons aside, this is very much a linear experience. The game tries its best to convince you otherwise by giving you the choice of which order to tackle the Sinlords, but it’s all rather pointless really as whichever path you take to get there, the end result is the same.
Nevertheless, there’s an undeniable retro-like charm, a beautifully composed, medieval-style musical score, and a gorgeous, surrealist fantasy atmosphere to appreciate here.
At the time of writing this review, Sin Slayers is still receiving regular updates. It seems like the team behind it is serious about taking a lot of player feedback on board, and I for one am very excited to see what comes next. In a day and age where turn-based combat is under threat of becoming obsolete, I’m thrilled to see games like this one are still being made, and if you’re looking for a game to scratch that rogue-like RPG itch, you could certainly do far worse than this one. Happy Sin Slaying!