|Publisher:||Deadly Sin Studios|
|Developer:||Deadly Sin Studios|
Have you ever played a game that you absolutely wanted to love but didn't? How about a game that you may have been ambivalent toward but ended up enjoying more than you expected to? Well friends, those themes illustrate my sentiment for the Deadly Sin: Shining Faith and the Deadly Sin series as a whole. See, last year I played this commercial RPG Maker game called Deadly Sin. It had some admirable components and qualities that I would normally love in an RPG, but quite frankly, I did not like the game that much. Of course, I am a believer in second chances, and it seems Deadly Sin's developer did as well, because they allowed me (the critic who harshed their mellow) to evaluate Deadly Sin: Shining Faith (DS:SF) and I agreed to do it. So how did this little life lesson experiment work out? Well, to say I ended up enjoying this new installment far more than I expected to is a gross understatement.
Before I talk about the game in detail, I will answer the $10,000 question: Do I need to have played Deadly Sin to enjoy Deadly Sin: Shining Faith? The answer is no. Deadly Sin: Shining Faith is a series reboot in much the same way the film Batman Begins was. Even when the game was initially known as Deadly Sin 2, the series was intended to be like the Grandia or Final Fantasy games where each installment is its own self-contained adventure with its own cast, characters, and world. And believe me, DS:SF is the one you want to play anyway.
Instead of saving the best for last, I will start by discussing the area where DS:SF completely obliterates its predecessor and even some mainstream "big boy" RPGs: Story. In the first Deadly Sin game, I found the plotlines and characters shallow and archetypical. I don't expect a typical RPG storyline to be Le Morte d'Arthur or War and Peace, but Deadly Sin left me wanting more, and not in a good way. Thankfully, DS:SF possesses a much beefier storyline with better writing and more fleshed out characters. The game has tons of text filled with well-written exposition.
I have a soft spot for RPGs with politically charged storylines and DS:SF has one of those. Like any good RPG political drama, nothing is straightforward in this era of political unrest: the right thing often feels wrong, good intentions pave the road to hell, betrayal is always around the corner, enemies need to be kept closer than your allies, and faith is tested at every turn.
Adding believability to this tale is a cast of adult characters ranging from 22 to 29 years of age. I always wished more Japanese style RPGs would use adult protagonists like Persona 2: Eternal Punishment did, so I was glad to see an adult cast here. The main characters are not exaggerated or overly colorful characters, but their subtlety works because they're trying to keep an even keel during uneven times. They also have internal conflicts that manifest themselves into defense mechanisms for coping with overwhelming circumstances. For example, one character has a closet drug habit that he can't quite seem to kick.
The character in the eye of this storm is Siegfried, a tortured NPC who is the rightful heir to a beloved dynasty, but whom the political machine wants to keep out of power at any cost, lest his opposition to their policies put a damper on the grandiose plans they have set into motion. He is just as messed up as the world he's living in and displays strong tendencies toward sociopathy. Will Siegfried's sociopathy be the end of him? Play the game and find out.
Although the world and characters in DS:SF may be full of doubt, there is no doubt that this is an RPG Maker VX game. That being said, the skillful mapping, refined use of layers, occasional effects (like lens flare), and overall smoothness keep it from completely looking like a "me too" VX game. Original graphic components include lovely character art and large animated battle sprites for the heroes. VX stock sprites are used for the enemies and though they are fine, they look a little lo-res compared to the gorgeous hero sprites. Although original sprites were used for a few of the bosses, I would have liked to see more original sprites for key boss battles. I really liked the boss sprites in the first Deadly Sin game. In the field, the heroes have distinct sprites, but the NPCs use stock sprites similar to those from John Wizard's Lilly and Sasha: Curse of the Immortals. Graphically, RPG Maker games like Whisper of a Rose and Rainblood: Town of Death may trump DS:SF, but it still looks clean and has flourishes that keep it from completely looking and feeling like a "me too" VX game. The game generally maintains a serious tone, and the graphics convey that earnest feel really well.
Stylistically, I really like that the female knight wears full armor and not a fanservicey steel bikini as would be expected in a typical JRPG. Even the female mage sports an outfit with ample coverage, and she had a past as an exotic dancer. The character art seen in their portraits and on the title screen are quite lovely and has an east-meets-west vibe. The characters are more stylized than most WRPG designs without looking loony like exaggerated JRPG anime designs. I hope to see more of this artist's work in future games.
Music is very important in setting the tone for a game, and music composition is this developer's calling card. As with the first Deadly Sin game, the music features complex, layered orchestral compositions that showcase his technical skill. Most of the pieces do not have immediate hooks, but are very good at effectively capturing the intended scene or mood. The music may take some time to grow on you, but grow on you it will. The compositions really enhance the feel and mood of the game and have much more presence than the first game's compositions. The sound quality is excellent too. Each instrument and compositional layer can be heard with clarity.
Gameplay consists of tried and true RPG gameplay with some elements more often seen in more professional RPGs. I admired how the first Deadly Sin game incorporated intricate gameplay mechanics, like skill trees (using RPG Maker). DS:SF also has a skill grid that characters can sink earned Skill Points into, but adds a fellow at inns who can reset your skill points if you want to redistribute them. It's a great idea that I wonder why it has not been used in more RPGs. A new upgrade element is the Augment system where you can attach a gem (or other augment item) to a weapon or piece of armor to alter its properties. For example, augmenting a ruby to a sword gives it the elemental properties of fire. Think of this as a simplified version of Final Fantasy VII's Materia system. All of these character and weapon building options will keep tweakers happy, while the standard VX menu interface remains clean and never gets too cluttery.
One complaint with the first game was that though battles looked great, they often played out rather slowly. In this case, the battles play out much faster, even with more detailed hero sprites. Difficulty balance is much smoother as well, and there are three difficulty levels that can be changed on the fly. A returning element is the "threat" meter where characters who deal more damage incur more threat and are more likely to get hit. This allows players to strategize without the guesswork, and there is even a turn-order chart like in Final Fantasy X that allows players to plan out their moves. Battles occur randomly, but there are nodes in dungeons that can be switched off to eliminate battles in that area of the dungeon. These nodes can also be switched back on should players be underleveled for a boss battle and want to grind a bit.
Progression is mostly linear like any Japanese style RPG (save for the more open-ended fifth and final chapter), but there are tons of sidequests smoothly incorporated throughout the course of the game that players can partake in. These sidequests range from across-town fetch quests to multi-tiered quests that cover the duration of a chapter. The main quests are solid, but the sidequests are really where the worldbuilding, cool goodies, and more hours of play time are at. If you want to get the most out of this game, do the sidequests as they come to you. This is one of those RPGs where speedrunners who stay on the straight-and-narrow path will have a far less fulfilling experience than those who take the time to meander off the beaten path and stop to smell the roses.
Sometimes it's good to take a break from quests in general, thus there is a lounge in the game with a working slot machine, a battle arena, a sound test, and other fun stuff. Even the main quest has some mini-game sequences, like flying an airship during a subterfuge mission in a vertical shooter fashion. The developer really went for broke in this game and all of these professional quality features make the game feel more refined than other indie titles that feel more distinctly homebrewed.
If I were randomly handing out arbitrary annual awards right this minute, I would give DS:SF the Most Improved Sequel award for 2010. Deadly Sin was my least favorite commercial RPG Maker game and DS:SF fast became one of my favorites. It gave me the kind of fulfilling experience I always look for in an RPG and so badly wanted from the first game. I'm glad that both Deadly Sin Studios and I are believers in second chances, because Deadly Sin: Shining Faith is totally worth taking a chance on and I'm happy I took a twenty-something hour chance on it.