Saint Seiya: Sanctuary Battle Review

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Not often enough do we get to experience the sheer pandemonium abundant in the action RPG genre. It seems that dominant genres such as shooters and MMOs are somewhat overshadowing the lesser explored genres, which may be narrowing the market a little. Namco Bandai is hoping to change this notion with Saint Seiya: Sanctuary Battle, their anime styled beat ‘em up PS3 exclusive by developers Dimps Corporation.

I’ll be honest in saying that I had no idea about the existence of the Saint Seiya franchise before reviewing the game. The franchise was conceived way back in 1986 as a Japanese manga series, written and illustrated by Masami Kurumada. The manga series also received an anime TV series treatment around the same era, lasting three years. The franchise eventually went on to be successful not only in Japan, but several other foreign countries as well, while not landing an English translation until 2003.

Saint Seiya opens with a fairly lengthy, and at times confusing, opening sequence which introduces the characters and plot. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, it can be quite hard to grasp the countless number of character and plot points presented in this sequence. In summary though, the you’ll meet Saori; the reincarnation of the Greek goddess, Athena. Also introduced are the five playable characters, the Bronze Saints. These saints are tasked with the responsibility of protecting Saori as she attempts to overthrow antagonist, the Grand Pope.

The opening sees Saori and the saints travelling to the Sanctuary to defeat the Grand Pope and save earth. Upon her arrival, Saroi is stricken by a golden arrow, paralysing her body. In twelve hours the arrow will pierce her heart, killing her. Yer it is only the Grand Pope who can remove the arrow, restoring Saroi back to life. Naturally then, the saints must wade through the twelve palaces in order to reach the Grand Pope.

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Racking up those combos

The game plays similar to other action RPGs in this space, reminiscent to that of Omega Force’s Dynasty Warriors or even Capcom’s Devil May Cry. You have a range of standard combo attacks at your disposal, with the addition of several special stronger abilities. As with most RPGs, you’ll want to be focusing on two key character status values throughout the battle, your health and cosmo (Saint Seiya’s spin on mana or magic points).

Along the way you’ll encounter waves of the Sanctuary’s henchmen before reaching the guardians of each of the twelve palaces, the Gold Saints. The game organises itself intelligently, having one level per palace; one stage for the henchmen waves and another for the boss battle. There’s a strong contrast between the two stages, with the Gold Saint battles requiring a greater thought of strategy compared the button mashing that ensues throughout the henchmen phase preceding it. Upon arrival to the first boss you’ll probably be hard-pressed to find that your cheap tactics and spamming abilities aren’t so effective. Instead, you’ll want to evade and counter your enemy’s severely superior attacks.

I found myself dying a few times in the first boss encounter as I was trying to simply fight “straight up”. You’ll quickly learn that attacking a Gold Saint with your regular combos won’t work, as normal attacks won’t enjoy the same knockback characteristic as they do against lesser enemies. Instead, you’ll need to wait until a moment arises where the enemy is left vulnerable before striking. These opportunities don’t present themselves very regularly and often have a limited timeframe in which you can perform a successful attack.

Truth be told, you’ll be spending most of the boss battle evading attacks. I found this frustrating taking into consideration the pure chaos and energy that was presented in the waved based stage preceding the boss battles. Having said this, I did enjoy the challenge of figuring out each of the boss’ weaknesses and it was genuinely rewarding when you were finally able to defeat them.

As mentioned before, the wave based stages are pure chaos. Hordes of enemies flow in from all directions, with seemingly no end. It’s fun achieving massive combos and takings down scores of enemies at once. Interestingly enough, friendly fire is present for enemies, making it possible for your adversaries to do the dirty work for you. Similarly, firing at certain objects, such as pillars, will deal damage to enemies as the object crumbles onto them.

One aspect that started to dawn on me was the lack of the varying gameplay. Each palace is more or less the same as the ones preceding it. You fight off a few waves of moderately easy enemies, face a miniboss and finally encounter a Gold Saint. This is the exact same approach for each of the twelve palaces. One saving grace is that the cut scenes are actually quite engaging and help break up the, at times, monotonous gameplay.

After successfully completing a stage you’re given a rank and the opportunity to spend points gained throughout the stage on stats and abilities. I felt this attempt at adding RPG elements into the game was half baked. There was never really an urgency to spend these points thoughtfully, as the suggested improvements in subsequent engagements felt minor if at all noticeable.

Also included is the ability to play the story mode with a friend in co-op mode. Apart from the story mode you’re also able to try your hand at the various challenges in challenge mode. Here you’ll brawl increasingly harder waves of henchmen enemies and boss fights.

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Can't touch this

After completing the story mode, you’ll be presented with a trophy for your efforts and the standard closing credits. To my surprise, I had discovered that the ten or so hours I had sunk into the game was responsible for completing only one of five sagas. This had me thoroughly confused, so I decided to attempt the second saga, only to find an additional twelve palaces to conquer. If I’m correct and there are indeed five sagas, each with twelve palaces to overcome the game overall would easily topple the fifty hour play through mark. While I appreciate the effort in delivering so much playable content, I’m not sure many would have the stomach to complete all five sagas.

  • PS3

The Verdict

Saint Seiya: Sanctuary Battle is a fun beat 'em up action RPG that will undoubtedly appease fans of the franchise or genre. Its gameplay is, at times, repetitive but is salvaged by the game's engaging story and challenging boss fights.
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