Game Review: Saint Seiya: Sanctuary Battle (PS3)
Ahhh…the nostalgia. There is nothing that sparked my interest in Greek mythology and the zodiac quite like Saint Seiya (known for a while as Knights of the Zodiac — what a lame name), possibly one of my favourite animes of all time.
Though ecstatic, I was a little surprised when I found out that Namco Bandai was bringing this legendary anime/manga back to life on the PS3, considering it’s been more than 20 years since the original series (on which this game is based) ended on Japanese television. But I guess the signs were there – in recent years toymakers have been bringing out a lot of premium quality Saint Seiya figurines and models, of which I have acquired a few for my collection.
More on this sensational anime later, but for now, allow me to get to the game itself. I must admit, Saint Seiya: Sanctuary Battle is almost strictly for the fans of the manga/anime or fans of one-vs-all games like Dynasty Warriors. In essence, this game takes the foundations of Dynasty Warriors and wraps it around the awesome original story where Seiya and his fellow Bronze Saint friends try to break through 12 arduous “stages” to save the life of Saori Kido, a young girl who happens to be the reincarnate of the goddess Athena.
Each of the 12 stages is set in an ancient Greek temple and is guarded by a Gold Saint representing one of the 12 signs of the zodiac. The first stage is Aries and Seiya and his buddies must fight all the way through to Pisces and beyond, where they will face the ultimate enemy in “the Pope”. Those who kept on reading/watching the series will know that the story goes on much further, but this game finishes at the end of the Gold Saints arc (and let’s face it, it was by far the best one).
The brilliance of the concept and the story simply blew me away as a kid, though my infatuation went beyond that – it was also the design of the saints’ armours, weapons and special fighting moves, all of which were so freaking awesome. Playing this game made me fall in love with it all over again, especially as it manages to replicate all those things to perfection with the power of the PS3.
The story mode of Saint Seiya: Sanctuary Battle follows the anime very closely. You will play as one of the five Bronze Saints – Seiya (Pegasus), Shiryu (Dragon), Hyoga (Cygnus), Shun (Andromeda) and Ikki (Phoenix). Unfortunately, who you are for each stage (and each sub-stage) in the story mode is fixed according to the storyline, but you will get to use each character at least a couple of times. There is also a sixth character which you will get to use for a little while but I’ll keep that a secret.
Anyway, each character is very different and while the buttons to execute moves are by and large the same, the moves that they perform are extremely varied, and it will take some time to get used to the character and learn their strengths and weaknesses. At the end of each sub-stage you can use the experience points your earned to upgrade certain attributes, and it’s up to you whether you want to make them stronger offensively, defensively or give them more endurance or stamina. You can even upgrade special moves.
Ah yes, the gameplay. As I noted before, the combat system somewhat resembles that of the popular (though now completely stale and even a little annoying) Dynasty Warriors franchise. The camera sits behind your designated character and you can unleash a series of melee attacks and special moves to defeat your enemies. Of course, being based on an anime with super powers sourced by the “cosmos”, the attacks are much more outrageous in Saint Seiya than they are in Dynasty Warriors — you can kick people sky high, pile drive them, throw super blasts, freeze enemies, slow down time, utilise super-human speed — and all that kind of crazy stuff. Let’s put it this way: it’s certainly a lot more entertaining to use the superhuman Bronze Saints from Saint Seiya than the mere mortals from Dynasty Warriors.
Generally speaking, each of the 12 temples follows the same trajectory. You start off on the road to the next temple, where you are surrounded by hundreds of weakling enemies you can beat to a pulp with your powerful attacks. Towards the end of the road there will usually be a couple of minor bosses (mostly “shadow” versions of the Bronze Saints), after which you will go into a major boss battle against one of the 12 Gold Saints.
This is where the game diverges from Dynasty Warriors significantly, because the boss battles in Saint Seiya: Sanctuary Battle are epic and often involve various sub-stages. After all, it makes sense – you are a lowly Bronze Saint while they are a mighty Gold Saint. These on-one-one boss battles tend to be long and difficult, and can take a long time to finish.
I was concerned that the game would get repetitive after a while, but to the credit of the makers there was enough variance in the styles of the bosses that you would have to employ a different set of tactics for each one. For instance, against one boss you might have to fight up close, whereas against another you need to keep your distance, or keep running and wait for an opportunity. For those who love mammoth boss battles, this could be your thing.
The game’s graphics are solid, though as it is based on an anime the in-game visuals are nowhere near as detailed as say something like God of War III. The cutscenes (of which there are many), however, are done brilliantly, and it’s almost as if you are watching the cartoon, except in beautifully rendered high definition! Note that the art and character designs of the game follow that of the anime as opposed to the manga (there are quite significant differences).
For fans of the anime/manga and/or the Dynasty Warriors-style genre, Saint Seiya: Sanctuary Battle is worth at least a single play-through. Once you are done with the story mode you can of course play it again on a different difficulty setting or test your skills on one of the many challenge modes and stages. What I particularly enjoyed was checking out the unlocked photos of the dozens (actually, hundreds) of licensed toys and models based on the anime. But to be honest, apart from that, I don’t think I would feel much of a desire to play it again, except maybe if a fellow fan ever dropped by my place (yes, you can play two-player mode outside of the story mode).
Ultimately, I don’t regret purchasing the game at full price (by the way, I got the Japanese version). The game was pretty enjoyable for the most part, and even though it does not have particularly good replay value, I think it was well worth it for that single trip down memory lane.
7 out of 10!
PS: Here’s the intro — the theme song is still my favourite anime theme of all time.