Review: Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards
Reviewed on: PC
Publisher: Digiart Interactive
Developer: Digiart Interactive
Available on: PC/XB/PS/NS
Honestly, Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards is one of those games that I’d have barely raised an eyebrow at. I certainly enjoy the occasional top-down RPG – I have spent hundreds of hours in Diablo, the Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance games and Marvel’s Ultimate Alliance series over the years. But with so many games in the genre, is Aluna one that breaks the mould and reinvigorates it?
Based on the 4-part graphic novel mini-series ‘The World of Aluna’, you play as the titular Aluna, and are tasked with collecting the shards that give your mother/deity, Pachamama, her power. A simple enough concept, but one that I kind of liked. Gone are the endless lists of meaningless side quests that are typical of such a genre; it’s clear, focused and concise.
And for anyone who has read the graphic novel series, there is a lot of fan service to enjoy. Pretty much every main character and a litany of ancillary characters make an appearance at some point, aiding you in your quest to stop the evil deity who threatens to steal Pachamama’s power. This is further enhanced by the graphic novel style movies that help drive the story along. I am a massive fan of what they did with these sequential, semi-animated comic strips.
Unfortunately, that’s where my praise of the story stops sadly.
When Aluna, a ‘superhero’, loses the source of her power not once but twice by thieving animals, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Besides this, the game lurches from one place to another without much context. While the voice acting was really quite good and kept me engaged with the main characters, the dialogue writing is terrible, often just falling into tropey one-liners.
So the story isn’t much to write home about, but how well does the gameplay fair? Well, actually, really quite well. I spent the first few zones thinking that the game was going to just be 10 hours of culling enemies from one map to the next – and then the first boss handed me my arse on a platter.
The strategic side to the combat was one of the most fun things about this game in all honesty, and one of the reasons I will likely be going back to new game + to experience it again. With a bit of time spent in the skills screen (you can choose skills from three ‘classes’; melee, ranged and magic), I found a tactic I thought might work. And it did....eventually! It was hard work, but the difficulty changed my mind on the game.
From this first mini-boss fight up to the first big boss fight, I had to strategically and carefully make my way around the maps, dispatching one group at a time, being careful not to aggro too much at once. But I should add a caveat here, because then the first big boss, Bahlam (yes, I remember your name you anthropomorphic tiger ass!), happened.
This encounter is horribly balanced – I re-specced, changed my equipment, changed my tactic, but nothing worked. In principle, I figured out the strategy to beat him, but with a deadline to meet, I turned down the difficulty. And he still beat me down with prejudice. This difficulty spike ruined my impressions of the game. Had I not been playing the final boss on story mode, I strongly suspect I would be saying the same thing about him too.
But I am coming back for you Bahlam - why? Well, honestly, it’s just a nice world to be in. It is not the most graphically stunning game, and the environments do get a little samey, but for what it is, it’s a pretty game. And the music that accompanies the game is really just great; it felt like I was in a jungle, or a swamp, or in a battle to the death. The music was a really good accompaniment to the game that really rounds out the atmosphere.
All in all, if you’re looking for a fun little 10-hour game to tide you over while you’re waiting for a Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance or Diablo 4 to come along, this is not a bad choice. It’s got a bit of depth with the class systems and equipment choice without being overwhelming. The excellent graphic novel story panels were a joy to watch and the music draws you in. However, the game still has a few bugs (character models acting weirdly and a couple of crashes), and a rethink of currency and the crafting system is needed, which seemed largely redundant.
If you’re looking for a deep enthralling story that redefines the top-down RPG genre, you won’t find it with Aluna, but its gameplay is solid and offers a real, if sometimes unbalanced, challenge.