Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards (NS) - ReviewEvan Norris , posted on 27 May 2021 / 1,920 Views
There's something innately satisfying about an isometric action-RPG. The formula just works, whether due to its focus on exploration, its sensation of progress and growth, or its mountains of stat-boosting loot. Even the run-of-the-mill ones have an addictive energy to them. One of the newest is Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards, a likable role-playing game with a unique setting, interesting skills, and a veritable cornucopia of loot in the form of weapons, armor, and accessories. Regrettably, due to performance issues and some tedious gameplay, it doesn't make its mark among the better games in the genre.
Developed by Digiart Interactive and N-Fusion Interactive, Aluna is a different kind of action-RPG, at least in terms of backdrop. Where a lot of games in the genre focus on dark fantasy in a European medieval setting, Aluna targets Incan mythology and Colombian culture in the 16th century. It stars the titular Aluna, the warrior daughter of a Spanish conquistador and the South American nature goddess Pachamama. When an evil force begins seeking the shards of Pachamama for some nefarious goal, Aluna and her allies work to reclaim the shards and defeat the unknown enemy.
The unique premise of Aluna is one of the most attractive parts of the game. There's something different and exciting about the setting, with its Incan deities, demi-gods, and monsters, and its tropical settings — lush jungles, bright beaches, bustling ports, and fiery mountains. There's also a fun pulp magazine vibe to the whole thing, aided by several nifty comic book panel interludes (Aluna started as a comic book series).
While the mythology in Aluna is atypical, its gameplay loop is par for the course. In classic isometric action-RPG fashion, players will guide Aluna through several large, branching levels, every one packed with monsters, NPCs, and lots and lots of loot. Deploying one of many weapon types, plus multiple skills, she'll engage in hack-and-slash combat with her foes, earning experience points and new gear for her troubles. At regular intervals, having been encumbered with loot, she'll retreat to a merchant to sell unwanted goods and purchase rare and/or magical gear.
Aluna leverages this traditional cycle to mixed results. On one hand its skills and weapons are a lot of fun. You can invest in one of three skill trees — melee, ranged, and magic — each with a tiered list of attacks, passive perks, and upgrades. You'll begin with relatively mild powers like back-stab or rapid-fire, and ultimately graduate to devastating AoE moves. Best of all, if you end up disliking your previous skill investments, you can respec your skill points for a modest fee.
A wide range of weapons — spears, swords, cudgels, sling, bows, muskets — accentuate this system. If you're lucky you might even find a legendary weapon that boosts the power of one of your skills, making you a master of the battlefield.
On the other hand, despite diverse weapons and flashy skills, combat isn't very engaging. Once you settle on a workable strategy — most likely a mixture of AoE attacks, kiting, and retreating to heal — you'll probably ride it out through the remainder of the game. At that point, Aluna becomes mechanical and repetitive. Since combat scenarios pop up every few seconds in a given level, you end up with a feeling of monotony that's hard to shake. Boss battles help a bit — they're longer, more challenging encounters with powerful enemies — but they're relatively rare.
What Aluna really needs is diversity. Not diversity in weapons, skills, backgrounds, or monsters; it has that. No, it demands diversity in experience. The game feels very samey. You'll enter a huge level, fight mob after mob of enemies with the same tactics, find the exit, and move to the next level. At times you'll fight alongside an ally or two, or visit the shopkeeper to unburden yourself, but that's about it. Things like mission objectives, side-quests, and a more active NPC population would help here. There are times when the game threatens to introduce some new gameplay scenarios — at one point Aluna gets in a canoe to travel down a river and late in the game she rides Quetzalcoatl himself — but nothing happens.
At nine hours long, Aluna is short compared to others in the action-RPG genre but still a meaty experience. Once you finish the game, you'll unlock a New Game Plus option that allows you to restart the story from the beginning while retaining your level, equipment, and skills. In terms of value and replay value, this is a fine package.
It's also a fine package in graphical terms, particularly if you're a fan of the early 2000s action-RPG aesthetic. Aluna has that homey, rustic art direction you find in titles like Sacred, Dungeon Siege, and Titan Quest. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for performance. Aluna has a framerate problem on Switch, even when docked. The game feels very choppy, particularly during intense, crowded battles and inside busy towns. It's not game-breaking but it's a constant annoyance throughout. I also experienced a couple of soft locks, but those were very rare.
Also worth nothing is the game's voice acting. While it's overall inconsistent — some turns are more believable than others — the performance by Paula Garcés as Aluna is excellent. Garcés, who created the Aluna comic universe, brings a fiery faithfulness to the character.
Despite the passionate performance of its creator, Aluna isn't quite ready to compete with the better action-RPGs out there. Its gameplay is monotonous and its performance unreliable. Yet it manages some victories in loot, skills, presentation, and setting. Regardless of any faults, it's a likable, earnest game that explores a different kind of backdrop and mythology. If you're a hardcore isometric role-playing fan, consider adding this one to your wishlist.
This review is based on a copy of Aluna: Sentinal of the Shards for the NS
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