Oh no! Seytan (spelled differently, presumably for copyright reasons) is threatening the land with his massive, throbbing evilness. Whatever will we do?
Fret not, my friend, for there is a prophecy. There always is a prophecy in situations like this, and indeed this time is no exception. The prophecy states that five sisters will combine their formidable magic powers and defeat Seytan once and for all… and wouldn’t you know it — it just so happens that five sisters with formidable magic powers have just shown up. Whew, that’s a relief, isn’t it?
Well, it would be if they didn’t all hate each other, of course. It seems they have a bit of unresolved business to deal with before any sort of “cooperation” will be taking place…
Sisters Royale, or, to acknowledge its awesome light novel-inspired Asian title, Sisters Royale: I’m Being Harassed By Five Sisters And It Sucks, is a shoot ’em up by Alfa System, creators of, among other things, Elemental Gearbolt on PlayStation 1 and the Castle of Shikigami series on various platforms. It’s designed as a spiritual successor to the latter, which distinguished itself among its contemporaries with its highly varied character abilities and its distinctive “Tension Bonus System”, which increases both scoring potential and shot power based on how close to enemies and bullets you are. Both of these features are present and correct in Sisters Royale.
In Sisters Royale, you take control of one of the five sisters of prophecy, who are fighting among themselves in order to determine who should marry the man they all supposedly love. Said man, known as Yashin, unfortunately has no idea all this is going on, and is thus in for a bit of a surprise when your chosen sister reaches the end of the five stages that comprise the game as a whole. But, as it happens, he has a bit of a surprise waiting for you, too; the course of true love never did run smooth, after all.
Unlike many other vertically scrolling shoot ’em ups, Sisters Royale sees your character running along the ground rather than flying through the sky. This brings a number of interesting considerations into the mix that you don’t often see in games like this: not only do you have to make sure you avoid enemies and their shots, but you also have to contend with hazards on the ground, too. These vary by stage and are elementally themed; in the icy stage, for example, there are frozen puddles on the ground that will cause you to slip around, while in the wind-themed stage, there are windmills that will blow you off course if you get caught in their air currents. There are also walls and other obstacles in many of the stages, too; you’ll have to take care not to get caught between one of these and the edge of the scrolling screen.
Each character has three ways of attacking: a shot, a summon and a bomb. The exact form each of these options takes varies enormously according to the character you select, so different playthroughs can feel radically different from one another despite following the same sequence of levels, fighting the same bosses — including themselves, or rather their “conscience” — and featuring the same learnable attack patterns.
For example, Sonay, the eldest of the five sisters, has a narrow, rapid-fire shot straight ahead as her basic attack, while her bomb fills the screen with a whirling fireball that hits pretty much everything visible. So far so conventional, you might think. It’s the summons that make Sisters Royale truly interesting and distinct from other shoot ’em ups however; in Sonay’s case, she is able to summon a fire elemental that will automatically rush out and attack enemies, leaving her free to just avoid danger; the trade-off is that she can’t move as quickly while maintaining the summon.
Selma, the second sister, is ice-themed. Her shot is wider than Sonay’s, but again it’s her summon that distinguishes her. Three icy blades shoot out from her and surround her, dealing damage to anything they hit. They’re not a ranged attack, though, meaning that Selma has to get pretty close to her foes in order to defeat them with her summon — and they’re not fixed in their orientation, either, meaning you’ll need to carefully manipulate the analogue stick to ensure both Selma and her blades are facing the way you want them do if you need to do precision attacks.
The other sisters are similarly varied with both their shots and summons: Ece fires twin streams of bullets that can lock on to enemies or maintains a powerful but short-range beam in the direction she was facing when she fired it; Nur fires rapid homing shots or sends out two whirlwinds which spin around the screen; and Lale shoots a wide but slow blast in front of her and is able to “catch” and absorb bullets before firing them back at enemies.
I can’t emphasise enough how radically different each character makes Sisters Royale feel to play — and different players will doubtless find themselves most comfortable with different characters. I found Sonay the easiest to handle, for example; her homing summon attack means you can pretty much hold down the summon button for the whole game and just concentrate on avoiding getting hit. Conversely, I found the high level of risk inherent in Lale’s playstyle very difficult to deal with; although absorbing a full meter’s worth of shots unleashes a devastating volley of fire at your foes, it’s very easy to land yourself in an extremely vulnerable position if you’re not careful.
Risk is an extremely important part of Sisters Royale, though. Much like the Castle of Shikigami series before it, Sisters Royale incorporates a “Tension Bonus System”, which increases both your score multiplier and shot power according to how close you are to on-screen enemies or bullets when you destroy or collect something. You can multiply your score by up to eight times by grazing bullets carefully, and your shots are considerably more dangerous to your foes in their powered-up form.
There are a few other considerations, too. When fighting a boss, if you want to score a multiplier on their base value, you need to finish each of their phases off with a summon attack rather than a shot. This is easier with some characters than others — it’s pretty tricky with Selma’s melee-esque summon, for example, while with Sonay it’s very straightforward.
There are also hidden fairies in each level, which doubles the value of the multipliers you get from the Tension Bonus System for a short period, meaning you can score up to sixteen times the usual amount for an enemy. And that “usual amount” gradually increases as you proceed through the level without taking damage; consequently “no miss” runs of a stage will be considerably higher scoring than ones where you make a mistake or two.
Sisters Royale strikes a good balance between interesting mechanics and accessibility. The Tension Bonus System is easy to understand and take advantage of; the challenge of mastering the game mostly comes from figuring out how best to use each character and their respective abilities. The difficulty levels are well-balanced, too; a one-credit clear on Easy should be within the reach of even the most casual shoot ’em up fan, while Hard not only ups the intensity of bullet and enemy patterns, it also makes boss confrontations more challenging with additional phases.
Clearing the game under various circumstances also unlocks “Maniac” options, which allow you to customise how the game works in various ways. You can change the size and speed of enemy bullets, for example, as well as switching on and off features like automatic bomb usage or enemy suicide bullets. Online leaderboards are disabled while you use any of these options, but they provide a variety of different ways for you to test your skills if you think you’ve mastered the base game — or if you just want a bit of a change from the norm.
The game as a whole is presented very nicely. The in-game visuals are polygonal rather than sprite-based, but they’re packed with personality and excellent animation. The sisters are presented as chibi forms of themselves, strutting through the battlefield with great determination and confidence, and there are plenty of nice touches like their hair and clothing whipping around as they move in various directions. Enemies are varied and thematically appropriate for each stage, too, and the game maintains a slick frame rate throughout — with a touch of deliberate slowdown evident when the bullet patterns get particularly hectic, as is genre convention.
The action is all accompanied by some wonderfully toe-tapping electro swing-style music, with each track having a little twist according to the overall theme of each level. The relentless pace of the soundtrack provides appropriately driving rhythms to keep you pushing forward, while the jazzy elements highlight the absurdity and slapstick nature of everything that is happening on screen.
Outside of the actual gameplay, the sisters are represented visually as some gorgeous 2D art — though it would have been nice to see each character have more than one pose or emote to go with their dialogue. This is a shoot ’em up, though; plot is emphatically not the main focus here — though it has to be said, what narrative is here is quite entertaining. These sisters really don’t hold back from one another; the dialogue feels very much like the sort of thing you’d get in a particularly energetic, chaotic comedic anime, and there’s some delightfully unusual phrasing and insults used throughout. I personally know quite a few people who will almost certainly get a kick out of Sonay telling her sister to “get on your tarty knees and lick the floor”.
It’s a little unfortunate, then, that the English text clearly hasn’t been anywhere near a proofreader or editor at any point. This isn’t so much a case of a questionable base translation as it is the English script simply being riddled with typos and misspellings. At one point, Lale proudly announces that she is “gpong” to force Nur to share the secrets of popularity (look at your keyboard if you’re not sure how that one would happen), while Nur asks Selma at one point if she is “listeninto” her.
These mistakes aren’t distracting enough to make the story incomprehensible or unenjoyable, mind. I must confess, I actually find the rather quick and dirty feeling of the translation to be strangely charming in its own way, in the same way I fondly remember playing a half-translated SNES ROM of an extremely bizarre Wedding Peach game at university. But those mistakes are frequent enough to be noticeable, particularly to the more pedantic among us, and they feel a little at odds with the very slick presentation of the rest of the package as a whole.
Despite this little issue, Sisters Royale is, on the whole, an absolute ton of silly, colourful, chaotic fun that strikes a good balance between challenge and accessibility. It’s not one of those shoot ’em ups that is impenetrably difficult for those who don’t spend all their waking hours practising their favourite bullet patterns — remember, in shoot ’em up world, there’s no shame in playing on Easy — but there’s also plenty here to keep genre veterans busy and interested in the long-term, too.
Plus it’s essentially a game whose entire premise is “Who Is Best Girl?” Given the amount of time devoted to that exact question online on a daily basis… I certainly don’t have any complaints.
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