Croixleur Sigma Review (PC)

Japanese anime hack ‘n’ slash arcade games have always been a bit weird. They tend to be flashy affairs fueled by electric guitars and violins and bass drums, wherein a mash of buttons, a blur of colour, and a conveyor belt of enemies is complemented by confusing dialogue centered around female characters as if in place to ‘entice’ male players. For all I do admire publisher Nyu Media’s drive to promote the lesser known Japanese doujin indie market in the West, Souvenir Circ’s Croixleur Sigma does nothing to alter the negative perceptions held around these games. As far as its story is concerned, it in fact makes matters worse.

Croixleur Sigma includes three settings: Story Mode, Score Attack Mode, and Survival Mode. Story Mode begins by recounting a grandiose tale of two warring factions, voiced in Japanese with English subtitles, in the land of Ilance where two young women must take up arms in an ancient ceremony to determine who is the superior clan. What begins as a fairly intriguing backstory, quickly spirals into the bizarre as Lucrezia Visconti - the player’s only initially available character - speaks ahead of her battle with Francesca Storaro. “Why does she always act as if we’re enemies?” asks Lucrezia. “We used to play together. We used to bathe together. I remember her skin like snow and pert little...” An equally crude exchange follows between the two where the player’s character makes similar allusions and constant homo-erotic innuendo, before the two part ways and the actual game kicks off.

Generic re-skinned enemies galore

Romance in games is fine, but given the label games of this ilk tend to carry - that they are aimed at pre-pubescent males and often include overly sexualised female characters - this introduction feels entirely cheap and utterly stigmatised. Luckily, there isn’t much else in the way of this sort of thing, but, equally, there isn’t much else in the way of story at all. In order to progress the tower to fight the final monster, racing Francesca to the top, Lucrezia must battle a horde of randomly spawning foes and mini-bosses across several floors.

Each floor acts as a confined battle arena and enemies become gradually harder to defeat with each stage in turn, eventually incorporating health bars, armour and MP. Aside from button-mashing attacks, Lucrezia can jump to perform aerial attacks, dash to outrun foes, and draw upon MP to unleash special spinning combos. Health comes in limited bursts, collected in coin form once mini-bosses are bettered, and a combo chain system serves to generate points to help Lucrezia level up. Once hit, however, the chain is broken.

Weapon variety is a plus point

It’s all very fast and furious, compounded by the fact that - in an attempt to add challenge, I can only assume - Story Mode, for better or worse, has a 15 minute time limit; ten if the player wishes to unlock Francesca. There really isn’t much else to say about the ‘story’ here, as there isn’t really any substance to it at all, besides the hollow and decidedly cringeworthy narrative.

Croixleur Sigma’s other gameplay options - Score Attack Mode and Survival Mode - play out as you’d expect: one a points-accumulating version of the battle arena; and one wherein you must outlast the clock. Bizarrely, the game’s most interesting and enjoyable mode - Challenge Mode - is only unlockable upon completion of the main story. On the initial character selection screen, a generic silhouette stands alongside Lucrezia, denoting a second unlockable playable character. Almost immediately it becomes apparent that this character is Francesca. But, as there is absolutely no mention of Challenge Mode until it is unlocked - silhouette or otherwise - Croixleur Sigma plays a dangerous game, running on the quite frankly arrogant assumption that every player will persevere with the story mode, seeing it through to completion. Comprising of ten individual challenges, Challenge Mode provides Croixleur Sigma with a much-needed sense of direction and it is a shame that this mode isn’t available from the outset.

Local co-op fails to add depth

Combat, although not exactly intuitive, can be enjoyable, particularly as enemies get progressively more difficult, but for every good thing Croixleur Sigma does, it is held back by two or three others. For example, within each level a decent range of weaponry can be unlocked to then be used at the start of each respective bout. Yet the same variety does not extend to the game’s enemies as a change of colour is the lone, re-skinning defining factor which separates both identity and difficulty.

With almost all hack ‘n’ slash titles, what you see is largely what you get in Croixleur Sigma. Depth isn’t normally the genre’s strong suit but that said, some form of story - one not completely devoid of personality or entirely too reliant on the cheap tricks showcased here - surely isn’t too much to ask for. For all Croixleur Sigma can be quite challenging - particularly towards its Story Mode’s end or within Challenge Mode - no real skill is needed to succeed, and it’s lack of variety and intrigue make this feel like a wasted journey west.

Best Game Moment: Challenge Mode.