Release Date: February 8, 2022
Reviewed On: PS5
Genre: Action Roguelike
The roguelike genre can turn off some players who have dying-to-progress fatigue. Interestingly, while the Sloclap-developed SIFU is built around this genre, it does well to mask it in its overall design. This allows players to approach the challenging action that awaits them at their own pace and with the freedom to improve their skills across each run. In addition, this game rewards replayability with more incentives than getting a little further. In fact, this may be one of the most unique uses of the roguelike genre that I have ever played.
At its core, SIFU is a story of revenge. Your master has been brutally murdered, and you make it your life’s goal to hunt down those responsible. What stands in your way is a clan of enemies and a few bosses as you cross the name’s of your master’s murders off your list. Luckily, a family pendant allows you to die and come back at the cost of your life force. This mysterious power is intertwined in the narrative and also the game systems.
Following eight years of training, it’s time for you to choose your character’s gender and hit the streets. Collecting clues and exploring areas is key to making real progress as interactable objects appear on your board as ways to track your journey. Further, this allows you to organize your adventure and shows exactly what you’re missing from each level.
At first, levels can seem a bit overwhelming. However, the first level offers multiple paths and locked doors that will have you wanting to play through them again. Following a level, collected objects stay collected, including keys that can unlock doors. This is exceptionally important because you lose years of your life if you die.
Every ten years changes your stats offering an increase in damage for the cost of your HP. However, the keys collected provide additional ways to get through levels for even more paths to the boss. Taking these different paths could be exactly what you need to save some of those years of your life to get through the game without dying.
So here are the roguelike systems. From the first level, you begin at the age of 20. If you die, you earn a death counter, and the number of the death counter equals the number of years that will pass if you die. Each time you die, the death counter increases, making it possible to age multiple years after each death. This number can be lowered, though, by performing well in combat.
Following the first level, your age will progress to the next level and so on. However, if you want to set yourself up for success, you might want to begin again from the first level without dying so that your age is lower in the second and so forth. Of course, finding a suitable age that works for you is something that comes with time, but there’s nothing to worry about because this game is f**cking fun.
Continuing with the roguelike systems are specific skills available. Each downed enemy increases your score, which can be used after death or at a statue for an upgrade. With enough points, you can even make these upgrades permanent, but again, this all comes with time since it’s essential to understand the action systems, so you get the most points during every encounter.
The skills include buffs and additional combos that prove more effective in later stages that almost act as endurance rounds to your understanding of the combat system. For example, players can guard break enemies to execute a finisher that adds a bit of health to your bar after a string of combos. Further, weapons add damage, and even the environment can be used as a way to hurt some enemies. The animations are gorgeous, and the fighting styles of the enemies and the player are brilliantly presented in some of the most remarkable action sequences that I have ever been a part of.
Guarding in the game is necessary to avoid damage, but there are multiple ways to avoid getting hit. Aside from the simple guard, players can dodge and even counter enemies if timed correctly. The outcome is a gorgeous fight of one person taking on a room full of enemies without getting hit once. When done right, the entire battle seems to be choreographed as your fingers glide across the simplified but responsive control scheme. You will die a lot. But that only fueled my desire for revenge.
Level design is of note for how creative the developers were with specific themes. A club isn’t just multiple copy and pasted rooms. Instead, you had club-based areas and dark rooms with neon lights that led you to an almost ancient wartorn stronghold. This can be found in every level with encouraging reasons to return for additional routes and optional tasks. Again, the idea is to make it as far as possible without getting too old, and with 70 being Game Over, you’ll want to conserve a bit of those lives for the final battles.
The boss encounters were just as creative as the levels themselves as they contain almost supernatural elements to them that gave them a place in this world. Their time on screen was brief, but they each leave an impact on the player as you memorize their attack patterns and try not to die.
Sadly, the in-game camera is where the experience can stagger. Sometimes objects can get in the way, or the action will be a little too close to respond to attacks. It gets annoying when you feel like you have a rhythm, but you didn’t see that enemy with a bat standing slightly off-screen. However, the developers did add some fancy camera systems for stages that make the experience pretty intense.
SIFU is the must-play action game of the year. Its roguelike systems shouldn’t hold back anyone from jumping in and following this thrilling narrative of revenge. The entire experience is like watching a Bruce Lee movie play out with you controlling the choreography. It’s as rewarding as it is brutally challenging, but I was having a blast kicking ass whether I was 25 or 55 in-game years old.
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