Game review: Deadly Sin 2: Shining Faith

  • Title: Deadly Sin 2: Shining Faith
  • Developer: Deadly Sin Studios
  • Platforms: Windows
  • Price: $19.95

Deadly Sin 2: Shining Faith is a jRPG developed by Deadly Sin Studios in RPG Maker. The author was plainly influenced by Final Fantasy 6, evident in some of the character names, much of the overall plot structure of the game, and in a strangely familiar system for simulating pitched battles with multiple parties. But make no mistake: DS2 is its own game, featuring many inventive and clever design decisions that add up to a very well-crafted experience.

The dungeons in DS2 benefit from something called monster nodes. A monster node is essentially the jRPG equivalent of a monster generator from Gauntlet. Every explorable area with random enemy encounters has an associated monster node. Once you find the monster node and turn it off, enemies stop spawning. (You can turn the nodes back on again, but dear God, why would you?) The feeling of switching off a monster node is immensely satisfying. It’s like serving an eviction notice to every annoying neighbor on your block at once.

As an added bonus, switching off a monster node nets you a shiny Monster Node Shard, which you can distribute to one of your characters to help level up a skill. Every character in DS2 has three passive skills (things like “weapon mastery,” which boost that character’s strength and critical hit stats) and nine active skills (like spells and special attacks).

There are no skill trees—rather, each character can put points into any skill from the very beginning of the game. However, until you do put points into a skill, your character won’t have that skill in combat. You start out the game with no skills whatsoever, which can be confusing to newcomers. (Your mage, for instance, begins with no spells, in spite of what a cut scene prior to her acquisition might lead you to believe.)

Combat in DS2 is in the Phantasy Star style, but with character turns decided according to character speed. Fast characters gradually lap the slower characters, picking up extra turns in the process. Enemy encounters are well-balanced, and the assortment of useful skills at your disposal provides just enough flexibility to keep encounters tactically interesting.

The skills are distributed well among your party members—each character in your party (with the arguable exception of Ruby) is useful in a handful of different roles. Many individual skills are unusually versatile, with multiple beneficial effects that make them useful in different situations. Cure, for instance, can be leveled up to simultaneously restore a lot of hit points and cure most status ailments at once. Other skills are high-damage attacks that deliberately boost the attacker’s Threat rating.

“Wait,” you ask. “Threat rating?” Yeah—that’s another thing. You can actually determine who in your party the monsters are going to attack each turn. Characters’ Threat ratings go up when they damage a monster, up even more when they kill one, and way way way up if they kill or heavily damage multiple monsters at once. It’s basically a “how much have they pissed off the monsters” meter. Whoever has the highest Threat gets attacked by every monster. This means that you will have to plan your actions to avoid having your weaker characters accumulate too much Threat—or, alternatively, do your best to have your toughest characters up their Threat enough so they take the brunt of the enemy attacks (hence, those Threat-boosting skills I mentioned). I didn’t think that I would like this system at first, but it adds an extra tactical consideration to combat that I’ve grown to appreciate.

DS2 merits a special mention in its item design. Healing items recover a fixed percentage of your total health, not just “X hit points.” Better healing items recover a higher percentage, but it’s still a percentage. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Craig, who cares. Why are you wasting review space on this?” This is actually an impressively smart design move, and it’s indicative of the care that went into this game. Because healing items recover a percentage of health, they remain useful through the entire game. You won’t ever reach a point where all your “Potions” become useless filler, to be replaced by “Hi Potions,” to eventually themselves be replaced by “X Potions,” as happens in basically every other RPG ever made.

DS2 has an item augment system reminiscent of Diablo 2’s: you collect gemstones, coins, runes, shells, feathers, and other augment items to give your equipment various different bonuses. Unfortunately, augment items cannot be removed from your equipment. Your equipment, in turn, suffers from the sort of pointless attrition that Deadly Sin Studios had the courtesy to remove from the game’s stable of healing items. So basically, used augment items are only good until the store updates its stock of weapons and armor, at which point your augmented shields and broad swords will start to look like month-old pizza boxes and dog poop on the end of a twig, respectively. I always feel a little guilty using an augment item, because I know it’s going to end up being wasted sooner or later (usually sooner).

The writing in DS2 is inconsistent–it’s well-done in some areas, and poor in others. Thematically speaking, it’s great. The game deals with a lot of mature issues: political intrigue, terrorism, criminality, drug abuse, and romance, to name a few. I’ve been trying to decide what happens after a double-cross, if someone gets double-crossed again. What kind of a cross is that? Do you just add one, or multiply? I figure it’s got to be either a triple-cross or a quadruple-cross. Either way, you can be satisfied that there is a lot of crossing going on in this game.

DS2 is ambitious, there’s no question about that. Too much so. The game simply overreaches in places, setting up plot points it doesn’t adequately resolve, or piling on drama that hasn’t been earned. The romance, for instance, frequently comes off wooden, as though the author were writing what he’d seen other people write elsewhere rather than drawing on his own life experience and knowledge of the characters to produce something organic. The experience would have been better with a tighter focus on the things the author knew he could (or would have time to) pull off convincingly.

The main cast is a high point. Ruby (the bad-girl emperor’s daughter)

and Maric (an egotistical heart-breaker who is inexplicably appalled by female nudity) are reliably entertaining. Teresa, on the other hand, is serious and dutiful, and while she rarely has things to say that aren’t plot-relevant, she too has her humanizing moments. Your main character is mostly believable, relatable, and not quite the one-note, apathetic, brooding jRPG drama queen his name would lead you to expect (though he does brush dangerously close on several occasions).

Character dialog in DS2 is uneven. While there is no shortage of fun, clever banter during light-hearted scenes, the darker scenes tend toward the melodramatic and corny. Consider this gem: “But we will hold this line with our last dying breath!” Now, I always thought that your last breath was your dying breath, pretty much by definition. But apparently this guy is going to have a whole bunch of dying breaths. Breathing, dying, reanimating, breathing some more, dying again, and so on. And by God, he’s holding that line until he’s done with all of them.

Characters occasionally make strange leaps of logic. In one early mission, you pull a red switch and are hit with an electric shock. Maric announces that you should try the blue switch first. Now, I know for a fact that Maric never saw any blue switch, because a) I hadn’t gone over to it yet, and b) it was far away and behind two separate groups of book cases. In another early quest, you find a love letter in the general vicinity of a skeleton. The letter says nothing about the writer dying. When you later speak to a girl anxiously awaiting the return of her lover, you inform her that her lover is dead. Now, hang on. How do we know that? What if we’re wrong? We just told some girl that the man she loves is compost, based on nothing more than a hunch. Maybe she’ll start dating someone else, and it’ll turn out that the guy is perfectly fine. Nice job breaking it, hero.

DS2 runs slowly on my netbook, with some of the larger maps reducing it to an absolute crawl, but the game would no doubt fare better on a beefier rig.

Harmony wrote the music for DS2 himself, using East-West instrument libraries for the sounds. (For those of you who don’t know what that means, those are the same sound libraries Josh Whelchel used in scoring The Spirit Engine 2.) The tracks in this game range from good to excellent, and the use of high quality instruments really puts them over the top.

With the exception of some really nice custom graphics for the main characters, DS2 relies on stock RPG Maker sprites and special effects. They look nice, of course, but it’s hard to give the game credit for using stock images.

The Verdict: 3.5/5. Fans of the SNES-era jRPG will get many hours of enjoyment from DS2. The game’s writing could have been stronger, but from a design standpoint, this indie jRPG is a worthy competitor to anything I’ve seen released in RPG Maker.

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