Review – Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards
I’ll start off by saying that Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards isn’t a very good game, but I still am fond of it for one big reason: its setting. Very rarely do we see games focused on Mesoamerican legends and mythology, and if one is miraculously released, it will most certainly be focused on Aztec culture. Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards is a completely different beast, as it focuses heavily on Incan culture and mythology, being possibly the first game featuring such a setting since… The Emperor’s New Groove for the PS1, I guess…
I love this game’s setting and the way it presents its plot via well-drawn pulp comic panels. I love that its protagonist is a half-human, half-goddess, an embodiment of the relationship between a native and a Spanish colonizer. Aluna is the daughter of Pachamama, the “Earth Mother”, the ultimate deity of the Incans. The story revolves around Aluna venturing the Incan Empire, looking for shards that contain the power of her deceased mother. It’s not exactly the most riveting of plots, especially considering the uninspired voice acting, but the amazing setting makes up for it.
However, the main problem with this game is that despite the excellent setting an unique premise, the mediocre gameplay loop and average-at-best production values just make it feel lazy and quite boring at times. This is an isometric dungeon crawler clearly inspired by Diablo and its clones. But while its sources of inspiration feature well-designed maps and a nice combat system, Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards has neither.
Aluna‘s combat system is one of the most uninspired I’ve ever seen. At first, I thought the issue lied on the initial weapon given to the player, a basic torch with terrible reach and stats. Although, after acquiring more weapons I’ve come to realize there’s little to no depth in this combat system, no matter which weapon you choose. For close-range weapons, things become a nightmare as the game auto-locks on whichever enemy it decides to, with no proper justification as to why it is aiming at an enemy three postcodes away from you when there are three other rabid monkeys scratching you at that moment. Aiming at a specific enemy massively reduces the chances of you hitting any other nearby foe, even if it’s literally in front of you.
The easiest way to play Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards is to equip a ranger weapon and just spam the attack button until everyone in front of you is dead. Every time you press the normal attack button, your “special bar” slowly fills up. The game then becomes a boring slog in which you kill two enemies with a normal attack, then proceed to spam your area-of-effect or barrage moves until your bar depletes. Rinse and repeat until the game is over. There is a Dark Souls-esque dodge mechanic in here, but if you keep using this aforementioned strategy, I doubt any other enemy will even manage to get close to you.
Boring gameplay aside, Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards doesn’t exactly excite with its presentation. It’s not bad, but it feels dated, as if you were playing an RTS from ten years ago. I do love the backgrounds, as they’re colored and somewhat varied. However, the character models, be them NPCs or enemies, feel dated and severely lacking in detail. The sound department is a mixed bag. The aforementioned voice acting was very disappointing, but I did enjoy the music and the impactful sound effects.
Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards should have been a hit. I would have been able to ignore its dated visuals and uninteresting characters if its gameplay wasn’t so shallow and boring. I really love the fact it’s set around the rich and detailed world of Incan mythology, a setting barely explored by developers for the past twenty years, but even though it feels quite unique at times, I cannot exactly recommend a game so repetitive and menial.
Dated character models which, for some weird reason, mesh surprisingly well with the colorful and vibrant (albeit also dated) backgrounds.
Between the faulty auto-aim and complete disregard for strategic approaches, Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards is just a mindless button masher for most of its runtime.
The epic soundtrack is excellent. The sound effects get the job done, neither impressing nor disappointing. The voice acting, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired.
Fun Factor: 6.0
Its setting is amazing. It tackles themes that are rarely (if ever) seen in video games. Sadly, Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards‘ core gameplay being so bland makes this game feel like a “passable at best” experience as a whole.
Final Verdict: 6.0
Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards is available now on PC and Switch.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards was provided by the publisher.