Alfa System celebrated their 30th year of game development with the release of Sisters Royale: Five Sisters Under Fire for the Nintendo Switch: a shoot-em-up about, surprisingly enough, five sisters being under fire. After the land of PULTIMA plummeted into darkness at the hands of a demon subtly named Seyton, a prophecy began to circulate about five girls who would be born with the ability to stop his reign of terror. The prophecy ended up only being half true, because while five girls with magical powers were born one day, they never ended up defeating Seyton, and instead split apart out of pure resentment for each other without even trying to defeat him. Sometime later, hope for PULTIMA was renewed after all five girls got back together; not to save the world, mind you, but because they all fell in love with the same dude at the same time and decided to fight for his love. Yep, this is an anime game.
The premise is clearly meant to be silly, but it stays out of your way for the most part and there is even an option to turn off cutscenes from the main menu if they’re not your thing. The player has the choice to be any of the five sisters, each with her own variation of basic attack, Familiar (a magical guardian), and bomb attack. There are brief scenes of trash talk between the characters before and after each stage, some of which I found a bit funny but they’re definitely full of Japanese character tropes that I could see otakus enjoying while the casual player might find them distasteful or strange. For example, there’s a lot of chest-size discussion between the sisters and teasing over kinks and stuff. It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea. After you beat a character’s route, they save the world, get the guy, and a year later they’re married, roll credits. Oh, spoilers by the way.
The core of Sisters Royale is the “bullet hell” gameplay, threading the needle between rings and dots and arrows while shooting at enemies and bosses in the form of your siblings, as well as a shadow cognition of yourself. If this is your first shoot-em-up (shmup for short), starting on Easy difficulty is a must since this genre is famous for filling entire screens with bullets. Sisters Royale is just as punishing as fans would expect, but it is fair in how it allows you to continue right where you died with a reset score if you do end up getting a Game Over. Newcomers won’t have to redo the same segments over and over again if they find themselves struggling, which is a plus in my book since I did find myself struggling on Normal difficulty like a true games journalist.
Each run of the game’s campaign has five stages and each stage will only take you about three to four minutes to complete aside from the final fifth stage, making it highly replayable for those who want to master the Tension Bonus System (TBS), which essentially gives the player more points and coins for getting as close as they can to bullets and enemies without getting hit. High risk, high reward. Those who aren’t invested in being at the top of online leaderboards may see this as a negative, however, since completing the game with all five characters only takes a couple of hours at most.
The stages themselves are fairly run-of-the-mill, at least in my limited experience with the shmup genre. There aren’t any formula-changing perspective shifts or characters providing exposition to enhance gameplay, like in Grasshopper Manufacture’s Sine Mora or the shmup segments of Nier: Automata for example. That being said, there are little things that make the levels have some depth individually, like your character sliding over patches of ice in Selma’s stage and making dodging bullets more difficult, or the pitch-black darkness of Lale’s stage becoming more manageable after shooting lamps to turn them on. I won’t fault Sisters Royale much for the lack of diversity in level design, though, since it’s a lower budget game meant to be played in short bursts unlike Sine Mora or Nier.
I will say that one of Sisters Royale’s strengths lies in the vibrant and endearing art direction. The character designs are intricate and well-drawn, despite the aforementioned tropes making up their personalities. I do wish that there were a few more portraits done of each character so that they might show more emotion during their interactions with the other sisters, a la Fire Emblem or Persona. It is nice seeing them all happy in wedding dresses at the end of each route, though. The chibi 3D models that we use during gameplay are adorable, and remind me of old-school Final Fantasy games like Crystal Chronicles or the DS version of FFIV. Enemies are pretty standard fare, mostly birds and ghosts and trees, but they don’t feel out of place or too generic. Frankly, most of your attention is on avoiding all the bullets anyway. Menus are crisp and bubbly, and everything runs perfectly smooth on the Switch, both in docked and handheld mode. The presentation does suffer a bit from grammatical/spelling errors in translation and there are quite a few, but I imagine hardcore fans of a niche genre such as this aren’t going to be shocked by some misplaced letters and won’t have their experiences ruined by them. It just makes the game more authentic, bro.
Music is another portion of Sisters Royale that unfortunately just feels run-of-the-mill. Again, the lack of variety makes the game feel repetitive as you hear the same music on every stage every time you play. Giving each stage its own soundtrack and each sister their own boss theme would’ve gone a long way, but I feel this is another symptom of the game’s budget. Again, I can’t fault Alfa System much for this. If they were charging $60 or even $30 for this game it’d be a different story, but as of this writing, the game sits on the Nintendo eShop at a cool $13.99. It’s understandable that most of the effort went into the game mechanics and the art.
I really hate to be a fence-sitter, but Sisters Royale is genuinely a mixed bag for a casual player like myself. Perhaps there’d be more for me to appreciate if I was a Touhou stan or someone who loves harem anime, but I’m not. I just love harems. The art is pretty and the gameplay can be intense enough to justify ignoring someone trying to talk to you on an aeroplane if you travel with your Switch as I do, but even with these positives there just isn’t a lot here to keep me coming back in the end.
There is a DLC character to buy and maybe there will be more modes to mix things up in the future, but as of right now the base game only kept me entertained for an hour and some change. I guess what I’m trying to say is this game was definitely made for a specific demographic. If you’re a huge fan of anime shmups and are looking for something inexpensive to master (and good luck with that, because I saw some of the high scores; those guys were amazing), I’d recommend this to you since the game is fun enough and reasonably priced, but for the majority of people reading this, that cool $13.99 would most likely be better spent elsewhere. Like on Fortnite skins or CoD points.