By Spencer . August 25, 2008 . 9:44pm
Sigma Harmonics is a new property from Square Enix, but this isn’t an RPG. Sigma Harmonics is better explained as a mystery game with random battles. You take control of Sigma Kurogami a snappy dresser that lives in a luxurious mansion somewhere outside of Tokyo. He goes to school, but Sigma has a more important job, keeping demons sealed inside the giant clock seated in his house. Neon, a card user who has the power to attack the demons, is one of Sigma’s friends and classmates. On a seemingly ordinary day Sigma meets a man wrapped with a black face mask and returns to a ruined house. The two surmise, through a substantial amount of voice acting, that they can fix the future by figuring out what changed in the past.
Someone traveled through time and murdered an elderly woman during dinner. This scene is told by touching a black icon that looks similar to a Xenogears save point. These frozen moments in time, shadows of souls as described by the game, explain what happened to Sigma and Neon. After watching a scene Sigma is rewarded with sound moments, tokens that allow Sigma to “reason” his way through events. However, you won’t be able to solve the mystery with the first set of sound moments. You can make Sigma explore the mansion and find other shadow of souls scenes by dragging him with the stylus. Sigma can also search areas by picking an option from the main menu. Pick search and Sigma freezes into place and you can tap the touch screen to look for hints. Clues are easily identified as sparkles. Searching isn’t a pixel hunt.
During exploration the demons sealed in Sigma’s home attack the duo. You know you’re about to enter combat when you hear a single clock tick sound followed by a screen shattering effect on the right screen. Sigma doesn’t actually fight in battle. He plays the role of a composer while Neon does all of the dirty work. She attacks with the three cards shown on the right side of the screen. Each card refills at a different rate and when the meter is full you drag a card to the open slot to attack. The dragon card does a powerful attack, but it only hits the demon in front of Neon. She is typically surrounded by demons on all sides. The interesting twist is you can’t just hit an arrow key to make Neon turn. The cards in the center pile, a sheep and a horse make Neon turn left and right respectively. Using one of these cards makes Neon move, but she doesn’t deal as much damage as using the dragon card. The rabbit on the right can be used to restore HP.
In the first chapter the battles are extremely easy to win. Since your options are limited you just use the dragon card, to kill the first enemy one of the turning cards to move, and then the dragon card to finish off that enemy. Battles get trickier in the later chapters when Neon gets the ability to change jobs. In battle Neon can transform from her shrine clothes to a gothic lolita outfit with a skirt made of blades. The costume change gives Neon a new set of cards like the tiger which deals 360 degrees of explosive damage. Sigma gains a new skill too, the ability to change the background music and affect the recast time of Neon’s cards. Each song has a different set of advantages and disadvantages depending on Neon’s job and card layout.
Once you collect all of the sound moments you can open up the reason board where Sigma tries to decipher the events. Sigma asks questions, you answer them by placing the sound moments on the board. Sometimes he asks yes or no questions. Other times he asks players to point out contradictions. Each answer opens a path, but Sigma doesn’t have to be right. Sigma can reason everything incorrectly and similar to Freddy from Scooby Doo he will proudly proclaim a conclusion. The game will tell you if you’re right or wrong, but you’re not immediately penalized for an incorrect solution.
If you solve the murder with incongruent logic the boss fight becomes more difficult. I ran a little experiment with this and compared the correct answer against purposely horrible reasoning. If you have an incorrect solution the boss monster, a demonic horse wearing a spinning ring, deals more damage to Neon and you deal less in return. During the fight the boss monster seals your ability to heal too. In addition to the boss you have to face seven butterflies. Get the perfect solution and Neon deals substantially more damage to the boss, its attacks are weaker, and you only have to face three butterflies. It’s possible to win both ways, but you need to level up to beat the boss with flawed logic. Basically, you get to choose how you want to play Sigma Harmonics. If you like fighting, build Neon’s stats and punch your way through the game. If you like the murder mystery element you can spend time searching for clues and solving the mystery to breeze through the boss fight.
One style of play requires less Japanese knowledge, but I can’t imagine Sigma Harmonics being a fun game to play if you aren’t well versed in the language. The game is mostly text filled event scenes, not combat. Even though the menus have English subtitles, a huge surprise, Sigma Harmonics is not import friendly. I wouldn’t be too worried though. Square Enix is at least considering the game for an international release since they trademarked Sigma Harmonics and the logo in the USA. Chances are very likely we’ll see it, but it might be a bit of a wait. Sigma Harmonics has a significant amount of voice acting and the text bubbles are optimized to be read from top to bottom. Localization work will take time, but Square Enix can pull it off by next summer.
Images courtesy of Square Enix.