The rarity of mainstream titles that use classic turn-based combat is getting to the point where it’s almost a novelty. As a result, the genre has found life among indie developers like Shishi Studios and its upcoming game Shishi: Ballad of the Oracle. The game follows an adorable ball-person named Shishi who goes on magical quest to save time and space from evil forces. While this upcoming release gives us a look into a pleasant and colorful world, the main star of the adventure is its turn-based mechanics. It stays true to tradition, but the brief demo sadly highlights a few problems with the game itself.
The Story Begins…
The basic pitch with this game is simple: Shishi is an apprentice mage living in the wilderness and studying at a nearby structure. After slaughtering a few onions, she is summoned by a mysterious voice. After navigating through the structure, she encounters her future self who instructs her past self to go on a journey to become the guardian of the world. It’s an easy-to-digest plot with some timeline twists thrown in without being headache-inducing. It’s also interesting to note that the story begins during times of peace; no evil force suddenly attacks prompting Shishi to go on this quest. While it may sound a bit anticlimactic, it kind of gives a fuller idea of Shishi’s character.
Short and Sweet
Despite being a pretty short demo, there are a number of nice things to say about the game and what’s to come. The aesthetics are simple but cute, with some very smooth textures and solid colors. Though the models aren’t built for complex movement, the small animations are sharp and bouncy, which fits the overall aesthetic. The soundtrack is also pleasant but brief, giving hope that the full game will include a greater selection of similar and longer tunes.
Moving on to the mechanics, they all work quite well. The game combines the exploration and movement of traditional 3D platform games solidly. There’s also an aspect of physics in the breakable objects and collectibles, which makes the game more fun to tinker around with. The key mechanic is being able to jump between timelines to navigate obstacles, which works as an interesting puzzle-solving gimmick. Overall, the game appears to have a fair amount of charm.
Long and Lacking
There’s a reason turn-based mechanics are on a decline, and games like Shishi may be a contributor. The title deserves applause for tackling gameplay that many consider to be a big programming challenge. However, while the mechanic works, there isn’t enough built around it to make it enjoyable to play. This is a demo, of course, and huge changes are expected on the road to release. But as things stand now, there are some very obvious issues that sully the experience.
First off, there’s the party aspect. Arguably the most popular part of classic turn-based combat is the cast of characters that players get to control. As far as I can tell, Shishi is completely alone in this adventure, which doesn’t mesh with that model. There are multiple occasions in the demo where Shishi fights groups of enemies and she only gets to take one action per turn. That already seems pretty unfair, but it’s tolerable if you have some area-of-effect spells to play with. Unfortunately, Shishi has no such abilities. All she can do is attack one enemy and then try to withstand the pummelling from whatever horde she’s staring down otherwise.
Despite how slow turn-based battles can be, a strategy aspect can help create a worthwhile challenge. There is little to no point in strategy when luck dominates the field, and Shishi gives that impression. For example, the demo has the option to play on Easy or Hard difficulties, and I chose the latter. Eventually I reached a point made impassable by a group of enemies who all did varying degrees of damage. Every time I thought I could endure a hit, one of the enemies would get a critical and send me to the game over screen. To make matters worse, there are no checkpoints in the demo.
Lastly, there are some technical issues floating about. Thankfully there’s nothing as bad as falling through floors or wild animations, but they’re distracting nonetheless. The bugs I encountered mainly affected the UI visuals, where data would sometimes freeze on the screen or flash briefly. There were also a few moments where events didn’t trigger properly, which will hopefully be combed out soon.
The Ballad’s Last Lines
Shishi: Ballad of the Oracle is an indie cartoon fantasy game that uses traditional turn-based gameplay. Even though the game has some heart to it and functional mechanics, there’s not enough built on this foundation just yet. For now, the game is too slow and unfair. relying more on luck than on strategy. However, there is still hope for this genre. and Shishi should keep fighting for it. As she chases her ballad, her adventure chases the ballad of taking turns.
Shishi: Ballad of the Oracle doesn’t have a release date just yet, but you can check out the game’s demo on PC via Steam.
Will Quick is a freelance media wizard living in Spain. When he's not gaming or writing, he's doodling comics or whatever else pops in his head.