Shuyan Saga Review – Kung Fu Lightweight

Shuyan Saga Review

Released on mobile, and then on PC in 2017, Shuyan Saga is a hybrid between graphic novel and martial arts fighting game. It has now been ported to consoles. The question hanging in the air: does this nearly seven-year-old game still offer a compelling experience? Second question: did it ever?

Nothing like Mulan

In Shuyan Saga, you play a young princess who is unexpectedly thrust into a political and military conflict. A ruthless tyrant has invaded her father’s kingdom and she is sent to the front, more as a scout and envoy than a warrior. To many in the kingdom, Shuyan is a spoiled, entitled princess without practical skills. In reality, she’s smart, fearless, and has a secret.

What she’s hiding is that she’s been secretly training in kung fu and has become proficient in martial arts, making her an unlikely and proficient fighter. At the same time, her kung fu master has been attempting to instill in her a bit of Taoist wisdom and mental discipline, both of which will come in handy. Although it doesn’t really pay off in terms of game mechanics, there’s quite an emphasis on martial arts’ philosophical and spiritual underpinnings. 

The “spoiled princess discovering her strength and power” is not exactly a new conceit in fiction, film, or games. The writing in Shuyan Saga is competent, though its dialog choices don’t seem to matter much in the larger narrative. The supporting players all fill their roles as allies, antagonists, and comic relief without being especially memorable.

Rough Translation

As a visual novel, Shuyan Saga suffers from a few glaring issues. The first is that the mobile-quality graphics look pretty dated upscaled to the PS5. The art itself is kind of generic, though skilled comics illustrator Daxiong drew the panels. It’s also wildly inconsistent and can’t seem to pin down what Shuyan looks like from panel to panel.

The second issue is the American-accented voice acting. It’s not that it’s bad so much as it’s weirdly casual and contemporary for such a melodramatic story. The voices also suffer from a lack of audio processing and spatial positioning. Everything just sounds flat. The musical score by Aaron Tsang is sometimes the most successful element and usually worth attending to.  

But Shuyan Saga is only half visual novel. Its other half is a martial arts fighting game. Once again, porting it from earlier incarnations on mobile and PC doesn’t do it any favors on console. It controls well — no more mouse swipes emulating touch input — but the combat system is incredibly shallow, especially in comparison to games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, or any other of a dozen fighting titles. 

At various points, Shuyan Saga pivots from visual novel to 3D fighting game, either from overhead or, for one-on-one fights, to a more traditional brawler POV. Either way, the combat is clunky and full of weird pauses. Enemies stand there doing nothing until Shuyan moves. She has a limited number of punches, blocks, and charged attacks, which don’t evolve much. It’s hard to describe, but saying it’s the opposite of fluid is a start.

Under the Magnifier

The problem, I think, is ultimately one of scale. In its present form on current and next-gen consoles, Shuyan Saga can’t come close to matching the complexity and entertainment of games native to the platforms. Everything about it seems sized to mobile, from its very short, three-chapter story to its simplistic combat. Even at the current sale price of $14.95 (usually $19.95) you have to judge if the upgrade to console is worth the extra cash.

Back in 2017, Shuyan Saga was probably a decent mobile game. It has a competent, if not very original, narrative and the graphic novel is broken up by real-time kung fu fighting. In 2023 and on bleeding edge consoles, Shuyan Saga feels out of place and unlikely to satisfy gamers used to more elaborate productions and nuanced mechanics.

***PS5 code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Decent story and writing
  • Novel and action work well together
  • Controls much better than mouse

The Bad

  • Clunky, primitive combat
  • Uninspired premise
  • Inconsistent art