Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards review: Welcome to a Magical 16th Century Spain
Sometimes I really love surprises. I had no idea what to expect from Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards. It was offered to me for review, and thanks to the fact the game is based on a stylish comic book, I decided to give it a shot. After starting the game up, I learned that the titular main character, daughter to a goddess and a mortal man, was voiced by none other than Paula Garcés. You may know her from a lot of television, including gripping crime dramas like The Shield. But that’s not why you’re reading this. You probably want to know how Aluna plays. And as you’ll learn from this Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards review, the answer is surprisingly well.
Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards isn’t only voiced by Paula Garcés, but was also directed and produced by the talented actress. Additionally, the folks behind writing the original comic book the game is based on also had a hand in Batman: Arkham Origins and Assassin’s Creed. The game itself takes place in 16th century Spain. A world of mysticism, conquistadors, and a vast, unknown world. The goddess Pachamama saves a human from destruction, and in the process, they fall in love. They conceive a child, but alas, tragedy soon strikes. A meteor falls from the skies, and to protect her mortal wards, Pachamama fuses with the meteor, shattering it harmlessly. Unknown to her daughter is the fact Pachamama’s power resides in the shards, and soon dark forces will be hunting for them.
Welcome to the Jungle
At the start of the game, Aluna isn’t capable of much. She only has a basic attack and a strong attack at her disposal, along with a not so handy dodge roll. As the game progresses and you level up, Aluna will acquire points to learn new skills from a three-tiered tree. You can have her learn Melee, Ranged, or Magic skills, allowing for very distinct playstyles. The key thing to remember is you can only use these skills if you have the proper weapon equipped. Early on, I accidentally learned a ranged skill before I had acquired a ranged weapon, which was problematic. Thankfully that was a one-off problem, and I soon appreciated how the skills are color-coded to avoid confusion.
Initially, I focused on melee tactics, but soon became a huge fan of Aluna’s ranged combat. One skill lets her slow a whole group of nearby foes, which is vital since the game loves to throw hordes of fast-moving berserkers at you. Better yet, you can also coat your ranged shots in poison, and even hurl spiked traps to keep foes at bay. That said, there’s no wrong build. I just found ranged worked better in my keep away style, especially since it can be very easy to become overwhelmed by groups of foes. Once they locate you, they’ll follow you a good distance, attacking you ceaselessly until you get out of their range or deal enough damage to dissuade them.
While you can’t count on it, on occasion, Aluna will have allies fight alongside her. They’re generally incredibly effective, but they’re also not very cautious. More than once, I was trying to avoid a group of foes off-screen, when my AI partner went guns blazing, drawing them to us. The most important thing, which may sound obvious, is to make sure to regularly upgrade your equipment. I tried getting through an early area with the same torch I started the game with, and found I was doing abysmal damage to foes. To get an idea of how effective your current gear is, you just pause the game and check out your stats.
One of my biggest complaints about Aluna is that it can be a chore to navigate the various menu screens. A big reason for this is you can only navigate them from left to right, not the other way around. So whenever I needed to see the map, I had to pause the game and rapidly press the button until I got there. I also would have really appreciated it if the game gave me a way to shift my current armament and skill setup. If you need to change weapons, you have to pause the game, change weapons and then reallocate all your skills, so they work with that weapon type. It’s not a huge deal, but it can be frustratingly time-consuming. Despite these complaints, none of this was enough to make me overly annoyed with the game, and I kept coming back for one more play session.
No Stone Unturned
Though Aluna is relatively linear, there are also expansive open areas to explore. You’re free to get lost in the corners of each map, and doing so will generally reward you with plenty of gear. You can just straight up equip what you find, or you can craft better gear with precious coins. I mostly stuck with found items, and discovered that was a workable strategy. The most important thing to remember as you explore is not to get caught by a huge group of foes. You can see little red dots on the mini-map, which indicate enemies. Sometimes you can’t see enough of the mini-map to know how big a group is. However, so don’t be ashamed to run away and regroup. And if you’re still not prepared for the task ahead of you, use a handy Spirit Gate to teleport to a previous area, and make any necessary preparations.
A Very Graphic Novel
Visually, Aluna won’t win any awards. I don’t mean any disrespect by that; it’s just a fact. The game could have been from the PS2 era. It’s simplistic, but it works. The most appealing visual component of the game are the animated comic book cutscenes. They’re really gripping, and add a lot to the flair of the adventure. Musically, there’s a lot of muted forest sounds, cries of groups of foes, and growls of cursed animals. I do appreciate the voice acting in the game, especially Aluna herself. That said, you will get tired when you start hearing the same phrase over and over again, especially in the same battle. Overall, the presentation of the game isn’t outstanding, but I appreciate it all the same.
There were some elements of Aluna that held it back from a higher score. One frustration was that I found my wireless controller kept disconnecting as I played the game. That wasn’t an issue I found with any other game thus far, and it even happened early on as I was getting a ton of story lore thrown my way. Of more relevance is that I wish the combat were a bit more nuanced. Though I had my issues with Curse of the Dead Gods, that game also had really distinctive and varied combat. In Aluna, all combat is mostly the same. Encounter group, avoid getting trapped, defeat group, rinse, and repeat. The main reason it still worked as well as it did was that health potions replenish over time, which was a lifesaver. Finally, though I appreciate the game including a dodge roll, I wish it also gave me a block or counter. Enemies will frantically follow you if you’re in their territory, so dodging only provides a very narrow break from the action.
Gather the Shards, Save the World
Despite some issues with the game, I still really enjoyed my time with Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards. I’m not great at the ARPG genre, and yet I kept coming back to the game to get just a little bit farther. Though it’s simplistic visually, and while I wish the combat was more nuanced, what’s here is still fun and easy to get lost in. Combined with a fascinating and unique story, you’ll enjoy a good 10 to 15 hours with the game. If you’re a fan of ARPGs or are just curious about Hispanic mythology, this is a great game to get started with.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, Switch, PS4 (coming soon); Publisher: Digiart Interactive; Developer: Digiart Interactive, N-Fusion Interactive; Players: 1; Released: May 26, 2021; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.