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Sairento VR (PlayStation 4) artwork

Sairento VR (PlayStation 4) review


"Locogasm"


Movement in VR, the actual act of moving your character from place to place in a first-person perspective, is a tricky design issue. There's a chance that it's going to feel really weird, awkward, or, worst-case scenario, give you motion-sickness. That said, it's not really surprising that so many developers outright avoid this dilemma with examples that include moving characters with a fade out, or just having them stay in one spot for an entire stage. There's also another commonly-used method: locomotion. Basically, you pick a highlighted spot within a stage, and your character automatically navigates to that area. That's it. Some perform this better than others, but ultimately, it's more a byproduct of developers not wanting a virtual mess on their hands.

Interestingly, the team behind Sairento VR flaunts its locomotion system as a major highlight.

Because ninjas. Or so it seems at first. Taking place in a technologically-advanced future with Japanese cyberpunk influences, you control Chieko, a cybernetic ninja skilled in a wide selection of weapons and gifted with incredible agility. These are more than mere descriptions that set up the game's world; faced against other cybernetic beings that include samurai, hacked geisha, and teleporting kunoichi, you must constantly run and hop around enclosed city streets, giant trains, factories, and even cemeteries to survive... with a locomotion system. Sounds concerning, but don't worry: the game controls fantastically with the Move controllers. The funny thing? It basically follows the same principles that other locomotive titles abide by.



Once you complete the campaign's mandatory tutorial that tell you about 90 and 180 degree turns, pulling out weapons, reloading, and sliding on the ground, the game just throws you into combat and expects you to master them on the go. Enemies home in on you nonstop, unleashing attacks until you either die or move out of their view; you'll want to move... a lot. Point at a location in an arching fashion, and you'll leap an absurd height until you land there. There's also double and triple jumps if you want to stay in flight longer or go for a downward pouncing. The nice thing about being airborne is that you can still attack, so use that opportunity to kill one or several opponents with a pistol. Or dual pistols. Or a semi-auto. A shotgun. A bow and arrow. Or, with a simple upgrade, even a charged projectile sword attack. From the start, the game isn't stingy about weapon selection.

The aforementioned is just a small sampling of the potential freedom you can have. For a locomotion system that's supposed to feel restricted, the Sairento VR team managed to make it feel like natural movement. For instance, if you pick a close destination without arching, Chieko literally just skips to that spot; in some titles, you would have to wait for a walking animation to run its course before moving again, but that filler is cut out here. Imagine performing this "skip" maneuver several times in a row. Now imagine doing this in rapid succession during combat with the aid of the 90 and 180 degree turn buttons. Now imagine doing all of this without thinking about it just a couple of stages in.

Does that still sound awkward to pull off? Well, to put it another way, Sairento VR's system is about as seamless as jumping in a Mario game or running in a Sonic title; it's something you really don't think about because they're executed in a way that, many more times than not, doesn't impede gameplay, becoming part of the design's flow. Occasionally, you'll accidentally crash into a wall or get stuck on something in the spur of the moment, forcing you to adjust as enemies continue unleashing their fury. But as bothersome as that sounds, they actually come off as minor inconveniences, only becoming somewhat irritating on the highest difficulty settings. These brief annoyances don't come close to ruining the exhilarating sensation of pulling off fun acrobatic moves during tense encounters.

In one stage, you're placed in a towering, multi-leveled, chamber-like room, with bridges and scaffold-like structures connected to a central pillar. You're tasked with defeating 20-some enemies to beat the stage, and before you even have a chance to kill your first opponent, everyone is doing everything in their power to stop you; shotgun-wielding samurai are shooting from a distance and green-armored foes are unleashing three-way projectiles with barely no cooldown, for instance. As all this is happening, in the corner of your vision, you see more enemies running in from the sides, attempting a flank. You immediately do a combination of maneuvers to escape: rapidly skip away, double jump onto a wall, wall-run, and then double jump to a higher floor for a quick breather.

However, you see multiple samurai casually jump to the same floor and, in some cases, readying their attack animation. Even when you activate an ability that temporarily slows down time, you still feel the pressure. Screw your safety.



This is barely a few stages into the campaign, too. You're still getting used to the controls, which means you're screwing up a lot, but what's great is that you're not getting frustrated; it's exciting. Before long, you're easily taking down multiple foes, using a mix of weapons in both hands, a projectile-spewing claw, a magnum, and a scythe, to name a few more. You're compelled to crank up the difficulty along the way, and, as the action becomes more intense, this is where you truly realize how fluid the locomotion system is. In some cases, opponents and projectiles that were a room away suddenly get in your face with what feels like a blink of an eye, and you've become so in touch with the control scheme, that you handle it gracefully with a well-timed attack or hop escape. Eventually, you even become good at moving away without actually looking at where you're headed.

Sairento VR's unrestricted approach makes it a joy to play, to the point where it feels like this is how fast-paced, action-packed locomotion games should control for the PSVR. It's often seamless and intuitive, giving off an arcade-like vibe similar to 90s and early-2000s PC first-person shooters in regards to its earnest approach to combat. To further drive that notion home: the main menu basically hides the campaign mode at the bottom while goals, challenges, and even the loadout selections are positioned above. Speaking of selections, if for some reason the default control style isn't to your liking, a slew of choices await in the very thorough options menu, from switching on backflips and modifying the turn degrees, to just turning up the intensity of certain visual effects. Though, some of these are deactivated for the sake of preventing motion-sickness.

Sairento VR just wants you to have fun, basically.

4/5

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (August 26, 2019)

I can only imagine what the dev meeting for Yaksha's character design and animations were like...

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