After an incredibly long wait, the fifth installment in the long-running Shantae series has finally leaped to consoles and PC after being an Apple Arcade exclusive. I’ve been following this series since its GBC debut back in 2002 and have been eagerly following the development of Seven Sirens since it was first announced as just Shantae 5. That said, with this port having had plenty of time in development (along with multiple delays), my expectations were fairly high. Is it able to top Shantae & The Pirate’s Curse (the fan-favorite and arguably the definitive Shantae experience), or is it one fan can safely skip over? Let’s set sail for a mysterious island and find out.
Seven Sirens opens with a fantastic anime-styled introduction. Had I not known any better, I would’ve thought it was a scrapped intro for an animated series under the 4Kids branding back in the mid-’00s. Having Shantae voiced by the uber-talented and equally attractive voice actor Christina Valenzuela aka Christina Vee is always the hype too. It was a good way to let the player know that Wayforward stepped up the presentation for this entry considerably, as every other title in the series kicked things off with stills and dialogue boxes.
Following this flashy intro and creating a new save file, there’s yet another solid cutscene setting the stage for the game’s plot. Shantae and co. have arrived at a lovely island resort for a much-needed vacation, with plans to attend a Half-Genie festival (as it turns out, our purple-haired heroine isn’t the only one her kind around). It doesn’t take long for things to go wrong (since when has any video game character ever been able to take a real vacation…dragons and plumbers certainly haven’t had much luck), and Shantae finds herself wrapped up in a rescue mission after the other half-genies get snatched up. I appreciate the effort put into not only the presentation but the story itself. It’s a bit more involved than the previous games, which often boiled down to “Risky Boots went and did something bad. Now go fix it and save the world.”. (Not to worry though, the series antagonist IS here…but I’m not about to spoil anything.)
Admittedly, Half-Genie Hero was a divisive entry among fans due to its linear stage-based design. Seven Sirens is a return to form as it borrows the same progression system. The open-world/Metroidvania style of play that Pirate’s Curse pulled off so well. In the seven or so hours you’ll spend tackling the adventure, you’ll find yourself visiting towns, interacting with NPCs, and upgrading your abilities before delving into one of the game’s several dungeons in pursuit of one of the lost half-genies. Of course, there are plenty of secrets to discover, heart squids to collect (to upgrade your HP per usual), and many paths you’ll need to return to later after acquiring new abilities. There are, however, a few new additions to the standard gameplay loop.
First and foremost is an entirely new card system. Whenever you defeat an enemy, there’s a possibility that it’ll drop a trading card. Collecting enough of a respective enemy’s cards will allow you to apply up to three stat boosts. The crab, for instance, will allow Shantae to crawl faster. Another will increase the damage done by the staple hair whip attack, and some might even allow you to fall into pits and on spikes without taking damage.
Second is the addition of Fusion Magic, which is a set of four powers that Shantae will obtain. After rescuing her fellow half-genies and combining powers with the aid of fusion stones. These replace the standard transformations found in previous games, but the way they are handled alongside the more active upgrades works in the game’s favor. The new series of creature transformations are now handled using the face buttons instead of holding the dance button and waiting. To me, this was a major improvement over past games in the series. It was a smart choice to have the more situational upgrades mapped to the dancing mechanic (which takes longer to toggle) and have the ones you’ll be using most frequently available at will with the push of a button once unlocked.
Despite the stellar presentation, the well-crafted world design, and pacing improvements…there are some issues worth bringing up. First, and perhaps the most noteworthy, is that the game is really easy. Throughout the course of my first playthrough (clocking in at just a little over 7 hours), I did not die once or even come close to it. While the Shantae games are not necessarily known for being difficult, I was effectively able to shut my brain off by the time I reached the endgame on account of having so many healing items at my disposal alongside the perks of the trading card system. I was expecting a final gauntlet akin to Pirate’s Curse, which served as a solid final test of the player’s knowledge of Shantae’s abilities. As such, I was a little disappointed that I could have (theoretically) gotten hit by every enemy and obstacle thrown at me and still would’ve come out on top.
Second, are the load times. I wouldn’t have minded them so much if it weren’t for the fact that I was greeted with a 15-20 second load screen between numerous parts of the world. Seven Sirens may look fantastic, but I can’t see how or why it would be taxing my PS4 to the point where this was necessary. In a game where backtracking is a necessity, it starts to become a bit of a nuisance. Interestingly, PC users with decent rigs appear to be having the same issue. Hopefully, some sort of patch will be issued out in the weeks to come.
Even with the relative ease and performance quirks, I’d say Seven Sirens was worth the wait for long time fans of the series. If you’ve followed the series up to this point, it will scratch that itch you might have had since Pirate’s Curse as it’s more of the same with a buffed-up presentation and some tweaks to the core Shantae mechanics. If you haven’t, I’d strongly advise checking out Curse first as it’s a bit cheaper and will give you a taste of what this series is all about before diving into this grander adventure.
Final Verdict- 8 heart squids out of 10