If you were asked to imagine a spiritual sequel to Castle of Shikigami, Sisters Royale: Five Sisters Under Fire probably wouldn’t be what comes to mind. One is a dark urban fantasy about a paranormal investigation into a series of grisly murders; the other is a comical tale of five wonderfully crude witches who are destined to save the world, but too busy fighting amongst themselves over who gets to marry the most eligible angel bachelor to actually get there. To look at them side by side, at a glance, you’d never even guess that they were from the same developer, let alone connected in any way.
But as soon as you start playing Sisters Royale, the Castle of Shikigami DNA becomes immediately apparent. The unique systems that set the latter apart from its shoot ’em up contemporaries remain intact in Sisters Royale: a scoring system that rewards aggressive, risky play with score multipliers when you fly close to enemy bullets or get up in their face, and an eclectic cast who each wield a unique summon ability in addition to their regular magical bullets.
Indeed, if you’ve played Castle of Shikigami, you’ll find the skill sets of most Sisters Royale characters immediately familiar. With her straight shot pattern and ability to summon a familiar that homes in on enemies as long as it’s on screen, Sonay is essentially a carbon copy of Shikigami‘s Kohtaro Kuga, at least in terms of mechanics—and they’re both the default choice in their respective games, to boot. Sisters Royale‘s Selma channels Shikigami‘s Daejeong Kim with summoned swords that you control directly by doing circles with the same joystick that controls your movement, creating an interesting dynamic between mobility and attacking.
There’s even a thinly-disguised Shikigami cameo in Sisters Royale in the form of DLC character ODE, a witch who bears a striking resemblance to Shikigami‘s Fumiko Odette Van Stein. As in her previous appearances, ODE sports the unique ability to summon a powerful bolt of lightning—albeit one that’s manually aimed with an on-screen cursor that restricts your ability to move while it’s charging. It’s another ability that creates an interesting relationship between offence and dodging, though in a very different way to Selma.
It was this unique approach to character designs, along with the risk-reward system, that made Castle of Shikigami stand out. Almost 20 years later, Sisters Royale is still making an impact with those same elements.
That’s not to say that Sisters Royale isn’t without ideas of its own, though. Almost every level in the game comes with its own environmental factors to deal with, which are tied to the stage’s theme. In an ice-themed stage, you’ll have the slippery effect of fields of ice to contend with as you try to dodge the onslaught of enemy bullets, while a wind-themed stage is home to windmills and breezy gusts that try to push you around. My particular favourite is the dark-themed level, where visibility is limited and walls hidden in the darkness create roadblocks along the way.
And, as I mentioned right at the start, there’s Sisters Royale‘s wildly different tone and presentation. This is a bold, bright, colourful game where every UI element is designed to be as over-the-top cute as possible and where the stars of the show are a group of particularly thirsty witches. It’s absolutely, unapologetically ridiculous—a story about five sisters who are destined to defeat an evil demon and save the world, but are too busy fighting among themselves over who gets to marry the handsome angel that they’re all in love with.
Each stage pits one sister against another (or, on occasion, their own conscious), and the cutscenes that bookend these are hilarious. They’re all awful people, frankly, but each in their own unique way that matches their magical element, like ice-elemental Selma’s cold, conniving attitude, or Sonay’s hot temper and short fuse. The sisters constantly find entertaining ways to insult one another, and even their conscience’s struggle to pull them into line. It’s a ridiculous, over-the-top journey—a wild departure from the grim tone of Castle of Shikigami, but one that fits well with the systems that have carried over.
Where Sisters Royale falls a bit short, especially in comparison to its predecessors, is in its enemy design. The foes you encounter are all very generic magical creatures, with little variety among them in either visual design or attack patterns. Every boss except the final one is just one of the player characters, and cute as they are, they make a particularly anticlimactic appearance in a place you’d usually expect some huge, creative demon or some such. The bosses do offer slightly more interesting bullet patterns to deal with, but nothing especially noteworthy compared to many of the other shmups available today.
But even with those less-than-impressive encounter designs, Sisters Royale still delivers plenty of fun and scope for chasing high scores and building perfect runs. The real appeal is mastering a character’s unique abilities and finding the best ways to exploit the risk-reward scoring system, and that’s a satisfying journey. Coupled with the super-cute presentation, delightfully silly premise, and a cast of witchy sisters whose brattiness and rivalry delivers constant laughs, Sisters Royale: Five Sisters Under Fire is a whole lot of fun.
Sisters Royale: Five Sisters Under Fire is developed by Alfa System and published by Chorus Worldwide Games. It’s available now for Xbox One (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.