There are three things that make a good fighting game. Great graphics, a fun and thorough move list, and a gimic to separate it from the rest of the fighting games on the market. In the case of Cardinal Syn, two out of three aint bad. The graphics make it a pleasure to watch and the couple gimics that are used fit in nicely, but the amount of moves and combos available is annoingly limited especially when the two or three standby attacks fail to work and there is no other strategy to try.
The theme and atmosphere is the games strongest aspect. If you are looking for a fighting game with a dark midevil feel then this is it. Set against fantasy Dark Ages backdrop, Syn tells the story about a wise old man who united the fighting clans under peace with his teachings. However after his death, and war once again ravages the land, a wizardess, Syn, the title character, emerges. She holds a tournament to decide the supreme champion of the land deserving of her gift, instead of the reward of the three swords she gives him enough bolts to turn him into an ash pile. The game begins with a second tournament that features the heads of every clan fighting to see who is brave and strong enough to challenge Syn.
The characters are very nicely diverse. Basically every stereotype from mideveil England and the Dungeons and Dragons series are featured from an elf woman to a dwarf to a knight. There are nice additions including a crazy jester and a character named Plague who lives among the filth and looks like someone suffering from, well, the plague. The nice thing is that even though they are familiar fantasy characters, they all have their own personalities that are very pronounced and original unlike Ken and Ryu rip-offs or generic martial artists you see in many fighting games. Of course there are secert characters which include the three bosses.
The fighting environments are what really separate the game from its counterparts. Every stage is set in a room in which a player can move around very freely much like in Busido Blade. It even uses the analog controller which gives it a true 3-D feel. In each environment there are hazards and pick-ups which throw a nice fighting strategy into the mix. You can race to get the sword power-up or position yourself to try and knock your opponent into the spikes. Every environment is very different and actually looks a like real room, as opposed to a square platform in the middle of backround. There are no backrounds, only walls...that hurt! Also each room contains hazards like a moving coal cart in the mines or a spinning Jester head in the crazy joker's habitat that will trip you up if you are not careful.
Despite the neat gimmicks that enhance the feel and strategy of fighting in a true 3-D environment, the game falls short in the realm of depth. Each character is equipped with an apprporiate weapon that can be swung at three different levels. Player can also block, push, and use magic againt the opponents. There is also a nice roam feature which allows players to run around the room freely to plan attacks or retieve power-ups. The problem was that after only a few rounds of playing, the computer was ready for all of my moves, and I ran out of choices. This became very troublesome as the opponents became near-impossible to beat. The game makes up for this problem by providing hazards to use to an advantage and only allowing a limited energy for the shield. Also each character has one special move that acts as a fatality destroying the opposing foe with one slash of the sword.
To put this game in a "must have" category is questionable. Though it does posses a great fighting engine with many options and tons of nicely spouting blood that remains on the ground and on the player. The fighting itself becomes repetitive and difficult. However if you are looking for something easy to learn and fun to watch especially for two players and fans of the fantasy genre, then this is the game for you. Do me a favor though, don't step in the green puddles in Plague's dungeon...That stuff is lethal.
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