I currently have 340+ hours of Diablo 3 logged on my Nintendo Switch. The gameplay loop is addictive and despite it being repetitive, the expected tedium never sets in. It’s because the mechanics marry together in a seamless manner, creating a memorable loot grind that’s exciting. So it’s no surprise that some developers strive to dabble in that formula. Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards for Nintendo Switch and PC is an ARPG loot collectathon based on a comic of the same name. What immediately jumped to my attention was the Latina protagonist. The inclusion of Inca Mythology also piqued my interest as it’s not something you normally see.
With aspirations of standing toe-to-toe beside other ARPG juggernauts, does it succeed or is it a shard too short?
A MOTHER’S LOVE! (Story Synopsis)
The narrative follows a female lead who shares a namesake with this game’s title – Aluna. As a child, dark forces summoned a meteor to come hurtling towards her. The goal was her death but the little girl’s mother – the Earth Goddess Pachamama – had other plans. She lunges towards the space rock, pummeling it and left defenseless; her powers scatter in the shape of shards – all except one. Now a young woman, Aluna wears the stone around her neck; it represents Pachamama’s heart. With her mother’s love to guide her, she sets off. It won’t be an easy journey, however, as another stands in the way – Nagaric.
Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards recounts the harrowing tale of a daughter rescuing her mother. The once peaceful Tairona Village is invaded by Nagaric and the Jivaro clan. He bestowed a curse upon the animals and rose the undead to aid in this fight. Join Aluna as she ventures through several locales such as forests, temples, beaches, and more in search of her mother’s essence. Be wary though; along the way, various deities have succumbed to the curse as well, undergoing frightening transformations. Will Aluna be successful or will she come face-to-face with a truth far more devious than previously thought?
IS THIS A COMIC BOOK!?! (Writing)
As a whole, the story isn’t grandiose and while serviceable, it lacks in areas. One of these is personality – the characters aren’t very emotive. Voice-acting did help breathe a tiny bit of life into the dialogue but because it too is subpar, it could only do so much. If there was a minor addition of stereotyping, I believe it would’ve added a sense of believability. For instance, Aluna is based on a Latina, and many I’ve known have fit the stereotype – fiery and full of cheek. She would have felt more grounded in reality if she’d offer snark. While I certainly wouldn’t want it to be her defining trait, having it accompany her inner strength would’ve given her a sense of individuality. Not to mention the absent banter would be significantly rectified with snappy rebuttals.
This genre is exploding in competition so to have devoid characters without any stand-out qualities is a detriment. There should be a focused effort to make this universe feel alive. Give it some substantial lore and expand on the current happenings. I do adore the comic-like presentation of the story and how it stays true to its roots. It also does an amicable job moving the plot forward. Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards borrows from an interesting mythos though, so I would’ve loved to dive deeper. For instance, there are deities in-game that have fallen victim to Nagaric’s curse. This could’ve used more explanation to help contextualize how exactly it happened. Or those periodic quips that while welcomed, were primarily flavorless and dull. These snippets were the perfect opportunities to inject playful jabs between comrades. Having some sort of semblance of quirk would have gone a long way.
LOOK AT THE TREASURE! (Gameplay)
I’m happy to report Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards maintains the addictiveness of its brethren. There is, however, a slight caveat to that. You see, there are various quality-of-life adjustments conspicuously absent. While enemies still drop buckets of equipment, choosing which to use proves to be a tedious slog. That’s because upon locating armaments, there’s no way to quickly check their stats. Instead of perhaps appearing briefly on-screen with an option to quick-equip, it went straight to my inventory. In order to see the attributes it affected, I needed to pause, maneuver a barebones UI, then choose the category before finding the specific item.
In other words, my biggest gripe is precisely just how varied the loot pool is. It’s not that there’s necessarily too much – after all, variety is the spice of life. The headache comes about because of what this means for the player. See, it’s entirely possible to stumble on a new weapon, with bracers following seconds later. Having to continuously pause added up quickly and interrupted the natural flow of the action. In fact, during the early stages of my session, I spent more time navigating menus as opposed to actually playing. ARPG’s demand fluidity and that’s why seeing such a frugal QoL addition being skipped is puzzling. Eventually, I tried mitigating this by limiting the amount of times I checked my new spoils. On lower difficulties, this is actually a viable strategy, however, it becomes obsolete the higher the challenge. Item drops become far more common but in exchange, enemies are stronger. This forced me to be on top of my gear, constantly checking. So much so that I reverted to normal because it became too arduous a task.
CUSTOMIZE YOUR GIRL (Gameplay)
One facet I quite liked was, depending on rarity, armaments carried an assortment of perks. These ranged from a better critical rate to increasing gold earned. If, say, you acquire a weapon with phenomenal melee but a flimsy perk, don’t fret. The merchants in towns you’ve visited allow you to reroll for a price. By stacking the gold growth bonuses, this tiny issue is essentially inconsequential. That hundred you’d get from killing a monster is suddenly two hundred. I had endless chances to experiment but sadly had to primarily work on defense – and not by choice. For some inane reason, ranged attacks from enemies are lethal. Magic users are especially potent and killed me on quite a few occasions. One other feature missing from Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards is equipment sets. Those full-body armor get-ups that if worn together granted special abilities or further stat boosts. It’s a real bummer too because that always encouraged me to loot hunt so I could cash in on the incentives.
Finally, character builds are surprisingly flexible. There are three stances that Aluna can choose between: Melee, Magic, and Ranged. It was exceedingly straightforward to customize her fighting style. Additionally, she also has three different skill-trees, each contributing to one of the specialties above. It was absolutely possible to create a powerful wizard or a bloodthirsty archer. If I ever grew tiresome of my current style, I could easily change my stats by spending a bit of gold. I loved this because it kept my options open and afforded me a way to constantly change up how I played. Bundle this act with the perks that are attainable and Aluna can realistically become a versatile killing machine that can alternate on a whim.
JUST TAKE IT SLOW! (Performance)
I’ll be honest, despite its shortcomings, I was prepared to recommend Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards. The loot-a-thon is as engaging as one would expect. The fun I had was genuine but then an evident lack of polish reared its ugly head. Playing on the Nintendo Switch at least, it struggled to maintain a steady framerate. This was most predominant whenever enemies filled the screen. It was puzzling because at first glance. I didn’t think the clay-like aesthetic would be troublesome. Reality dictates otherwise, however, and the stuttering persisted. Furthermore, as I’ve already touched on, the UI is basic, consisting of a solid colored background and squares. So imagine my shock when a frivolous task like selling items felt sluggish. Oddly enough, this only applied when my inventory was moderately full. As it dwindled, the act itself progressively got faster.
CRASH AND BURN! (Performance)
Crashes suck, especially when you lose several hours of game-time suddenly. So it’s rather fortunate that this game chronically auto-saves. I suffered two in my entire session and I’m not sure what triggered them. The first came about during the transition screen after I had fast-traveled back to town. Then the second occurred during a cut-scene. When it wasn’t crashing on me, though, it was most definitely locking up. I, again, haven’t the foggiest notion why something like that happened. Something about having turned in a quest angered Aluna enough to refuse to move. In an ironic twist, that obsessive auto-saving habit turned out to be this game’s saving grace – it’s rather poetic, innit?
GRAPHICAL HICCUPS (Performance)
I couldn’t begin to address how jarring it is to see dead bodies while in town. It’s like after The Jivaro invaded Tairona Village, the inhabitants opted to keep the corpses out as a deterrent. Whenever I’d visit, it was a constant reminder of the lack of polish. That wasn’t the only blunder either as character models disappeared completely at times. To be fair, though, that particular hitch happened only once. It also rectified itself within seconds, unlike the dead people that remained visible throughout.
AND THE LOOTER VERDICT IS…
Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards retains that addictive loop of loot but falters in performance. It’s clear that the game wasn’t properly optimized, at least for the Switch, leading to stutters, crashes, and graphical disappearing acts. The fidelity itself isn’t bad with a clay-like aesthetic and the focus on Inca Mythology felt fresh and was welcomed. While it could have benefited from livelier characters, the narrative sufficed and provided something to chew on as I played. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that gameplay is king here and the experience is worth having, albeit at a discounted price. Its current state doesn’t render it unplayable, but having to sit through crashes shouldn’t happen in a game that never tests the console. That chronic auto-saving certainly softens the blow. For that very reason, I declare that;
WAIT FOR SALE FOR ALUNA: SENTINEL OF THE SHARDS
Many thanks go to Digiart Interactive for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
Support High-Quality And Detailed Coverage
Want to support the cost of us bringing you these articles or just buy us a coffee for a job well done? Click the Ko-fi button below. You can even find some digital goodies in our shop~!
Painfully single, but still somehow a master of dad jokes. If asked, he’ll answer it’s for his inner child. Fabio enjoys JRPG’s and has embraced his anime love.