Title  : Cardinal Syn
Platforms  : Sony PlayStation
Publisher  : 989 Studios
Game Rating  : 7.8
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Fighters. Racers. Racers. Fighters. Today, the gaming scene is swamped with these two genres. Only the occasional title is superior to the rest. From Sony's own 989 Studios comes Cardinal Syn, a PlayStation fighting game that falls in with "the rest." 

In a medieval, war-stricken world, only the power promised by the Book of Knowledge can lead a clan to victory. Several warriors have been chosen to compete, and to finally win the artifact from its keeper, the woman known as Syn. 

Battles occur in 3D fashion. There a button for "3D roam," allowing the freedom to run in any direction despite the characters' positions. (without running, such movement is still possible, but is slower and less direct) Otherwise, movement is standard, save for jump not being Up, but its own button. 

The fighting is neither unusual nor complex. There are three basic moves: overhead, side, and low strikes. Special attacks aren't special, but are unspectacular moves strung together to form combos easily disrupted or reversed by the opposition. The simple combat style makes the game easy to pick up, but also diminishes its replay value. 

Only eight characters are available first, though others are hidden, accessible later. No matter which character one may choose, it seems there will always be an opponent who fights tougher and dirtier than the rest, readily halting one's progress. 

There are a variety of unique arenas in which to duke it out. Each has its own traps and pitfalls, from poison lakes to randomly-fired arrows. There are no "ring-outs" (losing by being removed from the arena, such as by falling off) or outright-fatal snares. Although being able to work an opponent into such a trap is great, being struck down suddenly by an unseen and unexpected force is frustrating; it pits the player against the environment, not the other warrior. 

Beautiful full-motion video (FMV) sequences introduce the game and each character's background. But once the engagements start, the graphics are typical for a 3D fighter. The arenas and characters are smooth and dark, unlike the large, polygonal sprites of Mace, the 3D fighter for Nintendo 64. Bloody attacks leave their marks on the surroundings. But, overall, Battle Arena Toshinden had more interesting graphics three years ago. Although rare, it is possible for the camera to suddenly reverse when the characters achieve an awkward position, which may momentarily disorient gamers. 

Music does the game few favors. The tunes stick to the background and are easily forgettable. The clashing of weapons makes for great sound effects, but the fighters themselves have little to add. Some screams or digitized speech would have helped. 

There's nothing that sets Cardinal Syn apart from other mediocre 3D fighters. From the battle system to the characters to the music, it's simply dull. Though easy to play, it's not worth playing for long. The only "syn" here is on Sony's behalf, for not living up to their own usual standards of excellence.

This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 07-Sep-98