Review: Sylia (PC)

10 mins read

JRPG’s (or Japanese role-playing games) are a funny genre. Every game usually has the same storyline and the same characters (or minor variations of either), yet there are very few of these types of games that don’t sell like hotcakes. Final Fantasy is the most recognizable brand of JRPG, but there are plenty of others: Legend of the Dragoon, Dragon Quest, Xenogears, Chrono Cross and Earthbound are examples of JRPG-styled games that were big titles in their own time. Usually these games are found on consoles, with the PlayStation, throughout all its iterations, seeming to have picked up from the NES and SNES in hosting the lion’s share of them.

Sylia is a game based off the JRPG concept of turn-based combat and “random” encounters but comes to us on the PC. It is a typical game with the typical JRPG story and typical game mechanics. It is, by all measures, a typical game. Which of course means it is also riddled with the typical flaws that any typical game comes with.

The game starts typically enough; you are greeted by an epic hero who quickly gathers a party and is immediately tasked with saving the world from an evil presence. The party runs off to the evildoer’s hideout and confronts her, only to be immediately turned to stone along with the rest of the human race.

Okay, so maybe the story isn’t that typical.

This is right before you get turned to stone.
Without the epic heroes being able to stop this evil presence, the main villain proceeds to try and sap all the energy from the planet. Being unopposed, she is able to do this with little problem. That is, of course, until the pets of the heroes decide they need to stop her.
Yes, you heard me right: a pet cat and a pet dog band together in an attempt to stop an evil alien presence that their masters, people regarded as epic heroes, failed to stop. While this is certainly an interesting deviation from the standard cast of JRPG characters, I’m at a bit of a loss to say whether it’s a step up or down.
Regardless, the game consists largely of your party (which starts to acquire other animals along the way, such as a chicken, a wolf and even a butterfly, among others) trying to follow this evil alien and put a stop to her reign of terror. A simple and typical JRPG story with a minor twist; it left me wanting much more, especially considering how many times the plot resorts to little more than chasing the villain to the next location of importance.
The game mechanics are easy enough to deal with: you move about the world map as you would in a Final Fantasy game, encountering other animals (naturally) that you can fight to gain experience. These animals include everything from bears and boars to hydras and griffons, to bipedal frogs and sentient plants. When you get into a battle, you are presented with the typical turn-based combat found in JRPG’s: you select orders for your party and they will enact them in order of whose speed attribute is highest, with enemies acting somewhere in that order.
The unique powers that each character has are interesting and styled correctly for each individual that it’s useful to go through and arrange your party to your liking. That being said, many characters end up being useless when new ones join the party: the chicken has an ability that allows him to come back to life and counter attack an enemy once a battle, but this becomes largely useless when his attack power lets him deal zero damage to enemies. The balancing of characters seems hugely swayed because of this, pointing towards certain characters that seem like they are meant to be used.
This structured design for characters and the party as a whole actually counters a foundation of JRPG’s: the ability to design your party the way you want. In Final Fantasy VII, Cloud was a mainstay but you could arrange the other characters around him depending on how you wanted to play the game. Each character was balanced enough that there were no “wrong” parties, though some worked better than others.
The level design in Sylia bears some hints of ingenuity but largely fails its mark and winds up being frustrating; multiple portions of the game require you to pass through designed areas with little to no direction on which way to go. You could spend hours wandering around these maps trying to figure out which way the exit is with no success. One of the early portions of the game requires you to pass through a jungle and I actually got lost for a good two hours simply trying to find my way out. Once I finally did, I audibly sighed, so happy I was to have passed through. Heck, you have to pass over a mountain at one point and, even when I had an idea of what I was doing, it still took me an hour-and-a-half to reach the other side.
That mountain sucks.

The cutscenes are a bit on the frustrating side as well. Besides the obvious lack of an editor for the script, the text scrolling that appears at the bottom of the screen does nothing to engage the player. The characters seen in cutscenes don’t move about the screen and the dialogue is largely heavy-handed and boring; all in all, the cutscenes are exercises in patience and button-clicking to get by as quickly as possible.

The most interesting part of the entire game is the fact that it was created using RPG Maker, a do-it-yourself, WYSIWYG-style game designer. For such a project, Sylia is actually a fairly ambitious project: it offers quite a bit of gameplay despite its origins and is charming in its own little ways. However, because most of that gameplay time is eaten up by trying to navigate poor level design, I can’t say that you’ll always enjoy it.
It’s kind of disheartening to be this critical of a game but I have to be honest. It really boils down to the fact that Sylia is a project completed by people using RPG Maker and, while the game is ambitious, it largely fails. To me, the craziest part of all this is that, to play this game, you have to lay down $20. That’s more than you have to pay for amazing games such as Machinarium, Magicka or Beyond Good & Evil HD, all of which are worth far more than this game. The fact that the developers also offer a guide for $7 is also a bit of an insult, considering it’s nearly a necessity if you want to actually complete the game.
If you’re really itching for a JRPG fix, I’d suggest looking elsewhere. Sylia isn’t it unplayable and, I have to admit, it does have its own style of charm. That being said, the game is largely flawed and I was hard-pressed to find much fun in the experience. Besides that, $20 is far too steep a price to ask for a game that needs serious revision and editing. I’d recommend spending your hard-earned cash elsewhere.
– Nick J

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