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Project Sylpheed (Xbox 360) artwork

Project Sylpheed (Xbox 360) review

"Some games are better for being bigger. More levels, more space, more freedom, more characters, more plotlines, more things to do. Given that Project Sylpheed has the Square Enix brand plastered all over it, and is marketed as being "from the makers of Final Fantasy" (despite Square Enix having no developmental input), you might be forgiven for expecting Project Sylpheed to be such a game. Nonetheless, you would be mistaken - Project Sylpheed is the kind of game that manages to succeed because o..."

Some games are better for being bigger. More levels, more space, more freedom, more characters, more plotlines, more things to do. Given that Project Sylpheed has the Square Enix brand plastered all over it, and is marketed as being "from the makers of Final Fantasy" (despite Square Enix having no developmental input), you might be forgiven for expecting Project Sylpheed to be such a game. Nonetheless, you would be mistaken - Project Sylpheed is the kind of game that manages to succeed because of its small size. Instead of offering a vast expanse of what may have been admittedly very good content, Project Sylpheed offers a small, but very refined package.

Project Sylpheed is a follow up, a spiritual sequel of sorts, to the side-scrolling shooter Silpheed that has popped up on a few occasions throughout the generations - but other than being set in space, and involving shooting, there are few similarities, and the connection is in name only. Project Sylpheed is a fully 3D arcade style shooter, in which you fly around various locales attempting to shoot down the enemy and, where possible, protect allies. Fairly straightforward stuff, no beating around the bush, no pretending to be "innovative" or "revolutionary", just simple, wholesome shooting action at its mouthwatering best.

There is a plot (not a particularly original one), but it is there, and it achieves its purpose of helping the story flow and motivating the player to hate the enemy. RPG veterans will be able to see developments happening from miles away, but fortunately, the plot, this time round, takes a backseat to the action. Taking lead role is Katana Faraway, a young up-and-coming pilot fresh out of training who finds himself in the middle of a galactic war in the 27th century. Supporting roles include the hero's best friend/obligatory love interest (Ellen), the archetypal long-haired angst-ridden antagonist (Margras), the level headed captain (Crichton), and so on. These characters could well have wandered into the wrong set on the way to an anime, but while they won't be winning awards, the cast and the plot they follow does a good enough job at keeping things interesting.

When not engaged in dramatic saga, Katana will be piloting his shiny new prototype fighter across the reaches of space, fighting the good fight in the name of the Terra Central Armed Forces, the protagonists of our story. This is where things get fun. Katana can initially equip his fighter with a basic but effective set of weapons including guns, missiles, the usual suspects. As the story progresses, he will earn points in missions which can be used for the research and development of new and better weapons and toys for a variety of different purposes - multi-warhead missiles for enemies in formation, guided torpedoes for downing enemy ships, and some fancy explosives for incinerating everything in a 1000 meter radius. And lasers. Mustn't forget lasers. Weapon suitability changes not only depending on enemy numbers but also location - for example, inertia driven bombs and mines become near unusable when fighting in the atmosphere of a planet, as the pull of gravity will interfere with their flight paths, so a setup for one mission is not always ideal for the next. Katana will find himself relying on everything in his considerable arsenal as the battle against the anti-heroic ADAN Freedom Alliance rages on.

Said battle provides the setting for the games missions, which break down into objectives that need to be completed. Objectives usually entail some variation of "kill all the enemies" with the occasional "kill these specific enemies" thrown in, and on just a few occasions, "protect this poor defenseless friendly until it can escape". Again, there is nothing that won't be familiar to experienced gamers, but the tasks you will receive are easy enough to understand so as to allow freedom and fun to aid their execution. Once you get into the general pattern of just shooting anything not marked as friendly, you will begin to appreciate the combat more and more.

You will start by shooting down other fighters, progress to large groups of fighters, and from there, small destroyers, and then cruisers, and so on and so forth. The game excels at delivering tension and adrenaline at crucial moments, the rush you get from bombing an enemy destroyer into submission is instantly replaced by pure fear as a nearby anti-air frigate blasts you to within an inch of fiery death and you desperately try to pilot the rickety remains of your fighter back to its carrier, the TCAF Acropolis, for much needed repairs.

Combat will of course come in many shapes and sizes - while enemy fighters and their red-shirted pilots will not require much thought to deal with, enemy ships and more skilled pilots will be more testing. Each enemy warship is like an open-ended mission in itself; there are several ways to tackle them. Blindly shooting at them with powerful weapons can work but is risky as no self respecting captain is going to sit there and let you sink their ship. Smarter options include aiming for their weapons to render them harmless, their shield generators to weaken their defenses, their bridges to disorient them, or their engines to immobilize them. What options you take depend on personal taste and your mission - sometimes you won't have time to destroy a fleet of enemies, but if they're threatening a crucial target, you can just destroy their main weapons and leave them alone. Enemy ace pilots will require you to draw on all of your fighters' capabilities, including speed matching, drifting, fast turns and a range of special attacks.

The nuances of combat take a while to learn, but once you grasp the controls (which can be simplified and customised as you wish) and find a weapon setup you like, you will have more and more fun as you get better and better at delivering missiles to the enemy. Occasionally, you will be required to cease your habit of indiscriminate slaughter and start targeting specific objectives, but such occasions are rare. The average objective takes about 10 minutes to complete, and the average mission contains 2 objectives.

To add a sense of daring to these missions, each also contains a number of sub-objectives, the catch being that you are not informed in advance of what they are. Given the context of war, this makes sense, as your top priority mission is all your commanders are concerned with, and sub-objectives are implied at their most obvious. They tend to fall into the realms of destroying specific targets and accomplishing feats - on occasion, squadrons of enemy ace pilots will intrude on your missions and yield a sub-objective completion upon their demise. Sometimes, you are rewarded for merely completing your main objective quickly or without sustaining damage, and others you are commended for going above and beyond the call of duty - targeting enemy ships threatening friendlies is one way of doing this, ensuring the survival of all ships in the allied fleet another.

The only really significant flaw in the gameplay that needs to be addressed is the issue of arbitrary time limits that pop up if you take too long to finish a mission. "Too long" can, however, feel just a tad too short for new players, or if you haven't unlocked some of the more powerful weapons yet. In certain missions, you will be told out of the blue that "We we will be unable to continue combat in 3 minutes!" with no justification or context, even in situations where there should logically be no time constraints at all. Fortunately, you will quickly learn to be more and more efficient in your slaughter of enemy units, and these time limits will become a non-issue.

The game's Achievements are handled by way of awarding medals in the traditional army fashion. Some are obtained simply as plot progression, others are awarded for the completion of sub objectives, and others are simply statistical milestones - such as destroying certain numbers of enemies. Between achievements, sub-objectives, the ranking for each mission, and the option of Hard Mode and the point multipliers that come with it, you will have more than enough to warrant a second, third, fourth, fifth playthrough.

Aesthetics wise, Project Sylpheed delivers yet again. The space locales are breathtaking and exhibit variety, from open expanses, to asteroid belts, to upper atmospheres, to abandoned space-stations and more. Warships, fighters and the various objects that float around in space are detailed up close and don't pop up into view. Cutscenes are of decent quality - again, not revolutionary but just very good. The music (tending towards fast paced techno to keep with the adrenaline pumping theme though not afraid to slow down for important plot events) is excellently implemented and, combined with the frantic action and all the pretty lines that pepper your Heads Up Display will ensure your concentration is well exercised.

Project Sylpheed has a fun, replayable, and (most importantly) complete and refined single player experience, but alas, there is no multiplayer, not even split screen. Oddly enough, this is not the blow to the heart that one might expect - playing through the campaign, one gets the feeling that multiplayer just wouldn't work so well, or perhaps no good idea on how to implement it could be agreed upon. But by no means does this ruin the game - it just comes across as the one unfortunate thing that we will have to deal with in exchange for the refined single player mode.

In Summary:

+ Fast, Frantic Action
+ Customizable weapons facilitate changing strategies
+ Nothing forgotten, nothing overdone or overemphasized
+ Easy, Normal and Hard modes to accomodate all players
+ Well implemented sub-objectives
+ Many incentives to replay

~ Steep learning curve
- No Multiplayer
- While replayable, game is short

Verdict: Project Sylpheed has so much to offer and asks so little in return that even without multiplayer, any fan of space action or even flight sims should give it a go.

Rating: 8/10

Fedule's avatar
Community review by Fedule (December 05, 2008)

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