I'd rather pilot the Argo
Like most gee... er, video game fans, I’ve long been a fan of all things that involve space, ships, and spikey haired, big eyed people in funny costumes flying around in space ships, fighting off yet another invasion by evil aliens (is there any other kind?). Throw is some Japanimation and we’re talking about a genre that’s been a staple of my life since childhood. Whether it was Macross/Robotech, Gundam Wing, or – and I’m dating myself here – the twin classics of my youth, Force Five and Star Blazers, it’s never been hard for me to go all in on some intergalactic combat mixed with bad melodrama.
[image1]Well, the good news is that Project Sylpheed – the newest Japanese import for the Xbox 360 – takes place in just such a universe, and all the elements of a good space opera are here. It’s 500 years in the future and the human race has spread its wings and colonized space. Of course, as is usually the case with colonization, this spreading of the empire (in this case, the Terran forces) has hurt some feelings which has spawned the rebel ADAN “Freedom Alliance,” who’ve declared war on the dastardly imperial bastards. (Think the American Revolution only with better weapons and rocket-horse drawn vehicles.)
Anyway, you’re Katana and you and your best friend Margras have come down on different sides of this conflict and it’s basically up to you to stop your best friend and those pesky rebels (in other words, you have the cooler name but you fight for the Man). For those keeping score at home, we’ve got spikey haired, big eyed teenagers in funny costumes flying cool space ships involved in bad melodrama … so the anime story elements hold up, but how’s the game?
[image2]For starters, Project Sylpheed certainly looks the part. From the streamlined space fighter, to the solar system you streak through, down to the action the game looks great, certainly better than any anime I watched as a kid. The animation is clean and colorful and looks real pretty on a big screen, high def TV. So, it looks good but, as they (read: people less shallow than myself) say, beauty is only skin-deep and what matters is what’s inside: in this case gameplay.
Alas, the game is not quite so good as it looks. The controls are relatively easy to get a handle on and it won’t take long before you’re streaking through space and shooting down enemy fighters, dodging their attacks and space debris as you do so. Keeping with the spirit of the genre Project Sylpheed accompanies all this flying with a bubblegum pop score that keeps your feet boppin’ while your fingers furiously work the controller.
The game also offers you plenty of opportunity to build up your star fighters offering a multitude of options in the way of weapons, shields and even offers special moves (for example, being able to slow time, making it easier to get a handle on a particularly slippery opponents) for you to earn. You can also customize the many controls to whatever buttons you wish, which is helpful because there are a lot of things to control. Your radar shows your position, where your mother ship is, where all your co-pilots are, where all your enemies are, etc.
Ah, but there’s the rub: There’s a lot going on the screen at all times, a whole lot. In fact, too much, and it’s not hard to lose your focus. To me there’s always a fine line with games like this between realism and playability. Personally, I stand on the side of the line where realism shouldn't get in the way of playability. I’m sure flying a jet fighter (the present day equivalent of these space fighters) involves dealing with a lot of blips on a lot of screens, but there’s a reason I didn’t join the Air Force (aside from the whole issue with grades and a penchant for laying on the couch playing video games), but I digress …
[image3]Another problem is that cut scenes often look better than the game itself. In this, the dawn of high-def gaming, I thought we’d left behind the days when you’d watch cut scenes and wish the game looked/played like that, but not so with Project Sylpheed. Also, my issue with the cut scenes extends beyond just the graphics. The scenes themselves are often very long to the point that the story they make up could play as a short anime movie, which is fine. The problem with this is that the game itself is hardly as interesting and it’s never a good thing when the gameplay is a step down from the preamble … just ask my wife.
While on the subject of shallowness it should be mentioned that Project Sylpheed’s gameplay is hardly deep. Most of the missions involve protecting one large ship or another as they try to reach a certain planet or solar system, so there’s not a ton of diversity. There are side missions offered but nothing to speak of, and unlike the classic space dogfighter Colony Wars, certainly nothing that will have you coming back to replay the game once you’ve finished it.
In the end, Project Sylpheed isn’t a bad game but it’s also not a particularly good one either. What it is, is thoroughly mediocre, and while it’s a bargain buy at $40, it’s not the best Japanese import of the Summer. Hell, it’s not even the best recent Japanese import I’ve reviewed (that would be Earth Defense Force 2017). For me, I’ll stick to watching Star Blazers DVD’s.