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Indie Review - Hylics

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General Information
Release Date - October 2nd 2015
Developer - Mason Lindroth
Platform(s) - PC (Available digitally through Steam (£1.99) and Itch.io($2.99))
Link - https://mason-lindroth.itch.io/hylics

Hylics

Review
Many turn based RPGs are full of grandiose adventure, larger than life characters, worlds, and a sense of bewilderment at the epic scale of the experience before you; throw in the ever-looming threat of the dreaded level grind, and you have got a formula for your typical 40+ hour long RPG (not to say I do not love long RPG's, level grinding an' all). But Hylics? Well... Hylics isn't anything like that. It is an RPG for sure, and that comes with many of the elements we have come to expect from such a game: party members, turn based battles, various stats, and stat management etc. Though at the same time, Hylics strips away a lot of the fat involved with playing an RPG and presents its players with one of the most surreal and unique games I have ever experienced.

On the surface, the story of Hylics appears to be rather simple. All we are given in terms of a goal in the story is that we need to reach and defeat Gibby, the King of the Moon. It’s not entirely clear why, although, the opening dialogue implies he's given reason for us to go on this quest, and really, that's all we need to know, because Hylics isn't really about the story, it’s about the journey to the destination, the world you'll be seeing and interacting with for the next few hours, and the characters you'll meet along the way.

You play as Wayne, a crescent-headed leather wearing guitarist dude... man... thing? You are not ever really told what Wayne is exactly, is he an alien? Human? It’s hard to say, but the implication seems to be that this is a post-human setting, meaning humans no longer exist in this universe, or at least, not in the way they do currently, so take from that what you will. This often leads to some of the games more humorous and charming moments, one of my favorite examples being the Paper Cup items. Early into your journey you will meet Dedusmuln, who asks for your help in finding a Paper Cup, once found and returned to the now ecstatic Dedusmuln, you'll get to see the most detailed description of using a water cooler you'll probably ever see. To Wayne, this process seems almost alien, and to Dedusmuln, almost ritualistic, and Hylics is filled with many more obvious and maybe less obvious nods to this post-human setting and many more humorous moments.

Our crescent-headed hero, Wayne!
Our crescent-headed hero, Wayne!

The world of Hylics and its characters are all equally as strange and trippy as each other. It can be hard to understand what is happening at any given moment, let alone why, but you keep plodding along because the game is just so captivating. Each new clay-modelled enemy and town you encounter has new characters to speak to (though they almost all exclusively speak in gibberish riddles) and environments to explore that help paint a picture of the strange world that the game is set in.

Hylics was developed in RPG Maker and if you have played an RPG maker game before, Hylics has a lot of the same feel to it as those games do. Not to say that is a bad thing! I love RPG Maker games! Though what I mean is if you have ever played a party-focused turn-based RPG before, then you pretty much know what you'll be in for in terms of gameplay and combat in Hylics. Characters move across an overworld map and enter various locations (think earlier Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest games). Gameplay in these areas is rather straight forward, and normally just involves battling enemies, speaking to characters, or finding the various items and equipment scattered throughout the games world. There is the odd puzzle to solve, treasure hunt to go on, or more dangerous enemies you need to avoid, but it does enough to keep things interesting and fresh, that by the end of the three and a half hours it took me to finish the game, I didn't feel like gameplay was ever dragged out or repetitive.

Combat
Combat feels familiar, yet its style and charm helps it stand out.

The games combat is perhaps its least interesting aspect in terms of gameplay. It plays mostly the same as every other turn-based RPG, perhaps mostly resembling the combat system in the Mother series though without the complexity of the count-down life dials these games had. The player controls their party of characters through choosing options in the battle menu, whilst having to manage the party's Flesh and Will (health and mana). There is a lot of navigating through menus to find and use different items and abilities and not much in between this. Though to make up for this, the games battle animations and wacky enemy design helps keep things fresh. There is nothing more satisfying that that claymation juice box or burrito animation let me tell you, and the hand gestures that play when you use an ability are nothing short of mesmerising. Whenever I unlocked a new ability, I would get giddy to see the next crazy animation I'd just unlocked play out, and the game's short run time means that unlocking and using new abilities happens just frequently enough that combat doesn't get stale.

Hylics is a short game, it took me just a little over three and a half hours to complete from start to finish, and from what I can tell, this was whilst completing all the side content the game had to offer. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing, it means the game doesn't ever fall back on typical grindy methods to extend the game's play time like many turn-based RPGs do; nope, no level grinding, money grinding or random encounters to be found in this game. Instead, the game has manually placed enemies in various locations that, once killed, will remain dead and reward the player with both money and meat. Yep, meat. It kind of works as this game's version of XP, though it is used solely to increase Wayne and party’s health, all other stats are governed by the bonuses offered by equipment (mostly), which can often be purchased from the game's various merchants.

Overworld
The overworld can be traversed in multiple ways which work to structure the games progression.

I am a big fan of this structure, as it means you often do not need to kill every enemy in an area, sometimes you can get through without battling any, but it incentivises you to fight as much as you feel you need to. Feel like you are dying too frequently? Then you can fight these enemies and get more meat and money to upgrade your flesh and gear, but you never feel forced. This means you get to see immediate results from your victories, no need to grind XP, just take the meat to the grinder and increase those hit points! You could argue it is a bit finicky using meat however, as you need to die to get to the After Life where you can find the game's one and only meat grinder, though I find this rather clever; after all, no need to increase your health if you are not dying right?

Though it is not all great stuff, at times the game’s structure can feel frustrating, there is a distinct lack of direction and it feels like speaking with most characters just makes you more confused than you already are. This is only exasperated at the start of the game where the player is not given any objective other than to kill Gibby, and Wayne is all on his lonesome and stands little chance of surviving any encounters with enemies that result in a battle. You will not know where to go or what you are supposed to be doing, though in fairness, the starting island is rather small and there is not much room to stray from the beaten path, but you will likely find yourself dying a couple of times before you find your first party member. Once you do find them however, the game really opens up to you and you're able to overcome most areas that the start of the game has to offer, and the exploration becomes much more enjoyable.

Dialogue
Character dialogue adds to the world but does not provide direction and can be confusing at times.

Hylics really incentivises the player to explore once they are in a good position to do so, you will find several beneficial items throughout the world that you'll want to make your quest a little easier. For instance, the aforementioned paper cups and water coolers work as the party's method of increasing their Will, and these cups n' coolers are found scattered around the world for the player to find. Similarly, as there is no XP or leveling system in the game, the party learns new abilities through Televisions, which you will find scattered throughout the games world. When interacted with, each member of your party will learn the new ability. This can sometimes be frustrating as it means whenever you get a new party member, they will not have these abilities, meaning if you want them to have them, you will need to backtrack through the game to interact with these televisions again. Granted, not all the abilities are super useful, but those that are you'll definitely want to go back and grab, and this can sometimes feel a
little needless and frustrating, especially when you get the last party member and have to go back to interact with five plus different televisions, though all in all, it’s only a small part of an otherwise great experience.

One of the most striking things about Hylics is its surreal art style. It’s a 2D top-down RPG sure, but Mason Lindroth has created a bizarre and fantastical world almost entirely out of digitised clay models. The environments, characters, items etc. are almost all made from clay, which might sound strange but in practice is a very striking and unique art style that works to make the trippiness and alien feel of the game's world even stronger and more compelling. This means the animation for the games spritework has been achieved through digitised stop motion animation of clay models, which must have taken a inconceivably long time and great dedication to produce for just a solo developer. Its honestly as impressive as it is unique and strange. The games colour palette also complements the art style too, opting to use primarily soft pastel colours which helps make the experience of playing feel very relaxed.

Afterlife
The digitised claymation art style is very unique and memorable.

Hylics is definitely unique in this regard, I've never seen a game that looks as striking and surreal as this game, and its surreal nature just helps to further enforce the strange setting's world and characters. Even comparing this to other claymation games (which are impressive in their own right), Hylics stands a head and shoulders above the rest in terms of visual presentation to the player and should be pointed to as a prime example of creative visual art in video games and one of the most creative uses of this in the medium.

Further complementing the games feel and art style is the games soundtrack, which was also composed by Mason himself for the game. Most tracks take the form of a strange mix between psychedelic rock and/or synth and it's definitely a trip to listen to. While at times it can be rather harsh, with sporadic and choppy guitar strewn in on some tracks, its equally as relaxing and trippy to listen to and complements the games world and art immensely. If you have not listened to it already, I highly suggest doing so; Mason has uploaded the full soundtrack to his YouTube channel (Titled Mason Lindroth), or if you own the game, the tracks can be accessed within the files of the game itself. Some personal highlights are 'Piano' and 'Airship Song'.

Music
The soundtrack is a real highlight of the experience!

Conclusion
Overall, I feel Hylics is a captivating, trippy experience that will have you entranced and lost in the game from start to finish. While RPG Maker has its limitations, Hylics does a great job of keeping the game feeling fresh and interesting throughout and makes a great effort to avoid the pitfalls many other turn-based RPGs fall into; at no point does it feel grindy or drawn out and the progression is a satisfying breath of fresh air. The art and music will have you lost deep in the game's world and makes for one of the most satisfying and relaxing RPG experiences I have played; whilst boasting one of the most unique art styles in the medium. While it has its downfalls, particularly with the lack of direction and difficulty of the game’s opening moments, this is just a small part of an otherwise amazing experience and I would highly recommend this game to anyone looking for a unique and interesting RPG to play, it can be knocked out in an afternoon and costs less than a cup of coffee!

Pros & Cons
+ Interesting and Unique art style
+ Great music
+ Good structure and design
+ Fun characters and world
+ Engaging progression system

- Can lack direction sometimes
- Difficult opening to the game, could deter some players

Final Score
4/5

Thanks for reading my first review on Destructoid! I'm always excited to discuss games so leave a comment if you have anything to ask or talk about in regards to the game. Any feedback is much appreciated also.

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