Overview: What would happen if someone did a mash-up of Final Fantasy with a space combat simulator?
Pricing: This one is all over the map, but a good average is probably just under $20 used or new.
Rip-Off Warning: Actually, I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone still trying to sell if for more than $30.
Platform: X-Box 360
Is it worth it?: Space combat simulators are a sub-genre that has been slowly dying off over the past decade and getting anything at this point is not unlike finding a puddle of water while you’re dying of thirst in the desert. As much as I am tempted to take a “beggars can’t be choosers” stance on the game, it is not really a hard “sim” and is more of a 3D shooter much like other games we’ve seen released on consoles.
Combat is an impersonal affair, with most of your time spent acquiring lock-ons at extreme distance and firing volleys of missiles. This looks really cool, but it will soon become your standard tactic for all 16 missions. Even the final mission, which is essentially an anime retelling of the Death Star sequence from Return of the Jedi, can be beaten this way. You can attempt to dogfight, but the game is pretty clear that your fighter is not designed for agile maneuvers, but is instead more suited to hit-and-run attacks where you charge in at high speed, deliver a quick volley, and then fly away. This is perhaps inspired by the tactics of American P-38 pilots in WWII against Japanese Zeroes. Unfortunately, that makes for less than thrilling combat at times.
Perhaps the combat was done this way to fit the control scheme. I played the game entirely with the basic controls because the standard control was literally “push the stick lightly to turn and hard to roll”. In a dogfight, players in a hurry to shake someone on their tail are not going to be “pushing gently” to execute a turn. There are three different control schemes and none of them are very well done.
All that said, the battles are often impressive affairs, with huge fleets or warships and dozens of fighters all battling it out simultaneously. The larger ships are actually a real threat to each other, which is a bit of a change from many space combat sims where they expect the player to single-handedly take on enemy battleships despite having a support fleet at their back. This is good and bad though, as allied ships can be destroyed quite readily and the player will often have to keep an eye on the health bar of friendly ships. I did appreciate this aspect of combat as it made it seem like an actual battle was happening around me rather than the usual game of “Hey, let’s everybody gang up on the player’s fighter”.
With Project Sylpheed being made by Square Enix there are tons of cutscenes and most of them are pretty watchable. However, if you’ve ever played any Final Fantasy game since VII you should be pretty familiar with the archetypes and plot. No surprises here. Really, the story is generic anime and if you don’t see the moral ambiguity, atrocities, and inevitable alliances coming from a mile away then you’ve obviously never watched any science fiction based anime EVER. On the other hand the fanboys should love this games portrayal of women in the military and their outlandishly inappropriate military attire standing side-by-side with their male counterparts who actually understand what “uniform” means outside of ridiculous haircuts and facial tattoos. I’m not kidding on the last one. Your original squadron commander is apparently none other than Mike Tyson.
Final Judgement: Despite my many criticisms of the game, this has actually been a solid purchase. If I had paid the full $60 at release I would be filled with buyer’s remorse, but my copy was a mere $10 and for an entertaining, if somewhat generic and derivative, story and incredibly epic space battles it was worth every penny.