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Xbox 360 Review: Project Sylpheed

Players: 1

Price: $39.99

Platform(s): Xbox 360

Developer: Square Enix-Game Arts

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

ESRB: Teen [Blood, Mild Language, Fantasy Violence]

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Project Sylpheed is famed gaming company Square Enix’s latest attempt to break out of the mold and establish themselves as a company renowned for more than just Ultra-Japanese Role Playing Games. The game is decent enough, to be sure, but if Square Enix wants to establish themselves as a great developer outside of their main genre, it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than this.

Project Sylpheed follows the story of the fledgling years of a galactic federation. Following almost in the same vein as cult favorite sci-fi series Firefly, the story chronicles a human race that was forced to branch out into space. They terraform seven planets and establish a system of colonies across the galaxy. You can imagine what happens then. The colonies become restless and pine for the freedom to govern themselves. One by one they rise up and rebel through their own mini-revolutions. However, these fail and are crushed one by one. Soon though, four of the systems band together to fight for freedom and form the ADAN forces. It is this force that makes up the principle villain as the game starts. A rather bizarre change of pace in a genre that so loves to see the underdogs fight back against their oppressors.

The plot is one solid thing that was taken from their previous endeavors in the RPG arena. It’s a good story (especially for a videogame) and it is more than enough to encourage you to fight through the game. The cut scenes that deliver the meat of the story are equally impressive, and while somewhat lacking graphically; they are well directed and work to improve upon the dramatic elements as they unfold. It is clear that Square Enix’s extensive experience making CG cut scenes was put to work here. Although, this is probably the only section of the game that Square Enix could draw influence, and thus many of the other elements seem sloppy and under-developed in comparison.

While waiting for these cut scenes to happen you’ll have to work through sometimes overly long, usually boring segments of gameplay. It’s not that they are so bad as to be unplayable or even unenjoyable in small doses, it’s just that you’ve seen it all before in Rogue Squadron, Crimson Skies or Blazing Angels. You’ll escort ships, get into dogfights, and other equally mundane activities. One rather unique element that Sylpheed brings to the plate is full free-range 3D movement. As these dogfights take place in space, the player is given complete freedom to fly in any direction they wish. This has been done before, I know. The difference here is that it’s done well. By placing planets, moons and other landmarks in the background the player is always able to keep their bearings despite performing all manner of loop-the-loops and barrel rolls. Also, each fight on the battlefield leaves behind a colored trail, which helps to keep track of your targets when they perform evasive maneuvers. The flight is just a very well thought out function and it saves an otherwise completely boring game. There is one beef I had with the flight system though, and I hesitate to call it a fault because it could just be my own personal taste. I never felt like I was actually moving during a battle. At times the battle takes place over such large distances that it feels like it takes forever for you to reach your enemies. To me, a flight combat game should be intense and it’s hard to make something fast when it’s not fast.

So while boring the game may be at time, graphically it always impresses. At a budget price tag of $40 you would expect to see some pretty crappy visuals (i.e., Vampire Rain or Hour of Victory), but Sylpheed manages to shine despite. Every battlefield is filled with tons of space craft all firing giant colorful lazers that blow to pieces others on the field. The trail that I mentioned before, that fighters leave behind, all combine in the center and end up looking like bizarre modern art.

The sound is not as impressive. It’s certainly not bad, you just probably won’t notice the sound effects at all. Even with a nice surround sound system, effects still tend to sound mediocre. The music…here’s the thing about the music: Square Enix desperately needs to realize that it’s not 1992 anymore. We expect sweeping orchestral scores nowadays, and what they give us with Sylpheed is a hardly better than a bunch of bleeps and bloops. Every song in the game sounds like battle music from one of the middle Final Fantasy games. Those songs were great in their time, but with a new age game it just doesn’t fly.

All-in-all, Sylpheed isn’t a terrible game, it’s just not a terribly good one either. If you like games with good stories and are ok with working to get a glimpse of some nice CG, then Project Sylpheed will probably suit just fine as a rental. I can’t recommend laying down the extra cash to call this one your own though.