Pros: Strong writing, nice graphics and music, clean interface...
Cons: ... perhaps not much replay value...
Lilly and Sasha: Curse of the Immortals is a great new indie RPG from Australian developers John Wizard Games. The eponymous sisters are tricked by an evil mage into starting a sequence of events which leaves Sasha cursed and semi-possessed by a really evil character, and as a by-product the world itself is at threat of imminent destruction (hey, when isn’t it?! :-D). Along the way a young lad named Griffin decides to help them; he’s trying to become a member of the Fighters’ Guild, but soon realises that they are corrupt and he sets out to defend his family honour, and of course the world. Other characters come into the picture later... at any one time you can control three party characters, and these can be changed whenever you want. Characters do gain XP and level up even when not among the three being used though.
The design philosophy behind Lilly and Sasha was to “take the grind out of RPGing”. As such there are features that might disappoint some RPG purists – a distinct lack of weapons, armour etc to buy in shops, no control over stats when levelling up, and no options to choose / change character classes. That said, even the most ardent D&D fan should really enjoy the game – it’s got a well-developed plot, interesting characters, and some really good features. For instance if your party get too strong, they will no longer gain XP from fighting the really weak enemies – though you can still get gold and sometimes items from them. This makes quest completion far more important for levelling up than battling. The battle system itself is quite innovative – team moves come into play at times and you can collect runes which affect each characters’ normal and strong attacks – but it affects each character in a different way.
The game world is very big and it’s going to take you a long time to explore everywhere – people who tend to be a little obsessive about exploring every little nook and cranny, and completing every single side quest available (okay I admit it, I’m one of those people) will find that they’re often rewarded well for this perseverance. The graphics are nicely detailed and animated, there’s good variety in the different location, and special effects/ background animations are used effectively to keep the game looking interesting. Sound effects are good quality and the music is very good. While most RPG Maker (VX in this case) games tend to have a rather similar look, this is definitely among the best I’ve seen. Character movement speed isn’t bad; you can increase it for faster gameplay, though the scrolling suffers a bit if you do this.
There are a large number of quests and side quests in Lilly & Sasha, and the quest objective screen that pops up when you accept one is a nice touch, as is the fact that most of the quests are multi-layered. There is perhaps a little too much reliance on fetch and carry type quests, but in general there’s quite a lot of variety, and after all if a particular side-quest doesn’t interest you, you can always not bother with it. With three difficulty levels (changeable at any time) it’s unlikely that you won’t be able to find the level of challenge that’s appropriate for you – Easy is going to let even RPG beginners progress through the game, while Hard is going to give anyone’s battle tactics a bit of a test.
There are other nice features like general and detailed maps, lots of different things to do that may not be entirely necessary to complete the game, pets that can upgrade your stats in battle, and a few other things that I’ll let you find out for yourself. There are a variety of weapons and armour in the game, but these are found in chests scattered across the landscape rather than bought. Enemies can be seen and avoided if you want to avoid a fight or there’s no point because you’ve levelled up beyond them.
One of the most impressive aspects of Lilly and Sasha: Curse of the Immortals is its dialogue – anyone who’s played a lot of RPG Maker games will know that this is often the weakest point of such games, but here it’s a great strength. There’s a lot of humour in the game, some of it quite subtle, and it often pokes fun at itself or the RPG genre in general, particularly some of the game mechanisms that we all know and love (despite knowing that they make no sense). The plot is well developed and while some features may seem overly familiar from other fantasy games / books / movies, the game creates a convincing world with a robust internal logic. The humour and some truly surreal encounters add a real atmosphere to the game.
Worthy of note is that Lilly and Sasha has many logic puzzles in them; as often as not, progressing through a location owes more to your ability to think than hack & slash. One or two puzzle elements where you had to use an object in the right place seemed a little redundant – having to actually choose the object instead of the game just reacting to the fact that it was in your inventory seemed a little pointless on some occasions. Despite this the puzzle element was extremely well done; plenty of different challenges, not too easy but not so difficult that you ever feel like giving up. Very nicely done.
Overall, Lilly and Sasha: Curse of the Immortals is a very well-made game and definitely worth playing if you like RPGs. The game design deliberately avoids or minimises certain elements often found in RPGs while emphasising others, giving it a distinct feel; if you like dungeon crawls and hack ‘n’ slash games it might not be to your tastes, but if you like well-rounded RPGs will compelling characters, interesting storylines and a strong puzzle element as well as traditional RPGing, you will definitely enjoy it.
I’m giving it a rating of 4 stars as a very good game that will take you quite some time to complete (I would estimate 15-25 hours, depending on how many side-quests you do). I might have rated it even higher but I’m not convinced it has much replay value – if you want to play it more than once (on different difficulty levels for example), my suggestion would be to do it following purely the main quest the first time on an easier level, then playing on a tougher setting and doing every side quest. (That way you’ll be doing more levelling up when you need to, against more difficult opponents.)
Lilly and Sahsa: Curse of the Immortals costs $19.95. Download the 1 hour demo - http://cdn.johnwizard.com/LillyAndSashaCOTI.exe - or visit the Official Website - http://johnwizard.com/lillyandsasha/ - for more information.
See also the press release over at indiegamenews.com - http://www.indiegamenews.com/2010/03/john-wizard-games-announce-lilly-and.html