Imagine the earliest NES JRPGs, like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, and how their early stories were somewhat flimsy. While they are grand adventures, they do not compare to the adventures of today that have more attention to the writing and characters. Now, imagine a game that follows in the vein of those early RPGs, except way way weirder. That’s Hylics.
Hylics is a short game made in RPG Maker VX Ace by Mason Lindroth, a prolific game maker that’s most identified by his claymation art style. In Hylics, you play as a peculiar fellow going by Wayne, who’s head is a, well, waning moon. He’s going off on an adventure to kill Gibby, the gibbous moon king because… well. There really isn’t a reason. In fact, the game doesn’t seem to care about giving a concrete reason for a lot of things beyond “just because.” However, I personally think that it’s because it’s a game about characters trying to transcend “reason.”
The whole game is a strange fever dream version of a basic JRPG. You can buy cold burritos to launch as projectiles, or you can microwave them for a revival item. You learn skills from televisions that are just scattered randomly. There are three sages and one of them is for computers. You can build sandcastles in the afterlife.
Your party members are fucking named Dedusmuln, Somsnosa and Pongorma. Dedusmuln is an archaeologist looking for paper cups to use at water coolers (which raises the equivalent of MP). Somsnosa’s got these power gauntlets that turns bugs into raw strength (or mightiness) stats. And Pongorma is… to be honest, I don’t know what niche this guy falls into besides being a knight.
Characters and environments are made of clay and scanned afterwards, presenting well-made yet jittery figures roaming pastel clay landscapes. It is a really interesting art style that I feel is pulled off well. I especially like the few instances where you can interact with an object and it just collapses into a lump.
The music is all over the place, but it feels intentionally so. Most of the music is made up of guitar strumming, but it also delves into using synths and tuba. The tone rapidly shifts from something that should feel relaxing yet is somewhat offbeat to a frantic battle song with no real consistent melody, giving a chaotic feeling to fights while demonstrating the game’s bizarre overall tone. The soundtrack may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it fits perfectly with Hylics‘ setting.
So, speaking of battle music, battles are simple while still staying within the spirit of the game. Strange grotesque clay enemies are fought in front of a randomly chosen, pastel background (my favorite of which just being a photoshopped mundane gas station). What’s impressive about the battle system is the battle animations, which demonstrates the more vibrant instances of the game’s art style. You do a basic attack and a hand snaps at an enemy to do damage. You use a skill and a surreal intricate animation of clay spreading and folding in on itself plays. Reviving a character brings me joy, because you can see a little clay burrito disintegrate before your eyes. It’s real good stuff.
And it helps that the Hylics battle system is actually pretty competent? It’s only a hard game if you allow yourself to fall behind. Like, you’ll want to be reinforcing ailment guards a lot because enemies actually land status ailments pretty reliably, and it’s not a bad idea to use some of your own because they actually have a fair chance of landing and could buy you some time in tougher encounters. The only sore spot I have are the ghosts in the graveyard segment of the game. You can’t have a bunch of enemies that can only be reliably killed with skills and have them have so much health.
Hylics’ story, as I’ve said before, is really kinda vague and may not be there at all. Only some of the characters say something concrete, while the rest of the game’s dialogue is actually randomly generated. While it fits in line with the absurd nature of the world, I don’t blame anyone for wanting silly handcrafted dialogue instead of a haiku about glands.
That said, I actually do have an interpretation of the story.
When you die – which will be surprisingly frequently given the number of instant deaths in the game – it is not a game over. Rather, you are sent to a cozy afterlife where you can recover your health and can go back down to Earth to any crystal you found. In fact, you’re actively encouraged to die. The “meat” item pick-up can only be used with the grinder in the afterlife to get hit points and there’s a small “VIP section” of the afterlife that you can only access after dying three times.
Besides making the game friendly to players, this aspect of the game is revealing of the game’s nature: a journey about transcending ones’ own humanity.
Wayne and his posse are repeatedly encouraged to transcend their mortal forms to better themselves by allowing themselves to die to be born back into the world anew. Or, heck, sometimes if you need to go somewhere, it may be faster to just take a death for an easy teleport. The idea of them ascending from the mortal plain is further encouraged by the game’s final act. In the last part of Hylics, you have to go directly to the moon, but to do that, you have to buy an expensive spaceship key. In poking around the world map, you’ll soon come across a machine that prints money, and with it, you’ll have enough to buy the key. Many times over. Through this, the team’s materialistic human needs are no longer an issue and are no longer bound to it.
Having transcended material needs, Wayne and posse literally ascend, and their evolution is readily demonstrated on the moon. Confronted with a whole army, Wayne and the crew… just plow straight through. The party does not battle any of them, as enemies immediately die upon being interacted with on the world map. To emphasize how the party evolved, there is a television in the moon base… which just gets flattened when interacted with, as the party no longer has the need for knowledge.
But there is one more threat in Hylics: Gibby. While the party has reached godlike levels of power, Gibby is the last one that can rival them at this point, even showing off his dominion over the stars with a One Winged Angel style move. He is a comparatively divine being compared to the party of chaos humans (?), and it’s only through trouncing this god that the party can truly ascend from the absurdism of the world and reach enlightenment.
…Well, that’s my takeaway from the game, anyway. A definitive impression I get from Hylics is that it does try to cultivate the power fantasy of being a powerful endgame JRPG party, with an immunity to death to boot. The game does advertise itself as a “recreational program with light JRPG elements,” and what better way to feel at ease than to be all powerful?
Hylics is an interesting game to experience, especially if you like games with an unusual presentation. If you’re looking for an RPG Maker game with story, I’d recommend anything else (like hey, please check out Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass). But then again, it’s a short game that’s super cheap, so I’d say it’s worth checking out anyway.
If you like the ideas and the visuals of Hylics but want for something more, I’m pleased to tell you that there’s a sequel coming out soon. The art is much more dynamic, with Wayne moving around the world map fluidly and enemies having all these cool animations instead of being static sprites on the battle screen. There’s also different styles of gameplay like platforming and first-person dungeon crawling, which is a wild evolution from this game. While it missed its projected release date of Summer 2019, I don’t blame the creator for going over estimate, because there’s clearly a lot going into this game. As somebody that likes Hylics, I can’t wait for its sequel.