Project Sylpheed is hard. And unforgiving. Despite these two things, however, it’s also very replayable and rewarding. It’s not uncommon to fail the same mission segment three times and think to yourself “just one more time; I think I’ve got it this time!” Project Sylpheed walks a fine line between challenging and frustrating, but it always lands on the challenging side. Missions are difficult, but they’re not cheap. You can win, and the computer isn’t cheating. If you failed a mission then it was your fault and you can eventually beat it by getting better.
There’s a story here, but it’s secondary to the space-borne dogfighting. Suffice it to say that the main character has blue hair, and the officially recognized government’s forces (of which you are an unfortunately named member – Katana Faraway) is trying to squash a rebellion called ADAN. The story doesn’t matter. Enemies have red trails, and friendlies have blue trails. Shoot the enemies; don’t shoot the friendlies. Everything else is secondary, and that’s okay because the dogfighting is just that good.
The left stick steers, the left bumper fires your Delta Saber’s primary weapon (homing missiles are always a favorite), the right bumper fires your nose weapon (a machine gun, for instance), the right trigger controls your throttle, A targets the nearest enemy, X cycles your primary weapons (you’ve got three), and the left trigger, if double-tapped, will cut the engines. Double-tapping the right trigger gives you a short hyperspeed-esque boost, while holding both at the same time matches your speed to you targeted opponent. This one small feature makes dogfighting an absolute blast because it’s possible to concentrate on targeting, weapons, shields, and the radar without also worrying about whether you’re slowly catching your prey or losing him.
Fighting against similarly-sized fighters is as frantic and stressful as it probably ought to be. And it should be that way. Your enemies are outfitted with weapons similar to yours. You’ve got homing missiles, rail guns, a nose-mounted machine gun, and just to put you at a little bit more of a disadvantage you’re usually got a giant ship to defend all while the enemy fighters pelt you with their own homing missiles and rail guns. Missile lock means just that. If somebody’s got a lock on you and your out of chaff then you can pretty well count on getting hit. They are homing missiles, after all. Maybe you should have been paying closer attention to what was behind you.
If Project Sylpheed has a shortcoming, though, it’s the way in which missions are implemented. This isn’t a game that you can pick up, play for 20 minutes, save, and be on your way to the movies. Most missions have several segments, and the game’s difficulty ensures that you’ll be trying segments of later missions – of which there are 16 – multiple times. This is all well and good if you’ve got three hours to dedicate to space-borne combat, but there are many of us for whom gaming happens in 30 minute chunks. If you’re a 30 minutes at a time gamer then Project Sylpheed isn’t really for you unless you don’t mind replaying mission segments. Even though the mission is obviously broken up (it goes so far as to brief you again, update your objectives, and flash “MISSION RESTART” on the screen) the player is not allowed to save until the mission is completed, and it’s frustrating because if you fail a single segment you’re allowed to replay just that segment. There’s a checkpoint there; you just can’t go back to it after turning off the game.
Finally, the achievements in Project Sylpheed are just that – achievements. There are a couple that will be doled out as the player progresses through the game, but most require a replay and subsequent mastery of a level. And I like that. It will mean something other than “I bought and completed this game” when your gamercard shows “PROJECT SYLPHEED, 1000/1000” (I’m looking at you Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Movie of the Game and TMNT). Project Sylpheed is hard but rewarding, and if you’re itching for some space combat then picking up this game is a no-brainer.