Platform: Steam (Version Reviewed), iOS, Android
Developer: Thylacine Studios
Genre: Roguelike / Sim
Price: £6.99 / $9.99
Release Date: 24th April 2015 (Steam)
A few years ago, roguelikes were so niche that their existence had to be shared through posts on obscure community forums. The same is largely true of actively seeking an 8-bit visual style, with re-releases of classics like DuckTales and Castle of Illusion shedding the graphical ties of their predecessors. Now though, roguelike is a buzzword and the older you can make a new game look, the wider the audience that stops to admire it. Regardless of how you feel about this sudden change, it’s rarely true that these games capture the feel of the genre or present an authentic retro experience; they all too often come across as cynical, hollow and, at times, completely misleading.
This is exactly why I fell in love with Siralim; it accomplished a large number of things I’d started to believe were impossible.
If you’ve played the Dragon Warrior Monsters series, then you’ll have a good idea of Siralim’s basic gameplay. Instead of being a simple hunter, here you are the king of your realm, newly appointed after the death of your father given a general aim to improve the lives of your people by undertaking quests and expanding the castle grounds. Most of this is achieved through exploring the realms beyond your own that are navigated in a very traditional Rogue-style. The lands are teeming with unfriendly species though so to defend yourself, you need to build a party of those very same monsters. The beauty of the game may not stem from the core concept’s originality (after all, each iteration of Pokemon sells well despite the generally minor mechanical differences). Instead, Siralim is a joy based on the very clear love and thought that went into each aspect.
The dungeons you explore aren’t the lifeless grey labyrinths of many roguelikes, where the paths are unnecessarily elongated to provide a false sense of grand adventure. Instead, they’re lush green pastures dotted with totems, camps and hay bales or they’re chaotic wastes carved by lava pools and filled with the remains of the unfortunate. There are many variations to the environments and with that come different species to fight and recruit, which adds days of gameplay even if you’re only interested in catching one of each type. Additionally, each realm has their own unique encounters that provide chances for loot, experience or danger and each one makes exploring every nook a pleasure given how likely it is you’ll be rewarded.
Combat falls somewhere between a traditional roguelike and Dragon Warrior Monsters. Each creature has their own strengths, weaknesses, element and a core ability which alter the proceedings quite significantly at times. Battles can be slightly hands-off affairs, with your actions mostly amounting to confirming which target to attack but there will be moments that you step in to heal, cast offensive spells or order a retreat. Those expecting a strategic combat along the lines of Pokemon might be a little disappointed but Siralim is a roguelike first and foremost and while it’s a streamlined system, there’s more than enough room to feel like you’re at the centre of the fray. The most important decision in your hands is the make-up of your team and so choosing from over 300 monsters and their respective perks will be enough work for many.
It’s no understatement to say that Siralim is in desperate need of a wiki, and those that like their RPGs to be stuffed with secrets will be in their element. Optional items such as sigils can summon powerful foes for huge rewards and rare coins can be collected for great returns later. Your castle is dotted with hidden switches that hint at treasure and unusual cores can be combined to collect special monsters. This is ultimately just scraping the surface though, and with the game being designed to be playable until the end of days, there’s little question over whether you’re receiving value for money. Even the 249 achievements shows clearly how much work has gone into making sure you’re entertained at all times.
There’s been a massive overhaul of the graphics before the PC release and the improvements are clear to someone that has played both versions. Given the large number of creatures, it’s impressive to see the range of creature designs and how much character they possess given they consist of simple pixels. Each explorable dimension is striking and unique, unusually so for the genre, and the sprites that follow behind you to represent each party member are clear and charming. The music is a typical fantasy midi-affair and whilst not quite award-winning, it gives enough background music to those that want to hear the great sound effects. The snarls, chomps and cries that accompany each creature’s attacks add a simple but appreciated layer to a typically ignored facet of the genre.
No game is perfect and Siralim suffers from a few pacing issues; with the combat being largely automated, it would be great to fast-forward it slightly during the more assured victories. Exploration of the home castle can also feel a little sluggish, with the various services being spaced just far apart enough that the leisurely pace of your avatar feels like an unnecessary delay. The difficulty curve can hit a few inconsistencies where the opening of the game appears all too basic only to come up against certain duty quests or pandemonium events that wipe you out but you quickly learn to assess each encounter and make use of the ability to save at any point. The map is not quite as clear as I might like and the perk system for your character is hidden away slightly but they’re minor complaints, lost in a sea of compliments.
I could write an essay on what I loved about Siralim and I haven’t even covered the craft system, artifact leveling, city-building elements or the spell system. There comes a point where if you’re not interested in picking the game up after singing its praises this much then there’s not much more I can say to change your mind. If you’re in the camp of people that enjoy a good roguelike or RPG but worry that it will be finished before you’ve truly settled in then I have no trouble recommending this. I generally advocate waiting for a sale with most games, but for once, I feel like we have a game that is actually worth more than its asking price.