There’s a lot of cynicism in the world of gaming. Sometimes people get the idea that taking a negative opinion on a subject proves they have greater knowledge than if they were receptive to it. But even with all the ball-busting that is pushed around, one thing that never seems to be questioned is the existence and importance of indie gaming. Despite many facets and institutions like Steam and Kickstarter being targeted for attack frequently, no one denounces the indie scene as a whole, or claims that it doesn’t have the right to stand next to AAA gaming. And it’s for one simple reason: no matter how much shovelware gets churned out, there is also a peerless blaze of creativity that burns at the core of indie gaming that will never be matched by the large companies. They may have the monopoly on polish and shine, but unadulterated artistry will always be owned by indies.
And now that I’m done opining, I’ll tell you why I’ve brought you here (and it even kind of relates!). There’s a new RPG on itch.io called Hylics by developer Mason Lindroth which takes experimental art, setting and dialog to a level so beyond—let’s say, Earthbound—that you’re, well… that you’re probably not even going to like it! Ha! But I’m not saying that Hylics isn’t a great game—it is—all I’m saying is that while the artwork is incredibly stimulating and original, the way the game plays out stands quite contrary to conventional plot and narrative, and that isn’t going to work for everyone. But that’s exactly what makes Hylics a treasure.
Many traditional RPG elements remain strong in Hylics, including the way the turn-based battles take place, and the existence of parties, shops, items and weapons. But the dialog falls somewhere between a stream-of-consciousness beatnik novel and a random word generator, which can make figuring out what the hell you’re doing a little rough. Basically, your interactions with other entities make very little sense, and this has the effect of inflicting a bleak and aimless feeling on the player when the ability to meaningfully connect with other characters is not an option. You’re placed in a constant state of alienation, and masterfully so.
Similarly, you aren’t going to see any kind of standard plot structure or character development here. The goals are arbitrary and the locations are absurd, so you aren’t going to feel the same brand of responsibility or progress in the story. Things just happen, and you go along with it. And of course even the characters you do have lasting interaction with—such as the “people” that join your party—aren’t going to represent any established tropes or personality types. They’re all just a bunch of sick, twisted weirdos living in a world that makes so little sense, they couldn’t help but turn out the same way themselves.
Lastly, and the aspect of the game that needs the least explanation, is the art. The style of Hylics is a head-compressing mix of clay, comic book pointillism, pixel art and abstract paintings. It’s unsettling and alien, and thus the perfect visual companion to the warped sensibilities of Hylics. I think the screenshots speak for themselves on this matter, and this is hardly half an hour into the experience.
Hylics is a masterwork in absurdist art and literature in game form, and is a specimen that could only have arisen from the primordial soup of indie gaming. So if you have a thing for the bizarre, the surreal and the absurd (and RPGs), Hylics is available on itch.io DRM-free for a minimum of only $3 USD.
PS – I want to give anybody who is struggling to get started in the game a couple tips, so assume spoilers beyond here. Go to the big city and go up the big central stairs to the “Mountain” area. Try to get as many piles of cash as you can. If you get in fights and die, it’s okay, and in fact you should try to die three times. On your third death you can access the “executive balcony” in the afterlife where you can get a much better weapon for free. Go back to the mountain area and you will now have a much better chance of finding the “paper cup” the other guy is looking for, but I’ll leave that up to you. Just know it gets much easier once that guy joins your team, so stay diligent. Hope that helps!