The most important element of any RPG is narrative. Players spend hours reading dialogue, and if it’s filled with typos, written by someone noticeably uncomfortable with English, or just plain boring, the experience can quickly become unbearable. Happily, this isn’t a problem for the wonderfully witty Lilly & Sasha: Curse of the Immortals, a new game from independent RPG shop John Wizard.
The story begins with a pair of sisters who enter a tomb with a mysterious man. Within minutes he tricks them into using their magical powers to let loose a dark immortal entity that promptly possesses the body of one (though, happily, only some of the time). Our goal becomes expelling the spirit.
Predictably, others join the girls on their quest, including a plucky fighter looking to follow in the footsteps of his renowned father and a moralistic shaman always concerned with doing the right thing.
Most of the party’s characters are prone to spouting lines that made me laugh aloud. The humor is blunt and agreeably dry, often throwing playful jabs at nonsensical video game conventions. For example, after pulling a switch that randomly destroys a pile of wood blocking access to a bridge, one character remarks, “It doesn’t make sense, but it sure is convenient.”
Point being, I didn’t just distractedly click my way through the dialogue; I read—and relished—almost every line. Indeed, the writing is what will draw players into the game’s world and provide reason for them to keep adventuring through to the end.
On the subject of play, the game’s activities can generally be broken into three categories: puzzles, combat, and quests.
Most dungeons feature plenty of clever conundrums that have players doing things like pushing statues around to block the gaze of evil snake sculptures, moving furniture to replicate an arrangement in another room, or walking a set path on brightly lit tiles to change their color to match those of the tiles around them. These puzzles offer just the right amount of head scratching; they’re tricky enough to make you think, but not so difficult as to leave you stuck for any significant length of time.
The combat, meanwhile, is fast paced and can be satisfyingly challenging if you start the game on the proper difficulty level. You can’t change once you start, so unless you’re a green-as-a-bean rookie I recommend skipping “easy” and going straight to “medium” or “difficult”.
Combat actions are smartly assigned to the arrow keys and activated by the space bar. Players can rush through easier battles simply by mashing the bar to launch weak attacks, but tougher battles require a bit more strategy. Players will need to choose whether to use powerful attacks (which drain stamina), employ one of their special abilities (such as raising the party’s agility and dexterity or performing a powerful magical strike), or draw from the energy gauge on the left side of the screen to perform a multiple-character move, which, depending on the characters involved, could be a means of restoring health to the party or launching a major attack.
There’s not much in the way of character customization, alas, but there are other things players can deliberate between engagements, such as which status-altering pet they ought to bring with them to battle.
Moving to quests, they generally fall into the standard find-a-key or fetch-an-item varieties and aren’t particularly inventive. Most exist simply to advance the story or give us context and reason for working through a few more puzzles and battles. However, they’re presented in straightforward, no-nonsense terms and can usually be completed fairly quickly, creating a steady, ongoing sense of accomplishment.
Among the game’s best features is the way it lets players keep track of where they are, what they’ve done, what they’re doing, and what they have left to do. The menu screen provides access to maps of most areas and a detailed list of completed and current quests. It tracks fun facts, too, such as how many steps your characters have taken and how many animals they’ve petted. There is also a progress report that tracks not just the percentage of the game completed and time spent playing, but how many of each of the game’s key treasures have been discovered and which quests have been finished. It’s a handy aid for obsessive completionists and an excellent motivator for finding all of the game’s goodies.
I liked the art, too. The diverse towns, caves, woods, and buildings, are filled with original, nicely detailed objects and textures and didn’t feel especially repetitive. Ditto for the character sprites. You’ll go up against dozens of different creatures, from headless servants to bloodthirsty bandits, and each type has its own unique, recognizable, and occasionally humorous visual style (I loved the comically bright red eyes of the angry goats).
The score, meanwhile, is an interesting mix of upbeat adventure tunes and spooky and atmospheric melodies. The only piece that seems particularly out of place is the main battle music, which is a mishmash of raucous guitars and synth sounds and seems a bit modern and garish for the game’s fantasy setting.
But when players look back at Lilly & Sasha: Curse of the Immortals, they probably won’t remember many details about its music or graphics. And they likely won’t think much about its combat or puzzles. They’ll remember instead its enchanting characters and subplots. Like the bizarre troupe of actors who perform plays night and day within the depths of a massive mansion owned by a creepy man in a top hat who sends players on a series of suicidal errands throughout his home. That’s the sort of imaginative originality one doesn’t soon forget. And it’s what makes this RPG stand out from the pack.