GAMING: Hylics

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Hylics is a JRPG-style game made by Mason Lindroth and released on August 29, 2015.

The concept of “hylics” is taken from Greek gnosticism, where it was the basest portion of what made up a living person: their physical body. This was the evil portion of a person, the part of them that demanded to eat, to have sex, to do anything that would keep a person away from perfect spiritual enlightenment. Hylics doesn’t portray itself as an evil game, but it is an intimately physical one where the entire world is molded out of malleable, changeable clay.

After the jump, we’ll sculpt our opinion out.

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Hylics takes place in a surreal world where almost everything is molded out of modeling clay. This is the trademark of Lindroth, whose previous games like Weird-Egg and Crushing Finger and Beachcomber also were predominately clay. Hylics is Lindroth’s most realized game to date, with over two hours of gameplay time and a staggering amount of detail. The game was made entirely in RPG Maker, where importing custom sprites and events is no easy task, so it stands out as an intense labor of artistic intent.

You play as Wayne, a crescent moon (or croissant, or banana, or boomerang)-headed guy living in a shack by his lonesome. Although he has no established motive, he quickly gets caught up exploring the world around him and interacting with cone-worshiping cultists, ghosts made of meat, weasels, slug-headed men, and horrid projections. On his quest he meets an odd collection of allies, explores ancient tombs, and generally wanders about the world until the culmination of the story peaks.

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The plot is nonsensical and barely coherent, but the most we can tell you is that the king of the moon, Gibby, is doing something bad. The game is divided into three acts, and we managed to trigger these out of order somehow! The game is described as a “recreational program”, and that’s the easiest way to experience it. Chances are that you’re not here for an engaging story: you’re here to boggle at the confusing world of Hylics.

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And what a confusing world it is! For one, all non-essential text is randomly generated. Whenever you talk to a stranger in town, you’ll be told such informing things like “brain biscuits can avenge his memory” or “she exalts near your offending beast”. Even the names of certain areas are randomly generated. We were comfortable calling the city near Wayne’s house “Ponggraeeth”, but were very surprised to see it become “Relloonvuzh” on a second playthrough.

While you journey through Hylics, Wayne meets up with a crew as unusual as him. There’s Dedusmuln, a horn-headed archaeologist with the secret knowledge of how to utilize paper cups with water coolers; Somsnosa, a friend of Wayne’s who can eat bugs to make herself stronger; and Pongorma, an ancient warrior who joins your cause after freeing him from his tomb. There are only four other noteworthy named characters: Gibby, the king of the moon and the final boss; and three Sages you meet on your quest: the Sage of Brains, the Sage of Computers, and the Sage of Death.

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We’re still playing a JRPG at heart, but Hylics has managed to simplify and streamline the experience so much that the game is an breeze. There is no standard leveling up system. Instead, you collect meat from your fallen enemies to process and add to your own health meter. To gain extra magic points, you drink from the aforementioned water coolers provided you can find a precious paper cup to drink from. You learn spells by watching TVs scattered across the world, and everyone in your party learns the spell at once. The worst part of JRPGs to us has always been obsessive grinding, so Hylics taking the time to simplify itself down to focus on the more entertaining aspects is a wonderful touch.

Not even death gets in the way of Hylics‘s fun. In fact, dying is an almost essential part of the game. When you are killed, you are sent to an afterlife (after a brief, but traumatizing-or-fun cutscene of all the skin melting off of Wayne’s head). There you can exchange your meat for health points, rest on a couch to regain your lost health, or just play around and build sandcastles in a beach. You even get a special bonus if you’ve died three or more times, just to help you out if you’re genuinely struggling.

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Hylics takes great glee in its clay essence, and goes to great lengths to play with the medium as much as possible. Trash cans can be smashed to concave disks when rummaged through. Bath tubs filled with red ooze can be toppled over, spilling chunks of clay everywhere. There are so many hidden interactive buttons to press, searching for them all is as fun as playing the game straight. It leads to some amusing moments as well, such as when you find a couch you think you can sleep on only for it to squish into a useless clump of clay. It’s even implied in the gameplay itself: your hitpoints are referred to as your “flesh”, and considering both Wayne’s skin melting off when he dies and the fact that you add dead monsters’ meat to your own to gain more HP, it seems like even in the context of the Hylics universe everything is made of clay. Death is no worry for people who can scrape themselves off the ground and try again.

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Battle in a JRPG is normally a pretty dull affair, but Hylics manages to keep it interesting with phenomenal in-battle visuals. The enemies are all unique and individually interesting. Each spell and item has a unique animation associated with it. Default attacks involve you finger snapping at the enemy. More complicated spells take form with swirling snakes of clay that twist around in mysterious enchantments. Even the items fit into the clay aesthetic, since consumption is rendered as them being crumbled into bits.

The music of Hylics is discordant, droning, and ethereal. Guitars thrumming with reverb make up the primary heart of most tracks, sometimes matched with equally droning synths. In battle, pounding bongos underscore the pace of the battle with the guitar whining in the background. The music can only be described as “noise surf” at best, a completely unique sound. Elsewhere, groaning synthesizers pulse and throb when the mood must be dark, and the guitar chords switch to plucked arpeggios.

After the fact…

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Hylics isn’t a very long game – it’s advertised as having about two hours worth of content, and that’s about how long it took us to beat it as well – but it’s so filled with novelty that you’ll hardly want to put it down. Beyond just experiencing its storyline, replaying it to collect all of the potential spells and seeing all the randomly generated text provides future hours of entertainment.

5 out of 5 – Simply Superb!
Hylics is an incredible journey into a place beyond normal comprehension, a world ruled by the literal material it is made of. The hylic is supposed to be base, rude, and disgusting, but Hylics sculpts a world where the material is the true heart of the world. Hylics may be the best game we’ve played in all of 2015, and we will be keeping a very close eye on the future works of Mason Lindroth to come.

Hylics can be purchased for $2.99 on itch.io or Steam.

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