Last year, John Wizard Games got into the indie RPG scene with Dawn’s light, a traditional RPG that gained a reputation for its well-written humor and solid puzzles. Mr. Wizard carried these strengths into his next game, Lilly and Sasha: Curse of the Immortals, but is it another major win for the team? In terms of innovation, it does several things that go above and beyond what most standard RPG Maker games do. In terms of fun factor, it is quite enjoyable, but a few faults hold it back from being a truly amazing RPG.
The game tells the tale of two sisters named Lilly and Sasha (hence the title) who are tricked by an evil wizard into touching the tomb of a dark god, Zahhak. Upon doing so, Sasha becomes possessed. She slowly begins to lose control of herself, so the sisters begin a journey to free Sasha from the curse, meet allies to help their cause, and gather info on how to repel the curse. It’s a tough road ahead, but Lilly is determined to save her beloved sister no matter what it takes.
Despite a somewhat serious premise, this game is actually a comedy, and it does a good job of conveying the humor… on the side, that is. The main plot tries to incorporate drama into the mix, but a lack of tension stops it from holding up well. The situation never escalates to anything urgent, and the villain barely shows face. As it turns out, the story ends in a cliffhanger with the promise of a sequel coming soon. Perhaps these issues will be resolved in that sequel, but this title certainly could have done more.
The plot may not be stellar, but the characters certainly are, thanks to solid writing. The situation may seem dire, but our heroes never take the situation seriously, and enjoy their journey instead of brooding about things to come. They spend their time leisurely poking fun at one another and those around them, busting heads, and discussing the strange wonders and people of their world. It’s comedy written in a sly matter, only relying on a touch of self-referential humor about how game mechanics work in the real world, like the mystery of how the wood they chop instantly gets teleported to a farmer’s house from across the field.
It’s hard to pull off that kind of humor without making it feel tacked-on, but in this case, excellent writing makes it flow naturally with the rest of the script, and the writer never needs to resort to crude language, memes or repeated gags to deliver punch lines. The only thing our heroes lack is a true character arc, which I hope occurs in the sequel, but for now, their interactions more than make up for it.
To top it off, Lilly and Sasha has some of the best NPC interaction I have ever come across. Their lines may be few, but there is a ton of personality packed into them. Almost every NPC you encounter has a strange quirk or an off personality that leads to some funny lines. Sometimes, it can get downright strange, to the point where you and even the heroes themselves say “What?” It makes me want to talk to every NPC I come across and bask in the colorful interactions the heroes have with them.
The graphics in Lily and Sasha are good, but nothing special. The game plays it safe by making heavy use of stock VX graphics and the usual chibi-style sprites. There is some originality present, mainly in the character art. Most of it is quite good, but there is very little of it, and some facial expressions look a bit odd. The main characters do have original sprite work, but they barely differ in design from the stock sprites. The designs are by no means bad; just a bit uninspired. At least the areas are well crafted, and the inclusion of original art is nice, despite how little there is. A bit more originality would be welcomed, but the game is still pleasant to look at, and you can’t go wrong with old-school visuals.
On the other end of the spectrum, the music is full of original compositions that do many things right, although it leaves me with mixed feelings. It does a great job of setting the tone, and I admire all the different genres that are present. The soundtrack includes piano pieces for some of the serious moments, hard rock battle themes, jazzy beats in swamp areas and some easygoing acoustic guitar strumming in the fields. It’s a good, varied soundtrack, and yet I can’t bring myself to like these songs too much. There’s just something about the melodies that fails to draw me in or make me want to hum the tunes long after the game is over. Of course, music tastes are subjective, so the songs here could appeal to others.
At the very least, John Wizard deserves credit for great use of sound effects. I haven’t played any other RPGM game where the developer actually put in the effort to include any form of voice, whether it be grunting, laughing or screaming. In addition, this developer simply has good timing for when sound effects are appropriate. Sure, these things are no big deal, but little things like this can really enhance the experience.
What I find to be the most interesting technical aspect of all is how much work was put into the interface. You’ve got your usual item, status, and equip options, along with a map, quest logs, and various other features to help you out. Granted, there is nothing special about the options per se. What stands out is the way it presents itself. It has a smooth, well-put-together menu interface that is easy to navigate, and the menu options are easily accessible on the main screen as shortcuts. Even the battle menu is well organized, utilizing a nifty way of selecting actions through descriptive icons, with a d-pad command layout similar to Wild Arms and Lufia. Also nice are the animated battle backgrounds, which are customized for each area to spice things up.
Of course, John Wizard didn’t even need to do all this, but did it anyhow. They could’ve just stuck with the basic interface, and most players probably wouldn’t have minded. After all, it wouldn’t affect the game itself, and there are other things that effort could have been put into, but John Wizard went the extra mile to make this game presentable. Ultimately, those efforts paid off, creating one of the most professional-looking RPGM games around.
The combat plays out like any other traditional RPG, but it features some nifty mechanics. For starters, MP is replaced with a stamina system. Any action you take drains part of the stamina meter, which slowly recovers each turn. The bigger the action you take, the more stamina is consumed, and when it reaches zero, your character tires out and misses a turn. It’s a neat system that forces players to plan long-term strategies in tough battles, but isn’t restrictive enough to make you hold back if you can finish a fight quickly.
Each character has several ways of attacking, and those attacks can be enhanced through the game’s rune system. Runes are items that can be equipped on a character’s attack to alter it in ways such as inflicting status effects or increasing the critical hit rate. It’s a nice system that gives player some ability to customize without losing each character’s unique properties. Other additions include various team attacks that can be executed when a meter gets full. Having five characters to choose from, there are a variety of combos you can pull off, but they drain a huge chunk of stamina.
There may be many interesting mechanics in the mix, but the battles still feel underwhelming. Sturdy enemies and weak attacks make the combat feel slow, and you gain very little exp from each victory, making it feel barely worthwhile. You do have three difficulties to choose from, but it feels a little unbalanced. Easy mode can make players plow through the game with little hassle, but it’s a fight for survival in the other difficulties. Even on normal, some enemies can nearly kill you before you make your first move, and it gets difficult to maintain heals and keep a steady item supply. In addition, if your character dies in battle, there is no way to revive them, so good luck winning after that happens.
There is also a pet system, which sounds great in theory, but is underwhelming in practice. You can collect up to three pets throughout your journey, each of which provides a stat boost during combat which can be improved by leveling up the pet. To level them up, all you have to do is bring them along in combat and then proceed as normal. The problem lies in how insignificant these boosts feel, gaining only 1% per level, with a max pet level of five. Since pets do nothing else in the game, it feels like it was included in as an afterthought.
The game has an abnormally low encounter rate for an RPG. Enemies are visible, but are barely present, and they won’t respawn unless you leave an area altogether. Add this on top of the poor exp reward mentioned earlier and grinding is nearly impossible, but that’s actually a blessing in disguise. These setbacks force you to play strategically to overcome challenges instead of grinding your way to victory. In turn, you can gain a lot of satisfaction by overcoming the odds stacked against you.
Combat feels secondary to the experience, but a large chunk of the game emphasizes on puzzles. Most of the puzzles are classics like pushing blocks, forming paths, sliding puzzles, and many more. What keeps these puzzles fresh is that each dungeon uses a unique puzzle type. Having a large number of areas to visit provides a lot of puzzle variety, and the puzzles themselves are implemented beautifully. There is even a puzzle within a boss fight, and the way it’s executed is quite ingenious. Initially, the puzzles are quite easy and have no-brainer solutions, but they get tougher as you progress, and get to a point where they can be downright evil. Even so, they’re well made, and require that you use your wits, and these efforts make puzzle-solving the most prominent aspect of the game.
Last but not least, there are side quests to take on, but they’re tedious fetch quests that force you to do backtrack to a lot of inconvenient locations. All you do is collect items, find NPCs, and occasionally battle. Some aren’t bad, but most tend to drag on much longer than they should. However, despite my complaints, the side quests are worth doing in order to have the privilege of reading some of the best NPC dialogue in the game. It’s also a good way to gain loads of cash and EXP, since battles give so little. Oh, there are also cool rewards, which is always a plus.
Lilly and Sasha may have its share of flaws and missed potentials, but it’s still a good game. The excellent dialogue and challenging puzzles are what ultimately make the game fun, and even the weaker aspects aren’t terrible by any means. In addition, the high technical production values deserve some recognition, and I would like to see more RPGM developers with this level of polish. I might’ve sounded harsh on some parts of the game, but do not let it discourage you from giving this a chance. John Wizard and crew demonstrated a lot of good ideas with Lilly and Sasha. All they can do now is improve upon what they’ve already established.