I once was prescribed Tamiflu after a desperate midnight taxi ride to a Saitama hospital. While the trip was a fevered blur, I remember my mom parroting concerns about me jumping out of windows as she poured the powdered antiviral into a paper funnel at home. Somewhat excitingly, the medication had a reputation for making sickly bodies believe they can fly, a questionable side-effect in conjunction with the vertical concrete landscapes of Japan. I instead spent New Years tripping about bedsheet wrinkles and repeated visions of LEGO Bionicle ball joints articulating back and forth, all sandwiched between sessions of brief consciousness. Hylics is a 2015 indie role-playing game with a deceptively brief description, "a recreational program with light JRPG elements." Just like my drug-fueled influenza experience, going through Mason Lindroth's creation is like recovering from a traumatic head injury.

If its release was accompanied with little fanfare, Hylics would have undoubtedly accumulated an LSD: Dream Emulator-esque cult following. Surreal games like this ultimately leave me with a human interest behind the game's developers and their vision for making such a deviant and hypnagogic experience. Derived from a lengthy dream journal by one of the developer's employees, LSD's retina-molesting visuals and obtuse first-person controls efficaciously sells the game play as occupying someone's dream. In contrast, Hylics is even less grounded in reality, the unfamiliarity of the game's absurdist art and incoherent character dialogue gives way to exploration driven solely with the player's interest in the author's madness.

Yet through the distorted claymation animations and pixel artifacts, Hylics manages to deliver a genuinely enjoyable and even accessible playing experience. The gameplay as expected from an RPG Maker derivative is far from incoherent and maybe even typical. The time-tested collage of HP, MP, and character skills serves as a beacon of familiarity through this salad of weirdness. Attack animations are delightful with snapping fingers and exploding hot dogs. Characters gyrate and twist around despite their gentle claymation appearance. Secondary only to the artwork in excellence, the pacing is well done. Enemies present a persistent challenge without becoming overbearing, and bosses have a genuine sense of power that you satisfyingly match with leveled-up skills. The map progression facilitates active exploration through distorted landscapes and a rewarding sense of incremental progress, if a bit tainted with the back-and-forth so fundamental to RPG's. Some of the music falls flat, with few region-specific tracks and the disjointed guitars easily overstays its welcome within the first hour of playing.

Sedate and strange, you emerge from a confused wanderer to an invested bystander. It's a $3 escape from reality, its vision matched only by a few obscure Japanese games. Something deliberately incomprehensible is pretty refreshing these days. Grab a copy and sit idly for Hylics 2.

Hylics can be purchased for $3 USD here.

Hylics 2 can be purchased for $15 USD here.

Originally published in volume 1 of the zine EARRATMAG on 4/17/2020

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