By Stewart Sutherland
One of the creepiest games I think I’ve ever (and will ever) play, Lylian: Episode One – Paranoid Friendship sees players take charge of a young girl locked up in an insane asylum, who finds herself free of her restraints one night and wandering around the hospital. Of course it’s not that cut and dry – the titular character Lylian soon discovers that the hospital may be harbouring a labyrinth of underground factories. Then again, it’s heavily hinted that it’s all just in her mind…
With an eerie soundtrack playing the entire time and a dark, rusty atmosphere, Lylian: Episode One is primarily based on a jaded and confusing story. Lylian wanders through the disturbing corridors of the asylum wearing clunking boots and using the long sleeves of her straitjacket to attack the constant (but often identical) foes that rush her. As soon as she’s out of her padded cell, Lylian’s priorities are simple: recover her zombie-esque teddy bear Bob that she’s sewn together out of five different toys, and recover doughnuts so she can eat the jam inside them.
For a game that focuses on story, Episode One is frustratingly awkward to follow. After recovering Bob and attacking a fellow inmate for doughnuts, Lylian mysteriously falls through some vents and witnesses a smoking industrial estate under the hospital. At the same time, she regularly mentions that she hasn’t received her medication when she was supposed to, and that often her “brain makes up things as it goes”, throwing into doubt everything around her.
Unfortunately, as soon as you take control of Lylian you’ll notice the basic, predictable linear direction the game heads in. Almost the entire game is centred on moving from one side of a room to the opposite, and it can make it feel tired and boring very soon, especially when the transition between rooms are covered with a slow loading screen. While the story is frequently updated with text in these areas, it’s told directly from Lylian’s warped point of view. These are usually just comments about which character she’s just fought off, met, or random oddities like “I hope I land in the kitchen soon for more doughnuts”.
The deeper Lylian travels through the asylum, the more time passes and the worse her hallucinations become. It’s not unusual to see a lanky caretaker crawl out of a tiny vent to warn her about going further. Another feature is that Lylian will occasionally draw inspiration from another inmate’s comic book when she meets him, and can seemingly transform the world around her from a murky hospital into a field of flowers. A few challenging puzzles can only be found in these sections and it’s usually impossible to continue without solving them.
The rest of the game seems to revolve around mindless combat, which considerably hurts the overall experience. Lylian’s enemies are often swarms of identical nurses or other inmates, and her lone attack is pressing a key and watching her whip her straitjacket sleeves towards them. A few clicks and you’ve killed an opponent, but often you’ll face several at once and find yourself staring at the same looping animation until your screen is clear of adversaries. Also, to charge up Lylian’s imagination, you have to kill and harvest the life force of enemies, so occasionally they will spawn infinitely until a puzzle is solved.
Another weak point in the game is that, while it’s an indie title, the graphics are relatively poor. The eerie, horror hospital has a lot of atmosphere about it to be sure. However, Lylian herself and the throngs of inmate enemies are very basic and contrast too much with the backgrounds. Lylian has only a few sprites for walking, jumping and attacking, and can come across looking a little cheap. The creepy nurses look cartoony by comparison.
Lylian: Episode One – Paranoid Friendship is a short title, with plans for future chapters to include expanded roles and cooperative play. Some players may find the titular character Lylian a more in-depth protagonist than many found today, while others might not be able to make heads or tails of her jelly-doughnut cravings and jaded observations. The haunting soundtrack and atmosphere of the hospital are the main features of this title, and if you’re a fan of spooky situations (or just like to give yourself the odd scare here and there) Lylian: Episode One is a good title for it’s cheap price. However, these highlights are almost crippled by its lacking gameplay.
6 OUT OF 10