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557 - Silpheed

Best Games - Silpheed

Silpheed wants to set a mood.
The game opens with a few lines from the end of Julius Caesar over a simulated star field.
“How many ages hence / Shall this our lofty scene be acted over / In states unborn and accents yet unknown”
When Cassius speaks these words, he and his co-conspirators have just murdered Caesar and are in the process of smearing their arms with his blood. They want everyone to know what they have done. They are seeking infamy. They are seeking immortality.
The game itself is a fairly standard space shooter. The absolute earliest video games were stocked to the rafters with space shooters. They had the sci-fi obsessions of the day to thank for that. Star Trek and Star Wars stand as the inspiration for far too many video games. Early and recent. But, unlike their inspirations, very few of those games can claim to be space operas.
Silpheed wants to be a space opera.
Of course, the very limited scale provided by the japanese PC-88 computer would never allow for a soaring adventure. Not really. So the developers picked their battles. They would wrap a twenty level space shooter in the trappings of anime space operas. They would do anything to make the game feel grander. More important. It worked.
After the Shakespeare quote fades, you are immediately treated to a flythrough of a wireframe 3D spacecraft. So again, this game is punching well above its weight. The PC-88 has more in common with a ZX Spectrum than any modern computer. This is not the sort of machine that should be able to do 3D anything. Yet here we are. The effect still resonates today. This is a space shooter game with cinematic trappings. Operatic ambitions.
The FM synthesized music is on point throughout. While it’s not quite a John Williams score, the sense of grandeur is there.
While you start out in Silpheed destroying simple waves of enemy ships, the game quickly escalates to battles over planets, Star Wars style trench runs through massive space stations, and battles against devious boss craft. All of these are intermixed with cinematic interstitials. Silpheed wants so badly to be a grand anime, and for the most part, it hits.
When ( if ) you finally reach the climactic battle against the massive battleship, Gloire, you will have to contend with terrifying laser blasts, impenetrable shield walls, and every variety of bullets you have dealt with so far. It’s a fitting end to a spectacular game.
Silpheed is the sort of game that doesn’t seem to fit in the era when it was made. A game too ambitious for the hardware. Too far ahead of its contemporaries. It's the sort of game that spawns a series, which it did, for better and worse. Most of the games that came after were space shooters, but they lacked the space opera wrapping that made the original so memorable.
Silpheed is one of the best games.
This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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