Elysian Shadows: Confirming It’s Still Thinking

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August 3rd, 2014

Posted in Features

Oddly enough, Dreamcast’s indie scene was never something that I was really interested in. The experiences DC’s indie games delivered are perhaps not as engaging as some of the good commercial releases for the system. There’s a lot of 2D shoot-em-ups in the indie library. While I can appreciate a good shooter from time to time, these sometimes 320×240 res games aren’t exemplifying the Dreamcast’s strengths (don’t get me wrong, the 320×240 Dreamcast arcade games are still great!). I didn’t think an indie Dreamcast game could get me excited; to make me feel like we have a console that can provide modern gaming fun. But after over a decade since Dreamcast’s death, we finally have a deeper, enthralling experience us Dreamcast fans can be excited for: Elysian Shadows.

The yet-to-be-released Elysian Shadows isn’t just a Dreamcast exclusive; even though I’m going to selfishly treat it as such. The goal is to release the game on PC, Mac, Linux, Ouya, Android, and iOS in late 2015 (and hopefully all next-gen consoles). The following screenshots are not directly from the Dreamcast, but do represent the same assets and what you can expect the game to look like.

Elysian Shadows is a game that has been a long time in the making, transforming over the years to what it is today. I recently (this year) became aware of the game through other Sega-related websites. Instantly, the beautiful pixel artwork of the the main character, Julien, walking along a floating stone path with a backdrop of lush hills and mountains triggered my interest. To my surprise, I find out this is a full ’40-50 hour’ RPG experience coming to my favorite piece of gaming hardware! Sign me up. This a real game. This is something coming from highly passionate game developers trying to make a modern gaming experience on a console that was discontinued in 2001. That’s just amazing.

Dreamcast fans have had our share of hardships. The death of the system alone was utterly tragic. The epic Shenmue series may never have a conclusion. As we try to adjust to the gaming world of today–western-style shooters and ‘cinematic experiences’–we start to lose sight of a time that was based in fantastical, creative experiences. That’s why games like Elysian Shadows brought me to a nostalgic state of excitement.


Kickstarter

Elysian Shadows has just entered its next stage of development on August 1st 2014. It’s ambitious premise and highly-complex game-world needs the help of the gaming community. You can help fund the project on Kickstarter.com until August 31st. The main master-minds behind Elysian Shadows have recently quit their day jobs and gone balls-out to make their game a reality.

It’s a well-crafted Kickstarter page with extensive funding options. I selected the ‘LIMITED EDITION’ so I could receive the physical Dreamcast game, original soundtrack, figurine, design document, art book, comic book, authentic Egyptian papyrus scroll, all bundled in a signed chest. Below is a video overview of the project and it’s goals from its lead creators.


Initial Impressions

There’s no doubt of the game’s 16-bit-era RPG influences. The sprawling pixel art environments look great. The sprites look genuinely retro. What sets this game apart from the other retro-styled offerings is the experience the developers are trying to deliver. They’re bolstering the old school art style with modern gameplay. It’s an action RPG. It’s going to be faster and more fluid than the games that inspired it. You can walk, run, and even jump around the environments. Platforming is going to be apart of the level design. The heightened control of character movement is something I’ve craved for in RPGs. It’s even more enticing in the 16-bit style. The environments will have a higher level of interaction including destruction and a physics.

Graphically, Elysian Shadows isn’t just a 2D game. They’ve added another layer to the graphics–a 3D perspective which you can seemingly switch to on the fly. The graphics still maintain authenticity to their respective perspectives–in 2D or 3D. The 3D view seems to compliment the platforming and multi-tiered dungeons very well. It’s like you’re able to see a 16-bit RPG come to life with 3D depth. It’s a very interesting concept. That could really making exploration in this world a fresh experience.

Not only is an indie Dreamcast game doing true 3D, there is also dynamic lighting, particle effects, physics, and bump mapping. The only example of bump mapping on DC that I know of exists on Shenmue II’s coins that you collect in-game and view in 3D in your inventory. It’s a DC hardware feature that was essentially never used. The fact that the guys behind Elysian Shadows are implementing graphical features yet to be utilized on a console from 1998 is about as cool as it gets. These modern graphical effects may need to scaled down on the Dreamcast. The shadows may not be pixel-perfect like the PC/MAC/Linux counterpart. It’s hard to say at this stage. I get the impression the creators are striving for the best graphics they can extract from this 200 MHz/16 MB of RAM tiny beast of a machine.

Dreamcast accessories are even trying to be utilized which gets me very excited. The VMU could display typical RPG status levels. They could create a VMU mini-game. The Dreamcast’s networking capabilities could even be utilized (imagine a co-op experience in Phantasy Star Online fashion!) Perhaps expansion and downloadable content could be delivered to the Dreamcast via the 3rd party SD card reader. These are all possibilities, but within the technical reach of the developers. This isn’t just a port to Dreamcast. After all, it was originally a Dreamcast exclusive. It’s obvious that the team would want to expand the audience of a game to other platforms, but Dreamcast die-hards are still going to get a genuinely Dreamcast game.

The story and world revealed thus far seems rather limited at the moment (wouldn’t want to be spoiled anyway). There’s still a lot unknown. I don’t really know how the story/cutscenes will flow and how the game will play exactly. Judging on its current state, I can see clear potential though. Could we possibly have another Dreamcast classic to place lovingly in our collections? We’ll have to wait until late 2015 to truly know. This next year will be interesting to watch a game with such potential develop–that’s for certain.


Follow the Project

You can keep up-to-date on ES through ElysianShadows.com, the Kickstarter page, their Facebook page, or their YouTube channel. I especially find their series of YouTube videos (titled ‘Adventures in Game Development’) fascinating, entertaining, and informative. It’s a really personal glimpse into indie game development. I’m certain if you’re really interested in video game development these videos will be of even higher value.

It’s Still Thinking will surely have more to come on Elysian Shadows, as it’s a brand new Dreamcast game that represents the core ideology of why this website exists. I originally thought I would have to look back at my experiences with Dreamcast to show why the console is still relevant and thinking. Little did I know that I can now look forward as well.

  • Wow.

    It’s hard to say how emotionally moving everything about this game is. To think I will be playing a brand new game on my Dreamcast next year just brings me back to 2001, when I got my very own Dreamcast and was still buying games for it. It seemed to come at a perfect time. I think you said it best Brandon, that we thought we had to only look in retrospect for Dreamcast love, but now we find something on the console we will look forward to. It truly is a very exciting time for all Dreamcast fans.

    The game really looks amazing for what they have so far. The charm of the 16-bit RPG, but while not JUST being a 16-bit RPG is what makes this game so great. Most of these 8-bit and 16-bit style games that have been coming out are just making the graphics that style for the hell of it (it seems). But this game wants to be more than just a 16-bit style game! The developers are very passionate, differentiating it from all games within the genre by adding 3D perspectives, platforming, freedom of movement, and gorgeous graphical effects.

    I can’t wait for this game. In fact, I’m so excited that I backed the Limited Edition on Kickstarter as well. I would love to have a bunch of physical items (like the figure and art book and such) to be in hand when I discover what may be the last NEW Dreamcast game. It is going to be a very special treat and I am so excited. If a game like this, made by an indie team, can raise $40,000 in about two days, it makes me wonder if Yu could possibly kickstart Shenmue III and develop a Dreamcast exclusive Shenmue III in the same manner. One can dream…

    • This game has me interested in the other Dreamcast indie games now. I was tempted to even buy the Shoot-em-ups, but I just realized that I wouldn’t really play them much. I pre-ordered the Dreamcast version of Pier Solar, which has 480p widescreen support and updated graphics from the Genesis version. It’s the only other indie DC release that has me interested. I’ll play the Genesis version first though since it’s the “true” game. Hopefully these games will prompt more people to develop full-fledged games on the Dreamcast. I mean no offense to the other Dreamcast indie titles, SHUMPS just aren’t usually what I gravitate towards. Really, they should just be in my collection to support further development on the Dreamcast.

      • Gregory Oborne

        I started reading this weeks ago but never finished, not that it isn’t well written and on a very good and exciting subject though it’s just my own laziness.

        Really crazy though that a game of this scope and depth is being developed for the Dreamcast in the year 2014. The amount of RPGs on DC is very small so for an indie dev to be making one is freaking awesome. I agree it’s nice that it isn’t another SHUMP (even if I do love them, and the DC is very well-suited for playing them).

        I’m not incredibly hooked on this game’s visuals though. I mean it’s nice looking but there is a feeling of flatness and awkward weight to a lot of it, especially with the characters. Of course the story and gameplay are more important, so I’m definitely interested in seeing more.

        The one thing I want to touch on though is, technically I do not consider any game that is not pressed onto a GD-ROM an actual Dreamcast game. I t’s probably something not to niggle about but the fact that standard CD-ROM discs actually hurt the laser makes me not really want to play these games a lot (or at all). But if they are making this on a GD-ROM never mind, I haven’t had time to research that haha

        • That’s what I’m excited about. I large gaming experience tailored to the Dreamcast with Dreamcast-specific features. I can understand why you wouldn’t be impressed with the visual art style. I’m not being too critical of it when you think about the fact that this is an indie game on Dreamcast (with massive scale). The technical features of the game engine alone make we excited.

          I have a feeling that CD-ROMs don’t actually hurt the laser. Obviously, Sega would have wanted you to believe this. Who knows though.

        • Blane

          They have a publisher who is going to do a full physical release, complete with box-art, booklets, and a GD-ROM. I want to say the publisher is Watermelon, the guys who made Pier Solar.