Silver Review

[Update: Apparently the PC version of Silver came out before the Dreamcast version. That’s absolutely mind-boggling to me given just how poorly tailored to the PC platform it is. Still, I’m leaving the original review untouched below as a testament to the PC version of the game being so poor that one could reasonably infer that it suffered from a bad port job rather than just being a shoddy game.]

Silver is a disaster of epic proportions, a 1999 multiplatform game that’s quite possibly the first example of a bad PC port and “consolitis.” Make no mistake—this game was designed for the Dreamcast. Playing it on the PC is technically possible thanks to its awkward port, but so many things were lost and/or worsened in the transition that only the masochistic need apply. For anyone else, it’s far less painful to just bite the bullet and hunt down a used Dreamcast to play the game on, or barring that, accept that the game is far more mediocre than its vocal fans would have you believe and pass on the game altogether.

I’m a fan of old RPGs/aRPGs, too

Something I’ve found in the past several years is that older games that are considered gems are often genuinely good, holding up over the years against even modern incarnations. Baldur’s Gate 2 is a better, deeper game than Dragon Age: Origins, for example, while the Playstation 1 Final Fantasy games are leagues better than the modern incarnations (or abominations, if you want to be especially colorful) foisted on the gaming community every few years. Needless to say, I’m very capable of enjoying older games without the aid of nostalgia-rimmed glasses seeing as how I played many of these older games that I revere side-by-side with modern games. As such, it’s not any kind of hatred for older games with outdated graphics or anything of that sort when I tell you that Silver is a terrible, painful game in virtually every way, shape, and form. Its story is bland, its characters are largely forgettable, its controls are atrocious, and its level design is designed to frustrate.

First, though, the good

This is going to be an overwhelmingly negative review, so it’s probably best to bring up the game’s few virtues before delving into the depths of its many, many shortcomings. First, the voice acting is often campy and wonderful, though some of the lines are delivered in a genuinely good way. For example, I found that the character of Vivienne had really good voice acting, and this contributed to her being my favorite character. Another positive element would be the combat, though this is only true when it comes to the Dreamcast version (I’ll go over the differences a bit later); pressing the A button to attack directly in front of you and having the freedom to hold down the right trigger and use the analog stick to then perform wide attacks, blocks, and lunges can prove a bit awkward at times, but it’s nevertheless an entertaining and unique way of approaching combat.

You’re supposed to ring it three times, wait half a second, ring it two times, wait half a second, then ring it once to make it open. David should nod after each pause if you did it right. Of course, my CPU is so fast that I can’t even get the first nod.

This game was made for the Dreamcast

As you can see in the above video, the bell puzzle is impossible. On the Dreamcast, this puzzle isn’t really a puzzle so much as a minute-long timing sequence that barely qualifies as a minor irritation. On the PC, however, this puzzle becomes an infuriating obstacle you have to cheat past in order to progress. The reason for this is that the game seems to be designed so that the game’s timing is tied to your CPU speed. Since all Dreamcasts are the same, the game runs properly. Computers that are stronger than those of 1999, however, cause the game’s animations to run in fast-forward and completely change the timing of this bell puzzle to the point where a fast enough CPU renders the game impossible to progress past because the game doesn’t allow you to ring the bell fast enough.

The bad save scheme created a solution, though

In both versions of Silver, there’s only a single method of saving, that being talking to a Chronicler. This is a person who appears after you clear out certain screens, but only the first time you clear that screen. What this means is that you’re limited to saving only when the game wants you to, and these checkpoints tend to be annoyingly scattered out. Fortunately, a player created a tool for the PC version that allows you to save the game anywhere and however many times you want. Since the game isn’t designed for this, using it can create minor glitches in the form of unlocking doors when you save and load in a screen with a locked door. Eventually someone figured out that this allowed you to get past the locked gate without succeeding at the bell puzzle, allowing you to continue playing.

Thank about that, though—some people will have to use this tool to cheat past what would otherwise be a game-breaking bug, and there’s no guarantee that the tool will remain online forever. It’s not just possible, then, but very probable that the link will eventually die, rendering the game impossible to complete yet again. This is just one of many reasons why the PC version is the inferior version, though.

The PC controls are a disaster

Whereas on the Dreamcast version you’re able to directly control your characters using the analog stick, switching between them at will with the D-pad and having your (up to two) allies automatically attacking with you, the PC controls are set up more like an awkward point and click game. Instead of directly controlling your characters, you’re forced to click to where you want them to move. Even then, they only walk unless you double-click, which means running away from a boss’ attacks can become incredibly frustrating. This is compounded by the fact that you have to manually select all of your characters in order for them to all attack together, and even then, they only decide to join in when you click to attack an enemy. Using a ctrl + mouse movement attack, the PC equivalent of the Dreamcast’s right trigger + analog stick combination that opens up the wide attack, block, and lunge, will see you performing these moves while your other characters sit back and do nothing, even while enemies pound away at them.

That’s not even the worst of it. Since you have to click on enemies for your allies to do anything, you’re often clicking madly on enemies whenever one is finished off to instruct your followers to move to the new target. However, the graphics are old and blurry and some screens render your characters just a few pixels large, meaning trying to click on an enemy often results in clicking on your own character, deselecting the group without you realizing it and leaving your allies to stand around doing nothing until you realize that they’re refusing to defend themselves. “Awkward” doesn’t even begin to describe the experience, and as though that wasn’t enough, the radial menu—that’s right, the hallmark of consolitis—only pauses the game when opened in the Dreamcast version. This allows you to be tactical and switch weapons whenever the situation dictates, whereas the PC version inexplicably keeps the action running when the menu is opened, forcing you to fumble around, trying to get to the health items as fast as possible while being attacked and unable to defend yourself in any way.

You’re also given fewer game options

In the PC game’s menu, you’re able to choose either voiced dialog or text dialogue. In the Dreamcast version, you’re given a third option of both. Seriously—in the PC version, you have to choose between the two. “Unacceptable” doesn’t even begin to cover how terrible of an omission this is. Part of that is me being mad because the voice acting is so much better than the written dialogue, which is often full of typos and comma splices, not to mention amateurish in its tendency to overuse caps lock and ellipses. As a result of having to choose (and playing the PC version to completion first), I wound up hating the game and almost everyone in it. It was only when I gave the Dreamcast version a chance that it struck me just how better the voice acting is than the written dialogue. Many older games may hold up just fine without voice acting (and in the case of the Final Fantasy series, even be bettered by the absence of cheesy voice acting), but Silver requires it if you want any kind of emotional connection to characters.

Silver

Only toward the end did I start getting a prompt when the game crashed.

Good luck figuring anything out

One of the biggest irritations in Silver is its tendency to tell you nothing. A beginning section that explains how to perform different combat swipes is the last time you’ll see anything resembling instruction, and this means that you’ll go through a fair portion of the game having no idea what’s going on. For one, the game’s bland and predictable story has you hunting down magical orbs to stop an evil wizard. At one point, I cleared a screen full of enemies only to notice an object called a “magic orb.” However, clicking on it to pick it up (and yes, you have to click on items to pick them up whereas the Dreamcast version automatically picks them up when you run over them) didn’t work. It wasn’t until later that I realized that this wasn’t one of the magical orbs I was looking for, but instead an item that enemies sometimes drop that refilled my magic a bit. Since I had dispatched the screen of enemies without using any magic, my magic bars were full and I couldn’t pick it up.

Another thing that it took me embarrassingly long to figure out was that you can fast travel by opening the map (once you’ve acquired it) and clicking where you want to be teleported to. This would have been helpful information, but it was one of a million things that I was left to figure out myself. There are also things I never quite figured out, such as the magic system; spells upgrade as you level up (the Dreamcast version alerts you when you level up, while the PC version doesn’t) to more powerful versions that cost more magic to use, and while you can switch to the older versions using the F(number) keys, these can also change a number on the top-left of the magic symbol. I tested it out by shooting a fireball with the number at 1 and the spell level at 3, the highest it goes to, and a single fireball shot out. I tried it out with the number at 5, and again, a single fireball shot out. Then I changed the number to an infinity symbol, and as you’d probably expect by this point, a single fireball shot out. What on earth does this setting do? I still have no idea, and that comes down to bad game design.

The hit detection could use some work

Since each screen is prerendered and your characters are 3D models, you’re often running backwards in the scenery to the point where your characters are just a few tiny pixels that can’t be differentiated from enemies. When some of my magical attacks would miss, I chalked it up to the awkwardness of these angles. It started to happen more and more, however, to the point where it was even happening when characters and enemies were near the camera. Magical attacks sometimes pass through enemies for no obvious reason. It happens. Still, that isn’t half as bad as when enemies cower behind scenery, forcing you to use ranged attacks from a certain angle or else waste magic/expendable ammo. Too often they’d take the higher ground, forcing me to experiment with where I was attacking them from, often hitting the scenery under them instead of doing damage to them. This is made doubly frustrating by an insane design decision: you have to kill every last enemy in order to move to the next screen. That means that enemies who have taken the higher ground get to keep it if getting to said higher ground requires leaving the screen and taking a different entrance in, putting you at a disadvantage that you’re forced to deal with. Worse, enemies having higher ground is often scripted in, so there’s rarely anything you can do to get around this.

Silver

Look, another crash! This was something like the 20th one.

Bugs and miscellaneous irritations

The PC port of this game is a disaster. Apart from the double-digit number of crashes I experienced, oftentimes right before a save point (forcing me to replay large chunks of the game, naturally), there are also the intentional irritations, such as hidden doors that you have to go through in order to progress. If you don’t mystically divine that a door is there, you miss out on the plot-critical item inevitably hidden past that door. Missing a key here or there isn’t immediately noticeable, either; sometimes it takes a half hour before you get stuck, leaving you to wonder where you missed a hard-to-see area transition. This was sloppy level design back in 1999 (a year that saw the release of games like Planescape: Torment), and it’s only become more frustrating than ever to deal with now that games have largely evolved beyond tedious pixel-hunting.

Oh, and how about this one: you can only carry 9 objects of each type. This includes healing items and combat potions. Enemies drop healing items, though, so you’ll sometimes have to leave a healing item behind because you already have 9 of them and no one needs healing. Should you later run out of that item, you have to either trek back to where you left it or buy more from a merchant. Speaking of merchants, you can’t sell your excess items to them for spare cash. No, that would make too much sense. Chests and enemies are the only sources of gold in the entire game. Of course, certain parts of the game necessitate paying an amount of money to progress, so spending too much money before these points means having to venture back to one of the few screens with respawning enemies and slowly grinding until you’ve obtained the required amount.

Is that the end of the game’s irritations, though? Of course not. About halfway through the game, you reach a point where every single treasure you see is a trap. See a chest nearby? It might be an enemy in disguise or an illusion. Either way, you’ll inevitably end up having to fight several waves of enemies before you can be disappointed by your “treasure” (if you’re even given one), rarely anything more exciting than a few healing items. As such, the treasure chests are made virtually meaningless, annoyances to be avoided instead of the exciting promises of new loot that most games allow them to be.

Do you want to bleed out of your eyes?

The graphics in Silver are really that bad, looking like the lovechild of Wild Arms’ and Final Fantasy 7’s awkward character models. The prerendered backgrounds fare a bit better, but they’re often made too large, meaning you have to use the mouse/controller to scroll and see the rest of the screen. This allows enemies to get the drop on you since it’s never apparent which screens are larger than they seem. At the end of the day, Silver’s graphics are best forgotten. That said, the character portraits have a great deal of personality and are decent enough.

Oh yeah, the PC version refuses to play certain cutscenes that function properly in the Dreamcast version. I checked the game folder and they’re there, but they don’t actually play, making certain scenes (like one where main character David looks into a telescope to see a ship) seem incredibly lazy.

The music’s not as good as you’ve heard

One of the many things I heard people raving about was this game’s music. Like everything else I was told was wonderful, the music wound up being a huge disappointment. That’s not to say that it’s bad, though—it’s merely average, falling far below my expectations given the hyperbole that caused me to purchase the game in the first place. Overall, the music has some good moments and some memorable themes, but it’s really nothing special or unique.

Silver

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