Super Daryl Deluxe is a brand new “RPGvania” from independent developers Dan and Gary Games. This title offers a fresh take on independently created RPGs, shedding the temptation to make another 16-bit style nostalgia trip and instead touting a unique art style buffered by familiar game mechanics. To complement SDD’s mesmerizing look, the game presents a well-written, hilarious tale of recognizable high school tropes mixed with out-of-left-field, out-of-this-world story beats. The game succeeds on a multitude of levels and in many ways, could change how many indies approach RPG passion projects in the future.
“How might it change the game?” you might be asking. The answer lies in one of my statements from the previous paragraph. This game, while built on the foundation of RPG adventures of old, doesn’t feel restrained by a specific art style or tone self imposed by the creators trying to adhere to the rules and regulations of a “Golden Era” in RPG history. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy pixel art just as much as the next gamer; in fact, my previous review praised Blossom Tale’s vintage aesthetic, and my current most anticipated game is Octopath Traveler which also boasts a classic look. So I’m not saying those art styles are the problem. I am saying, however, that sometimes, it feels like games default to pixel art so as to further capitalize on the nostalgia it conjures, and in some cases, I believe those games actually suffer from that decision. In Super Daryl Deluxe, because it takes mechanics and general game design from classic titles and infuses it with an art style all its own, all of a sudden, it breathes brand new life into the entire indie RPG genre. It looks back, yes, but it also pushes forward.
The art style is one of the easiest aspects of SDD to point to and applaud for creativity and boundary pushing. There just aren’t other games on the market that look like it. From character design to background design to monster design, the game just looks cool and classic and modern all at the same time. As the game constantly gives you different scenes on different maps, there’s never a moment for your eyes to be bored; there’s always something to look at. Oftentimes, because of the sheer amount of detail in each scene, you may notice something new even after the six or seventh time of running through it. The posters hanging around most of areas, for instance, served as constant entertainment as I never knew what would be hanging in the next room. I learned to scan the walls every time I entered a new area. And for the rest of the aspects of each environment, I learned to expect the unexpected. Walking into a new area, was I going to trigger a boss, or get a quest from Beethoven, or get a mouthful from Andy Warhol? Every experience is fresh and surprising, and there isn’t an aspect of this game that sets that expectation better than the visual style.
Yes, I did mention Ludwig van Beethoven and Andy Warhol in the same sentence. As you may now expect, the story of Super Daryl Deluxe is as wacky and beautiful as the actual look of the game. Daryl, the game’s titular playable character, is a brand new student of Water Falls High, a school with as many interdimensional issues as a great Doctor Who episode (which made me very, very happy, to be frank). After becoming an employee for a textbook buy/sell business, you take Daryl through portal after portal of creative, shocking, and wild adventures. The actual presentation of the story is downright impressive. For the most part, you’ll be reading dialogue conversations between Daryl and other NPCs like any classic RPG. That’s one area that feels familiar – the story actively encourages you to talk to your classmates or read newspaper clippings to get extra story bits. Despite being presented in a different art style, it feels like the story presentation mechanics of old RPGs – rewarding players with actual interesting, storytelling dialogue. For key scenes, actual cutscenes play out with voice overs that are good enough to not distract from the storytelling itself. The voices are interesting and add another layer of depth to the characters, and are also a great way to signal to the player: THIS IS IMPORTANT.
Story presentation doesn’t have the same impact in a game if the writing itself is not solid, and I can safely report here that the writing is indeed solid. I’m not over exaggerating when I say this is one of the best written games I’ve ever played. No, it isn’t as sprawling of an epic as The Witcher 3. But for the smaller, more intimate world it creates, SDD is so well-written. Every character has their own unique personality clearly displayed through their lines. They don’t say things that don’t make sense for them as people. In addition, the dialogue manages to be funny without feeling like it’s trying too hard. Much of the humor comes through characters just being themselves in weird, crisis situations and it works hilariously. But the quality of the writing doesn’t just shine in the dialogue. Even the item descriptions throughout the menus add to the personality of the universe within the game, layering backstory and history into seemingly mundane items. What would be throwaway descriptions in many games are opportunities in SDD to highlight wit, comedy, and thorough storytelling.
And that ultimately leads to one of the amazing things about Super Daryl Deluxe: nothing is wasted. Just as item descriptions in menus take the spotlight they’re given and deliver in spades, side quests do the same thing. For anyone who follows me at all, you know I’m very particular about side quests. I want them to be as well-written and important as the actual main quest. I want them to add flavor to the world, to add meaning to the universe’s inhabitants, to actually grab my attention long enough to complete them, and then to reward me with SOMETHING useful, whether it’s experience, gear, or a story payoff. Super Daryl Deluxe makes sure if you accept a side quest, you will be rewarded. Most of the time for me, that reward was an interesting exchange with an interesting character. I have chuckled more than once reading through the ending dialogue associated with some of the game’s side quests. Some of them are simple fetch quests, but the mundane action is at least buffered by interesting conversation (other games take note). A unique aspect of the side quests, however, is that sometimes you will accept a fetch quest requiring items you will be fetching for a while. It’s not just a five to ten minute deal. You will complete it as you play throughout the game, which is a neat change of pace. The quest system as a whole is a huge plus for the game, and I can’t commend the devs enough for the work they put into it.
While many RPGs fall flat due to their moment-to-moment gameplay lacking in the fun department, Super Daryl Deluxe does not suffer from this in the least. As combat is a huge portion of those moments, it’s important for the combat to be enjoyable or challenging – in the very least to not be mindless. I knew from the very first skill I selected in the tutorial area, the combat here was something I would have to grow into and master, and that’s definitely a good thing. While it’s an action RPG, throwing you into battles with enemies directly on the screen, no transitions, it doesn’t play like a beat ‘em up since your skills all have varying cooldowns. This system forces you to play strategically, timing your skill selections in a sort of rhythm which you begin to master after more and more time with the game. The game does a wonderful job introducing you to the mechanics by giving you a super-powered Daryl in the tutorial, and then stripping you back to level one for the beginning of the actual game. It’s something that shows up in other games, and it’s well-implemented here. In just a few minutes, I was able to get accustomed to several skills I really liked and get an idea for how I’d like to build my character when everything reset. As there is a bit of a learning curve with the combat system, some of the fights can be challenging, especially if you enter an area under leveled. Having respawning enemies provides opportunities to grind for those so inclined, but it isn’t necessary. Just make sure you’re at least a level below your surroundings, and you should be fine.
Speaking of challenge, the boss fights are one area where the game design truly shines. They aren’t just super hard versions of the enemies you fight in the other areas; instead, each boss has some sort of mechanic you have to figure out to win. Simply wailing on the attack button isn’t good enough. In that way, it adds so much more depth to the experience and makes it feel rewarding when you finally defeat them because you had to solve a puzzle of sorts on top of just being good at pressing your skill buttons. Did I get frustrated sometimes dying over and over to the same boss? Yes. But each time I died, I didn’t feel like it was cheap; I knew it was because I hadn’t figured that specific boss out yet. This type of mechanic makes each boss encounter challenging, exciting, and somewhat daunting, just like bosses should be.
Where Super Daryl Deluxe really comes through as an RPG is in its upgrade system. While straightforward, it truly does make me feel like I’m playing an older PlayStation-era title. You gain experience from quests and monsters to gain levels to unlock access to more skills to help you fight better. But it gets a little more complex in that you don’t just acquire skills upon leveling – you have to purchase them, but you don’t buy them with the money you collect from killing bads. Instead, you purchase skills using text books you collect throughout your playthrough (remember, you have a job after all). Some vendors do sell textbooks, so you can technically use money that way, but you get what I’m saying. Once you actually acquire a skill, you can decide to bind it to one of your four (five counting the dash) skill buttons. Throughout your playthrough, you earn skill experience at the same time you earn normal experience. This skill experience may be expended to level up your skills, making them more powerful, and helping you grow out your Daryl just the way you want. You can even convert some of your textbooks into skill experience, allowing you to balance your skill-buying with your skill-enhancing with the use of the same currency. It’s a fun little system. And while you level up your character’s stats and abilities, you also earn a type of reputation, allowing you to become more and more sociable over time with the NPCs around the school. You need friends after all, right? Ultimately, all of these systems mesh together to provide an RPG experience at a level to which I was honestly surprised and delighted.
In the end, this title is a homerun, delivering on everything it promises. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the game, a few moments watching the trailer or even browsing the game’s website introduces you to the tone and humor of what you’re getting into. It’s amusing but also welcoming. Firing up Super Daryl Deluxe makes me feel like I’m doing something with a good friend, even if I’m actually playing alone. Is this because Daryl is a super relatable, engaging protagonist? He’s yet to say a single word, so no, that’s not it. But the world itself, the universe Dan and Gary has created is both engaging and relatable to a point. Have we all had open portals and tears in the fabric of space and time in our history classroom? No, no we haven’t. But we’ve all interacted with people in weird situations, whether it be at school, at work at the grocery store, or even at home. In the end, Super Daryl Deluxe succeeds in the way that it takes ordinary feelings, scenarios, and memories and turns them into extraordinary adventures.
Bravo, Daryl. Bravo.