Note: This review was written in cooperation with Future Sack editor Annagram.
After finding automaton inventor Hans Voralberg, Kate Walker still has a long journey ahead of her before she can reach the mysterious Syberia and bring him to his mammoths.
A journey with many emotional stops
With Hans slowly losing his health and sanity, the plot has a darker tone than the first game. Unfortunately it suffers from inconsistencies and unnecessary narrative branches, e.g. with a detective who is hired by Kate’s former law company to find her whose only reason d’être is to talk about places she’s already been to. As family and friends have already become a part of her past life, this distracts from the main relationship between Kate, Oscar and Hans.
There’s also the introduction of two mischievous villains who come across as exaggerated caricatures with the sole purpose to prevent the three from reaching their final destination. Of course this has to do with the absence of train stations which served to told about Hans’ past, but this comical duo of gangsters feels like a cheap narrative trick to extend playtime.
Change in character and soul
Spirituality becomes an encompassing theme which has already been touched upon with Kate’s personal growth away from the material world she once knew. Now it’s much more prevalent with the zealous abbey of a monastery in the mountains who simply sees Hans’ approaching death as an inevitable spiritual salvation that can’t and doesn’t have to be stopped. Then there’s the shaman of the Youkols, the group of people who had first-hand experience with Syberia and the mammoths, who sees hope in making Kate enter Hans’ dreams to bring back his will to live, as he seems to have given up on ever finding his dream land and relapses into his troubled past with his strict father.
While Walker is still a strong female character, her motivation to help Hans reach his destination often results in cold-hearted behavior towards other people, making her less likeable than before, as she becomes as much obsessed about finding Syberia as Hans is. All this adds to a rather depressing story about soul searching and redemption, although there are still incredible places to visit and some wonderfully weird characters to talk to which give the game its dream-like fantasy quality.
Looking for clues and problems to solve
Gameplay-wise, there are quite obscure puzzles with few hints and even more difficult to find items hidden in the detailed backgrounds. This requires quite a bit of walking around in more open interconnected spaces and triggering certain events before one can progress in the story. While this has been a staple in most adventure games, it’s still annoying to revisit all the locations just to see if a new person has arrived or if another dialogue option is available to acquire a particular object that is needed elsewhere.
The solutions aren’t always logical, and some puzzles rely too much on guess work or trial and error, e.g. when fishing for a species that can only be found in a certain part of water, or operating an aircraft’s communication system with too many buttons to press in a specific order. The lack of automaton puzzles, as easy as they were, is certainly felt in the less varied conundrums.
Dreaming of a white present and black past
Graphically, the game offers countless backgrounds one could easily hang up as paintings, especially with all the snow covering the landscapes. The picturesque environments are less industrialized as in the first game and are full of life with all kinds of animals running or flying around in addition to the characters leaving footprints in the snow or snow falling from branches. This attention to detail is also true for the Yuki, a strange mixture of dog and bear that later accompanies Kate whose animations are quite impressive.
The cuteness and the overall romantic scenery almost make one forget the dark side of the story, even if there is a change in atmosphere when Kate steps into Hans’ past, with known places of Valadilene bathed in an old sepia photographic tone, showcasing the amazing art direction of Sokal. The music with its use of ritualistic drums and chorus parts also adds to the mystic atmosphere, while the voice acting is again of a high quality, except for a few characters.
The end of an epic tale
Syberia II continues the epic story of its predecessor and provides many emotional moments, but it loses its momentum in mysticism and some unnecessary narrative branches. It still looks and sounds beautiful with memorable set-pieces, even if the puzzle design has more flaws than before. However, it’s a spiritual journey worth taking, because there’s simply nothing like it in the genre.
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