Really nice and eclectic old-school RPG with a few highly unique features that make it stand out. First thing I should mention are the environments. This time we're playing Lily, a little girl traversing a variety of worlds within her dreams that contain many familiar characters from literature and films. There is a sense of unpredictability that is special here, as the settings run the gamut from cute to creepy, futuristic to fanciful, to more modern and down-to-earth. A variety of custom assets really set this apart from many other games made with this engine. There is hardly a medieval RPG cliche in sight, and the vast majority of backgrounds, scenery, bosses, character designs, and even the unusually over-sized sprites and animations give this game its own identity. The only unfortunate bit art-wise is the small number of portraits for the characters and the kind of amateurish approach in the few designs that are there. They clash with the often inspired environmental and boss designs.
The story is not heavy on cut-scenes or banter and the script is very comparable in longevity to SNES RPGs. There is a plot and quite light character development, but not a lot of time is spent extrapolating on either. What is here though is equally as unconventional as the presentation of the game. There is a mix of cute and charming aspects and darker, more sinister story elements. For example, the hub town is a magical wonderland of a place and Lily's three companions are mystical creatures befitting a child's storybook. But there are other ominous figures milling about, hinting at a more ambitious overarching plotline. Forces both good and evil seem invested in her journey, and the intentions of any characters are questionable.
While the battle system is very old-school in execution, there are many notable editions to the overall gameplay. Crafting becomes possible early in, and involves creating your own spells and customizing character abilities and elemental affinities. You collect incredients for spells as spoils from fallen enemies and from treasure chests. You can also craft many items and furniture (more about that shortly) There are also a multitude of accessories to collect and/or earn from completing quests in the game. But perhaps the largest side endeavor is the ability to decorate your own house and place numerous items either earned from crafting or purchased with points scattered around the dungeons. I was surprised by how detailed this mini-game of sorts is, and that it ties into the rest of the game by giving bonus elemental and stat benefits. Finally, each new area offers puzzles to be solved, some are mini-games while others involve environmental manipulation and mazes to navigate through. There is a lot of care put into differentiating each of the levels. At about 10 hours through I've completed perhaps 60-70% of the game, and there is apparently an alternate mode (New Dream+) that adds more replayability. The inclusion of 38 achievements is a nice bonus, and some of these are fulfilling secrets that unlock in-game bonuses.
Now for some of the downsides- my main issue with the game is how long it takes for battles to pick up speed and be more engaging. At the beginning, playing on normal at least, enemies have some powerful status effects at their disposal. The first two areas are rife with enemies who seem to have high evasion plus the ability to add a blind status effect to the party, lengthening battles by a large degree. What makes this frustrating is that it takes a few hours of leveling before characters learn the more interesting of their innate or learnable abilities, so much of the strategy options are limited. I think it's important for games to put their best foot forward when it comes to introducing a game, I could see many people becoming disenchanted by this title before it even begins to show promise. Just having a few more strategic options and introducing the variety of the battle party as quickly as possible can make a big difference, I feel, and would mesh better with the high ambitions of the rest of the game.
There are already so many unusual features and for a game as combat-heavy as this, more resources should have been allocated to adding more variance to the battle system. If you're not already sold by the old-school turn-based battle systems of the NES-SNES era, this one is probably not going to change your mind. Those who have a lot of patience with or already enjoy that approach; however, will likely enjoy all the facets of this title. So overall, Sweet Lily Dreams takes a while to get going, but is interesting and recommendable.