Project Sylpheed is a mission-based space shooter in the spirit of the Wing Commander series. You'll fly around space, dogfighting with other spacecraft and launching big missiles at larger capital ships, just as you'd expect from a game in this vein. The action is surrounded by pre-rendered cutscenes that give the whole game a bit of anime flair, for better and for worse. Ultimately, this game is brought down by its short length, poor control, and bad technical performance.
In the game, you fly as a guy named Katana. You're one of the Terrans, and you fight for the side of Earth. At the other end of the conflict is the ADAN resistance, a group of humans from other worlds who have joined together to fight what they see as tyranny on the part of Earth's government. As the story progresses, you'll protect your carrier against ADAN attacks, take the fight to the ADAN forces, and ultimately destroy ADAN's Death Star knock-off. Along the way, you'll get cutscenes that deal with a few of the interpersonal relationships. In true anime fashion, the ace pilot on the other side is a mysterious figure from your past, which makes the conflict feel a bit more personal. The storyline isn't terrific, but it moves the action along in ways that usually make sense.
The gameplay is what brings Project Sylpheed down. While you're given three different control schemes that either attempt to make things easy to handle or give the game a flight simulation-like quality, none of them really do the job, as various commands require you to double-tap buttons, or hold them down, or just press them once, and so on. It feels like each button has two or three commands, depending on how you press it, which makes the tutorial mode more confusing than it should be because it quickly rushes you through all of your ship's functionality without actually telling you why any of it's useful. On top of that, many of the commands at your disposal--such as a three-stage special move that can slow down time, another that causes you to boost forward to bash through enemies, or one that fires all your weapons at once--are almost entirely useless.
Though the game's harder difficulties require you to be a bit more on top of things, most of the game is spent lining up shots with your HUD and targeting computer, and firing homing shots to take care of business. The only thing you really have to worry about is making sure that your support ships or the ships you're escorting don't get shot down. On top of all that, the game is quite short, and it's probable that most players will get to the conclusion of the story in around three to six hours of flight time. Obviously, raising the difficulty stretches that time out, but fighting tougher foes doesn't really make the gameplay any more rewarding.
Project Sylpheed doesn't look bad when it isn't moving. It's got some nice-looking star fields, and the ship design is OK. However, anytime the area gets crowded, the frame rate suffers a huge hit. In some of the later levels, where the opposing forces collide with their full fleets in tow, the game is almost unplayable. But the explosions look nice and the sound effects are passable, too. The game uses a good amount of voice acting, both in-game and during cutscenes, and it's of the typical English-speaking anime quality, meaning that the characters are occasionally overdramatic or a little too upbeat and cutesy for their own good. Ellen, the girl who flies as your wingman for the entire game, is especially stupid.
While modern game machines haven't seen very many space shooters like Project Sylpheed, this one probably isn't going to satisfy anyone looking for a Wing Commander or X-Wing-like game because it's just too basic to hold anyone's interest for very long. At the same time, anyone looking for a basic shooter will probably be put off by the needlessly complicated controls.