Syberia, first of its series made by Microids, is an adventure I’ve had the pleasure of tagging along with on the Nintendo Switch. Though a little dated, having originally been released in 2002, I’ve had my eye on it for years. However, as is the case with most old games and new PCs, I ran into the trouble of pesky bugs.
Fortunately, I recently acquired a dedicated gaming machine and a new port of the game, so I was ecstatic to jump right in and figure out what was happening in Valadilene, a quaint town with a mystery — and a name that rolls off the tongue addictively well.
Playing as reliable American lawyer Kate Walker, my initial task was to make sure the Voralberg toy factory sale went well. This included finding Anna Voralberg and obtaining her signature, thereby saving her ailing company as technology continued to exponentially advance.
Leaving behind New York, friends, family, and a fiancé, Kate traveled to Valadilene, where she is greeted by Anna Voralberg's funeral procession and the unwelcome knowledge of a secret heir — Hans Voralberg, Anna's younger brother who disappeared decades ago.
The graphics and storyline have aged well, despite the story being unfinished (there’s three games and a fourth in the works!), so I felt right at home with the old feel of the game. Despite its age, I still couldn’t help marveling at how easy on the eyes the scenery looked. I was especially taken aback by Aralbad, the last stop in this installment of Syberia.
Every time the train wound down just as we entered a new area, I encountered another stage in Hans’ life as he grew up and away from his family. Every location added layers to the story as Kate found out more about Hans and his wild goose chase for mammoths. But I'm getting ahead of myself — let's start from the beginning.
There’s not a lot of people in Valadilene, but after the funeral procession, the quiet atmosphere of the small town took on a more somber meaning. I could almost feel the clear air as I made Kate jog down the cobbled street to scout out the appropriate people and discover more about Anna Voralberg and Hans.
The only clues I had were thanks to a boy named Momo who resembled a young Hans and a rather particular automaton engineer named Oscar. Momo was kind enough to lead me to a cave along a very scenic path, where a small mammoth doll lay waiting.
While exploring the toy factory itself, I found an audio recording hidden in Anna Voralberg's private office. With both items in tow and a wind-up train to ride, I was on my way to find out who — and most importantly, where — this Hans Voralberg was.
Barrockstadt University was an interesting follow-up to the peaceful and mysterious Valadilene. Hans definitely spent plenty of time at the university, what with the shared interest he and a professor had with the mysterious mammoth doll.
Here, I was running around trying to piece together clues involving rare birds and grapes. And at the same time, I was learning about mammoths and Youkols from the professor who was helping to hide an alcoholic secret.
Lightly (and rightly) blackmailing the university staff with their illegal manufacturing of wine on school grounds completes the infuriating run-around experience. Soon enough, I was finally on my way to the next location after the tough ordeal and no help from Oscar.
Next stop was Komkolzgrad, a city of coal, metal, and abandoned dreams. I thought dealing with the staff at Barrockstadt University was tiring, until I arrived here. The moment I looked away, someone stole Oscar's hands. His distress only added to mine as I sought to hunt down whoever assaulted my beloved engineer.
The smoky air and the giant robots on either end of the train tracks did little to help reassure me that the city used to be a bustling and productive area until I found a rather creepy makeshift museum for a famous opera singer who visited way back when. After finding the assailant, he struck a deal with me: bring the opera singer to Komolzgrad in exchange for the pair of hands.
Thanks to a crazed fan of Helena Romanski, an opera singer past her prime, Kate almost dies in Komkolzgrad.
Kate and I briefly left Oscar in Komkolzgrad for Aralbad, a hot springs resort that I'm sure looked even more stunning in its prime. Its now-demure beauty is a mirror to the opera singing celebrity I was adamant on finding: Helena Romanski, with a voice lost to old age and insecurity, at first refused to return to Komkolzgrad for one final performance.
Like how most things go, it only took a bit of alcohol to persuade her to come back with me and greet her last remaining fan. And, well, the performance ended with a bang — escaping said fan who was not above blowing me up definitely made it an unforgettable concert. Aralbad was never as sweet or welcoming as after that ordeal.
It’s easy to know Kate. Hardworking, kind, and incredibly patient, she embodied all the good things that the people back at home (with the exception of her mother) complained about.
I was Kate’s placating responses to her disgruntled fiancé demanding her return home, the agony of being reprimanded by her impatient boss hounding for progress on the job, the gentle ushering to hang up on her talkative mother, the snarky comments when someone was being difficult.
There were sides to Kate that I suspect all these people I’ve mentioned have rarely seen of her, but I selfishly knew her wholly and wanted to see how she’d respond to the situations she was put in. Her persistence is well-written in ever-changing dialogue, triggered after solving puzzles or talking to certain people. I was pleased to say I did not have a hard time at all relating to her.
Oscar was probably the easiest character to adore in Syberia. While Oscar made sure I begrudgingly followed all the (useless) procedures in all efforts to uphold integrity and law on the wind-up train, I’m thankful in the end that he accompanied me from the beginning to the end of the game. Not only do we see Kate change during the journey, but Oscar too.
I loved how Kate tried to persuade him to help her at every inconvenience, only to be shot down by his consistent explanations of the limitations of his automaton body and programming. I was just as irritated as she was when he insisted on staying by the train because of the weather or some such reason, and just as incensed when I found him with his hands stolen by a mad fan of an opera singer.
Despite all he'd done to make my tasks harder, I was still tinged melancholy at the final conversation between him and Kate at the end. Standing outside for once in the salt wind of Aralbad (which is bad for his body, as he'll make sure you'll know), I couldn’t help but resonate with Kate’s heartfelt “I’ll miss you."
As much as he was a pain in the rear end, he was also an agreeable ally when it really mattered.
I got to know Hans, too — but not by overhearing his phone calls or actively participating in his conversations with other people. No, I got to know him through memorabilia and lovingly recorded messages, through pictures and drawings, and the fondness of which people said his name with.
Influence is such a mysterious thing. Hans was the very definition of presence even in his absence, having changed so many people’s lives wherever he went.
He did his talking through his work, creating things that bettered humanity rather than destroying it. Everyone you spoke to in the game had something to say about him, whether it was to remark on his brain or his sweetness. One distinctive part in the game where this is demonstrated is when I met Boris in Komkolzgrad, towards the latter half of the chapter.
Believe it or not, I got a little misty-eyed when I helped fulfill Boris’ dream of seeing the stars.
It could've been something about the run-down look of Komkolzgrad and its dismal atmosphere or the fact that his dream failed because of factors outside of his control. Maybe it was the way he drank to comfort himself, only able to finally reach the stars in a moment of clarity thanks to Kate’s journey towards Hans.
Or maybe I was just reading too much into what was supposed to be a comedic obstacle Kate needed to get over, starring a drunk pilot and his ridiculous goal. I think Boris was the best example of Hans’ influence — the ability to alter the course of someone’s life based on personal decisions.
I have to admit, though the scene made me laugh towards the end, this little mission hit a little too close to home with everything Boris went through.
That's the Sound of Adventure
If the voice acting and music were taken away, Syberia would have layers of emotion stripped away that could never be recovered.
Sharon Mann brought Kate Walker to life, while Oscar's distinct inflections made him all the more endearing, his programming be damned. Without the voice acting, the story is enough to carry the game to success, but it's that push for more immersion that really made me love or hate the characters. And the immersion was not only limited to the characters. The soundtrack itself made the experience feel that much more magical.
I never thought I'd find such cinematic and fitting music to make the scenes soar that much more, but here we are with full orchestrated audio that helped reinforce the important beats of the story. The points at which the soundtrack crescendos and fades away are tastefully done, lending themselves to further make the experience more dreamlike and full of purpose. It made my heart beat with excitement and put the stars in my eyes with awe.
I seriously can't imagine the game being any other way.
After everything that's happened, there's still a long way to go before this story is finished. And while I have yet to reach the mythical Syberia, it's inspiring to say that whatever truth is awaiting me, one day I will get there.