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Skyborn (PC) artwork

Skyborn (PC) review

"A good, entertaining game with epic aspirations let down by rushed design and incomplete mechanics."

Claret Spencer is a cutie. No, really. I caught a glimpse of her dark, focused eyes and stoic expression and wanted to know what it was that had her attention. She’s the hook, make no mistake. That was 2014, then a bundle came along and I decided it was time to dive in.

Claret is a human mechanic in a world that lost a war against a winged race called ‘Skyborn’, by whom the humans are oppressed and essentially enslaved. She’s got the knack, and healthy respect for, machines. You learn quickly that she prizes them over social or political stature. So much so that her brother, Jake, makes the bonehead decision of having her married off for “her own good”.

He’s not brave enough to tell her that, though. Fortunately for us and the story, she’s the impatient, independent type. So much of what she is you expect her to be; a capable fighter, beautiful and intelligent, focused and driven, direct and caring. The rest all happens much too quickly, even though there a couple of nicely timed plot twists before you fall in with the token rebel force.

Skyborn is an RPG Maker developed title and plays a lot like one. By that I mean that Dancing Dragon has programmed some interesting systems to keep you awake during and after combat, but there are some flaws inherent to the engine. For instance: Enemies slowly traverse the map as you do, but can be difficult to engage, having a small landing zone on each map square for you to interact with.

Some map backgrounds are mirrored noticeably, and some animations have distractingly few frames. There is no overworld, so you travel from map to map, where transitions are cleverly arranged to disguise this fact. It’s like a Role Playing Game on rails: As long as you get to the next screen intact, you will progress. No world map required.

The characters, conversely, are far less static. Each has a distinct personality, and the dialogue is detailed without being verbose or boring. Occasionally clever lines and spontaneous actions keep things moving right along. Reactions before boss battles, and other events, lack post-scene followups, and feel unnatural. Every. Single. Time.

Characters are also varied, if not wholly original. If there’s anything to say about this band is that the developer did not appear to be concerned about stereotypes, and so while he touched upon the essentials, he brought a healthy dose of individuality to each. For example; Sullivan, the stuffed-shirt aristocrat, is highly pragmatic and kind, not your typical charming rogue.

Regrettably he’s not much of either, though he is, as you’ll read, “pretty”. That actually speaks to Skyborn’s main issue. It’s good. As in, “inoffensive”. Claret and Sullivan get along after the initial sparks in their relationship, and then, nothing. For a fantasy RPG, Skyborn just isn’t very dramatic. It all is quite lively, and also emotionally flat.

An introduction may have been rote, or even technically impossible, but it would have prepared me for the setting. Speaking of setting, the orchestral music has a way of not quite getting the right feel. It’s clear he’s talented, but light jazz hardly nailed the tone of the lava drenched cave I spent so much time in. Nor did it transition well to the desert that followed.

I’m going to say it: Combat is far too easy. While it is possible to adjust the difficulty at any time, that isn’t the issue. It is the developer’s job to give you the tools you need for the job, but in this case they’re much too effective. Corwin has both “Cure” and “Circle of Healing”, but when the latter is so affordable and powerful, there’s no point in using the former.

MP regenerates every turn and EN (Energy) builds up with physical attacks, which means you’re balancing physical attacks and skills ... many of which have no cost. Even Final Fantasy Mystic Quest made magic harder to use. It takes the challenge out of combat when you can just spam physical attacks and the occasional skill to wipe out enemies. Bosses will be the only source of, I’d love to say frustration, but that’s just not true.

Granted I’m a veteran, I would like to have seen the stats just a hint lower, and the enemies a bit tougher. Am I oppressed clawing out of the mud, or am I the elite who can take on the world? As I said, it all happens too fast, and you’re barely given time to allow any of it to sink in before you’re dashing through the next dungeon and its attached, auto-completing quest.

Incidentally, there’s this great, well written journal that tracks your progress, but you wouldn’t see it unless you go hunting for it. Details like this flesh out the world, but also need to have my attention brought to them with even a simple prompt that can be easily dismissed. Meanwhile ...

Skyborn almost revels in its lack of tutorials, even though it provides a tutorial room. Somehow nothing any of the scholarly NPCs say leaves any impression. In fact, the game breaks the rules they fail to clearly communicate. Not that this will impede you, as the lack of overall difficulty means you can afford to play sloppily until you figure things out.

Of what do I speak? Having the main character back away from a path with an exclamation point supposedly reserved for sidequest givers, when none are given until the fifth hour of play? Then another instance of a room not linking to the previous in backtracking, presumably because it was never tested. I’ve brought it up with the developer, who does attend to his games, so hopefully we’ll see that resolved.

There’s no getting away from the fact that this is an Indie RPG. Inconsistencies abound, such as foliage you can walk over in one area being a barrier in another. The entire game needed guidance, and the lack thereof has more of a dramatic impact on the professionalism than the emotion does in the story’s dramatic elements.

I like the characters, and the brevity of the storyline could be a saving grace, but when you want to get involved in a good story, passable just isn’t enough. A pretty face and healthy figure will only get you so far, and it’s a good thing that Skyborn has some substance.

Augments are a good example of a system well implemented. Claret and her trusty multi-purpose wrench enable you to add bonuses to nearly any piece of equipment you choose. In fact, basic items for augmenting are very cheap and there are no risks at all; you’re encouraged to experiment until you find the balance you’re looking for. You’ll even pick up powerful augments that you can apply any time you please.

Crafting, alternately, is so far wholly pointless. While you can make any weapon or armor you can buy, that’s also the main problem. There’s no point when everything is so affordable. It’s also too easy to waste valuable materials with guesswork and no way of pre-planning your use of them. It’s optional, and often crafting materials are better used as Augments.

How about graphics? RPG Maker games have a penchant for beautiful, high resolution character art, but Skyborn’s enemy portraiture varies in detail significantly. Everyone is easy on the eyes, and well designed to boot, even the horrifically scarred Chaska. The things that Skyborn does well are marred by the things it doesn’t quite get right.

Skyborn delivers a fast paced storyline with lively characters and good writing. Combat is solid, the music is competent if forgettable. It’s not too much of a time investment and is easy to learn. The cast is likable and smartly written. Ordinary items like “red delicious” apples are a nice touch.

Combat is dreadfully simple and strategically facile. RPG Maker makes combat annoying to initiate at times. Map design, while inventive, rewards you with experience for almost no effort, lessening the overall challenge. Music is overly laden with reverb and lacks distinctive, memorable melodies. Crafting isn’t at all useful.

Now that Dragon Dancing has made its series available in a bundle, it’s worth picking up all four RPGs in this series. This game will run on anything Steam will, and its system requirements are very low. If you were hesitant before, now is the time to snap up this one.

hastypixels's avatar
Community review by hastypixels (October 23, 2016)

At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.

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