"At the very least, when it comes to Kemco games, I ALWAYS have something to talk about!"
Shelterra the Skyworld is an example of one of Kemco's content providers actually trying to do a few things a bit differently. Despite that effort, however, it's typical Kemco fare: a short, disposable JRPG that probably can only be recommended to people like me who have been playing these games for so long that we're up for anything.
That's not to say the list of qualities I rattled off a moment ago is all bad. Over the past year or so, I've discovered I don't really enjoy the RPG genre the way I used to. To no particular benefit, the games have become increasingly bloated and time-consuming. Despite the fatigue, though, I have no trouble coming back to Kemco and their massive collection of games that last between 10 and 20 hours. I like to start a game, get into it and finish it before things have the chance to get tiresome. That sequence of events sure beats fighting the same Bravely Default bosses for the umpteenth time, just so the damn game will grace me with its best ending. Despite my negative tone, I see Shelterra as a success in some respects. I had a decent 17-hour stretch as I worked through it, finished it, uninstalled it and started up my next disposable Kemco game.
Shelterra the Skyworld doesn't take long to show you how it got its name, as the world it depicts does indeed exist in the sky. You control a lad named Claude, whose adventurer parents found him a neat rock in some ruins they were exploring. Even more neat: Claude finds that he (and only he) can communicate with the rock, an amnesiac being named Ignis. Skip forward a few years and Claude's parents are dead. To earn a living, their orphan works for the same adventurer's guild his parents once used for employment. Stuck embarking on a never-ending stream of tedious fetch-quests while being told he'll never live up his parents' reputation, Claude is ecstatic when a noble and her bodyguard need someone to explore the same ruins where his parents found Ignis.
The excitement fades a bit once Claude learns the reason for the expedition is to find Ignis. The girl, Luna, has her own sentient rock. She explains that they are powerful beings known as Artifacts. After it becomes clear Claude isn't giving up Ignis, his only friend for the last few years, Luna asks him to work for her instead of the local guild. He soon is invited to her family's castle. There, the sage Solteris (who essentially runs the kingdom behind the scenes) tells a dire tale. For whatever reason, the magic keeping the land floating in the air is slowly failing and the mass is gradually descending toward the planet's surface. Once upon a time, that might have been fine, but a poisonous miasma now pollutes said surface and the Artifacts' magic was used to create Shelterra and hold it aloft. Claude, Luna and her bodyguard Geoff are sent out to find the remaining Artifacts, in order to strengthen the magic and keep Shelterra safe. Of course, there is at least one complication in the form of a particular group of black-garbed individuals who seek the Artifacts for their own use.
Magitec was Kemco's development team for this particular effort. A lot of what I've said about their other titles also applies here. The story, though clumsily-written at times, is decent and contains a fair bit of intrigue and some neat twists. Dungeons tend to contain a lot of long, winding paths that lead to treasure of often-dubious worth. The graphics tend to be simplistic, compared to those used by Kemco's other groups, without bells and whistles such as animated enemies or, really, anything that looks even remotely fancy. But their work is the embodiment of "it is what it is." During the entirety of its partnership with Kemco, the studio has used the same engine with only the most subtle of upgrades. That's no way to win style points, but when the team is at its best, the substance of the games produced has kept me invested.
Which brings us to Shelterra. The game includes a decent variety of dungeons, with many of them at least feeling different, and that effect isn't always easy to accomplish when you have such a limited number of tile-sets at your disposal. Old Fort Groux was a particular highlight on my journey, as I had to occasionally drop down holes to get to certain areas on lower floors, with the whole process taking a lot of backtracking before I found the path that led to the boss. And instead of learning spells and skills from gaining levels or purchasing them in shops, players learn them randomly from enemies faced in battle. I was skeptical of this system at first, but my characters seemed to learn new stuff regularly, growing more powerful as the enemies also gained strength. Also, in a neat touch that seems to have been lifted from the Souls games, a tombstone marks your passing if you happen to fall in battle. You can return to that point and interact with it to obtain all the experience and cash you had acquired by that point. And this game actually offers enough of a challenge that I personally had to snag a tombstone or two!
So far, the peak score I've awarded a Kemco game has been a four on our five-point scale. Based on the above talking points, I wouldn't have had any trouble giving Shelterra that same praise. Sadly, though, I can't. The game was just a bit too clunky for me to really get into it. I'd play it for about an hour at a time, and my patience would start to feel like it was being tested by the end of that session. Battles were a big part of the problem. They were challenging for two reasons, one good and one bad.
The good reason for the combat difficulty was that your party members have low hit point totals (in the 300s when I beat the game) and enemies are capable of routinely hitting hard. The final boss had a couple of attacks that could easily take half a character's health at once, while even random mobs could smack away a healthy amount. I like that. There's a certain amount of tension in a game when you enter a battle turn and have to make tough choices like whether to dedicate a character to healing or risk having at least one guy get killed. And if you get back-attacked by a tough group, don't be shocked if you're near death's door before you even get to take your first action.
A considerably more annoying source of challenge is the game's love for status ailments. There are simply too many enemies that are capable of poisoning, blinding, paralyzing, petrifying and/or silencing your party members. In some dungeons, I seemingly had to go to the menu after every battle to get rid of one affliction or another. Look, I've played these games since the first Dragon Warrior. I know status ailments are part of the bargain, but they're most effective when used as a complimentary way to accentuate the difficulty. For an example, take the early stages of many of those Dragon Warrior games on the NES. You'd first have to worry about being poisoned early in the game when Babbles were introduced. And you WOULD worry, because you might not even have the Antidote spell yet, so you'd have to utilize some of your limited inventory space to hold a few antidote herbs. Now, when most creatures are handing out one monster STD or another, it just feels like an annoying bit of fake difficulty. It's more tiresome than anything else.
Magitec's old engine also hurts the game at points. Since you are wandering a world in the sky, they decided the best way to indicate this would be to have clouds in the background (taking the place of oceans), which you glimpse while you're traveling from town to dungeon in the world. Apparently, moving clouds are too much for the engine to handle, though, as my walking speed ground to a near-halt when I was out in the wilds. Enter a town, dungeon or castle and *voila*, my party would be back at full speed. It seems the first victim of Kemco's insistence on releasing a new game on a monthly basis is quality control. Anyone who had actually played this game for more than an hour would have been confronted by this irritating flaw.
But that's our Kemco! Regardless of which of the company's subsidiaries we're talking about, the end result is almost always a game that peaks at "decent, but flawed". And Shelterra the Skyworld is no exception to that rule. It has a decent story, some enjoyable dungeons, a couple new ideas and is tough enough to at least provide a respectable challenge. But it also is hurt by annoying status-effect-laden battles and a primitive engine that can't even handle cloud cover. When you add in all the similarities, both superficial and gameplay-wise, to other Magitec titles, the end result is a product that is only worthwhile to those who really consider themselves fans of the developer's work.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (August 07, 2017)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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