Developer: Dancing Dragon Games
Review Context: I’m always interested in finding little gems in the RPG scene. I do love more niche games, but the overabundance in the market of RPG Maker games has me a bit disillusioned.
Date of Playthrough: January 29th, 2016
PC Specs Game Played on:
OS: Windows 10 64-bit
Processor: Intel Core i7-5700HQ CPU @ 2.70 GHz
RAM: 8 GB
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 840M
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Skyborn is an RPG Maker game that focuses on creating a classic RPG experience with a steampunk/fantasy setting. RPG Maker games have been, for a long time, overlooked in the Steam market by many people. That would be accredited to the overabundance of half-baked RPGs that neither create an engaging story, nor rework the game mechanics in a more meaningful way. Horror RPG Maker games manage to create settings using their own sprite work and pixel art to invoke a sense of dread, while ones that focus on RPGs are not as innovative with the materials at their disposal or don’t utilize their own artwork. Skyborn definitely tries to set itself apart with a story that is, while streamlined, definitely has some effort put into both its characters and the world. That being said, is that enough to give a unique experience over other RPG Maker RPGs out?
When I said classic RPG experience, I really meant it. Much like a lot of other RPG Maker games, Skyborn is sporting turn-based combat with little to no deviation other than its threat system. The threat system is utilized to have one of your beefier units handle all the aggro from every enemy if they have the highest threat. This can be gained by doing specific attacks, doing enormous amounts of damage, and that is about it as it spreads out over your entire party. This basically means your healer is almost always protected, and at times this mechanic can break the difficulty of the game. It may sound like a bunch of enemies targeting one character is a bad thing, but over time battles become so mundane that it never becomes an issue until the bonus dungeon. While the threat system is the only unique gameplay element setting it apart from others, it does do a better job up against harder enemies. Primarily ones that can’t hit every team member, which makes it a useless mechanic in some instances. The gameplay focuses heavily on the usage of speed mechanics over everything else. Slowdowns and hastes are essential to fighting every hard enemy, or any enemy to be exact, as you can prevent enemy units from attacking all together with the right usage. Sometimes, especially in the bonus dungeon Venom Depths, the only way to win is by slowing down the enemy and that can make the gameplay feel repetitive.
This game suffers from difficulty spikes that are outrageous at times, especially for said bonus dungeons. You can go through the entire game killing every monster you pass and level up nice enough to breeze on through. Even the bonus content, such as the optional mine halfway through the game or the colosseum are easy when tackled at the appropriate time. This is without grinding as well, since enemies will never respawn. The rewards for completing said bonus dungeon and the colosseum specifically only help out if you had not completed the game prior. If you had completed the game, the strong weapons become worthless, as you have already completed everything in the game with no other challenges besides going back through the last story section over again. The classing system, while interesting with its different paths makes for interesting choices is made obsolete with the colosseum prize of getting all the abilities from the paths you didn’t choose. There is no sense of reward in this game because of that, as all these nifty little “consolation prizes” for completing harder bonus content feels useless in the grand scheme of things especially with the side quests throughout the game being sparse and offering little to no reward for completing them. The smithing in the game has the same feeling, as you never know exactly what you are getting for the specific combination of ores you use. Eventually the smithing is useless, as you can buy weapons far better than the ones you can make. Nothing feels rewarding, and that makes all the side content feel tiresome and unfulfilling.
This bonus dungeon Venom Depths, is the bane of the game primarily because of how you get to it. Over the course of the game you will encounter cards hidden in chests. To access this bonus dungeon you must collect every card and some do involve backtracking, as one specifically cannot be obtained until a specific point in the game. This bonus dungeon upon completion, and believe me when I say you are in for some annoyingly hard fights, only gives you items which are worthless if you had completed the game prior. With no respawning enemies or extra challenges, besides fighting an even harder optional boss in the final stretch of the final story section, this reward is meaningless. Achievements would have made this section at the very least validated going through all this effort, but there are none for the game.
If the gameplay is the bad part of the game, then the story must be the good part, correct? Well it actually is. Skyborn does have an, albeit, clichéd story yet manages to bring this awkward charm to every dialogue segment between most of the characters. The story is interesting about the racial struggles involving the elitist Skyborn and their hate for humanity and half-bloods. There are layers to the story and it does tackle some issues really well. That being said, the story was far too short and didn’t expand upon enough of its material to really sell some of these points. The world, for as small as it is as seen by the player, is surprisingly filled to the brim with life and interesting elements. It made the characters that lived in it feel natural in their ideals as nothing felt entirely forced.
Claret Spencer is our main heroine and probably one of the blander characters, as she is strong and has a tragic backstory, but not enough development really took place to really make you care for her predicament. Sullivan was a rich royal with a darker family past, which was a nicer little subplot to explore as we find out more behind his many personas. Sullivan and Claret were good together for their banter, but besides that, they were not the most engaging characters. Corwin, the half-blood healer, is probably the worst character of the game as often his dialogue involves nagging or worrisome remarks that become quite annoying the further you go through the story. The two most interesting characters were the weirder members of the group; the mutant Chaska and the Skyborn Alda. Now Chaska’s backstory is really interesting in the whole lore of the game tying up some plot points really nicely, and not to mention her bubbly personality that was just infectious through her dialogue. Alda also has a really good and playable backstory that gives a lot of insight into Skyborn culture, and her attitude towards the world really helps to show the prejudices of the elitism that overwhelms the society.
Now, I will openly berate some of the art in this game as most of it is already pre-set art in the RPG Maker library. That being said, despite the bland monsters, the world is nicely done for the limitations the developer, Dancing Dragon Games, had. It does feel like an RPG world and the time put into mapping some sections can show the cluttered nature of the world. That being said, the cluttered nature of the world is hard to get through at some times, as NPCs can block your progression in towns if they walk in front of you and more often than not they will. The detail of the main characters is really good and is not pre-set, as you can see the developers put their own artwork in. The portraits really do help sell the characters, even if some portraits don’t match the sprites every time. I’m talking about you golden warden, who somehow when you fight him is a black knight! There are noticeable flaws with the design and the music is extremely forgettable, as nothing really stood out comparatively to other games of the same nature. It was nice and atmospheric, but never really invoked any emotional response when playing through the stages, and never helped to truly define the area or moment it was coupled with.
With everything bad I said about the game, it sounds like I really don’t like it. Well that is partially true, okay mostly true, but it does have some good moments that do save it from being a 15 hour borefest. Skyborn is extremely flawed in its overall game design, but manages to at the very least offer an interesting story worth going through. The bonus content is not worth it unless you feel the need to complete everything, but nothing would be rewarding in the end, as the game would already be over at this point and the tedious fetching for all the cards is not worth the hassle. It shows the potential Dancing Dragon Games has for future games, and I will look optimistically towards their next game in the hopes that with the game design flaws fixed I will have a great RPG to sink my teeth into. Skyborn, if all the flaws were fixed, would have been a perfectly semi-above average RPG Maker game, yet sadly is setback by numerous bad game design choices.
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