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3 reviews for the price of one!

  • sbester
  • 01/26/2011 07:11 AM
  • 3200 views
VACANT SKY acts I, II, and III.

Introduction
Alright, for this review, I am going to review each act as if it were a separate game. This is because I have heard how different each act is, and I want to highlight any progression/regression seen throughout each individual release. (Note: I wrote each review after finishing an act individually, not after completing all 3). Also, to avoid spoilers, I’ve merely decided to directly point out the game’s flaws and achievements, hopefully to help the author to understand what I personally believes works, and what doesn’t. In other words, this review is aimed more towards the creator than the general public.

ACT 1
(I didn’t read the author’s comment about getting a new download for Act I before reviewing until after getting through it… I apologize for that, however, I still feel that much of this review is relevant to the overall experience, carrying over into the other acts).

Plot and Dialogue 2.5/5
The dialogue in this game is rarely stilted, and Sailerius was careful when handling each piece. Auria has her own personality that is easily distinguishable from the other characters in the game, however, I felt that the other characters lacked her presence. While the dialogue flowed naturally between characters in every scene, the supporting characters leave a very hollow impression upon the player. I feel that this is the biggest problem with the writing as a whole, but it could easily be fixed up if Sai were to give the supporting cast a little more presence of voice.
The story itself unravels quite slowly in this Act, but it does have some redeeming qualities. The format in which the plot unfolds is very well done, beginning with scenes from the villains’ point of view before allowing the audience to become acquainted with our main protagonist. In playing this particular act, it became quickly apparent that it relies more on setting up the story than on gameplay. I understand why this was done, but it is my belief that many players will be turned off of the barrage of cutscenes and will quit before getting into the “real” gameplay. My suggestion, if Sai is still fixing this act up a bit, is to add some more gameplay. This could include new areas to explore along the way, a couple little side quests here and there, or even a few grinding areas closer to the beginning of the game.

Graphics 4/5
The art is beautiful in this game, and definitely recognizably different from any other RPG I’ve ever played, both commercial and non. The character faces are without a doubt my favorite part of playing this game so far. Resources are extremely well used too, and some of the backgrounds (like for instance, in the first town) create the perfect atmosphere. The menu system is pleasing to the eyes, and I was very impressed with the drawn out maps (accessible through one’s inventory).
Where the graphics lose points is in the design. At one point I was going to try and write down all of the passability issues, until I realized how many of them there were throughout. Also, there were a couple times when I was at a loss where to go. Entering houses from the side is quite acceptable, but it is important to draw attention to these entrances (yeah, I got lost looking for the cell phone store). Some of us players aren’t as observant as we’d like to think, and we need certain things handed to us (especially at the beginning of a game).

Sound 5/5
A custom soundtrack? Yes! There isn’t much I can say about the music except that it really fit well with the game. While I have no complaints, I would have liked for it to change up a little bit more than it did (when a scene changes to black at a point of high tension, the music should really switch to something urgent or dire). Also, there is voice acting! Awesome. That really helped, because up until I heard Auria’s voice for the first time, I was picturing some whiny, depressed, tired girl’s voice to go along with her rather excruciating thoughts to herself (emo). Hearing the lines from the more upbeat sounding voice actress helped me to like her a tad bit more.

Gameplay 1.5/5
What can I say? There isn’t much of it. I didn’t appreciate dying in the tutorial battle either. As I’ve stated before, this game is very plot heavy and does not rely much on its gameplay the way I suspect Act 2 and 3 will. Also, I believe a few more areas or minigames or sidequests or whatever could help to keep people playing. To comment on the battles, they’re really pretty bad. It takes 3 or four direct hits from an enemy to kill an ally (like, right away), and when I’m fighting 3 baddies at a time and haven’t found any decent items yet… well, you get the picture.



ACT 2

Plot and Dialogue 3.5/5
Where this act really shines is in its writing. While I found many of the cutscenes to go on a little too long at times, the conversations are livelier, and characters show much more personality than before. I still don’t like Auria all that much, but this is by far not the first RPG to feature an annoying emo in the leading role, so I’ll deal.
I won’t give away spoilers here, but there are a few twists and turns along the way that move the story along. The plot is definitely strengthened in this chapter of the game, but it’s still rather difficult to be invested in these characters given how slowly things progressed in the first act. Nevertheless, there are a few interesting moments to be had, and some difficult choices to be made.

Graphics 4.5/5
Again, the art is incredible.
In terms of design, the passability errors from the first act do not carry over into this one (or at least, not that I noticed). Each area is relatively easy to navigate your way around, and at no point did I feel overwhelmed by stagnant or repetitive landscapes.
My only issue, small as it is, is that there was very little room to avoid monster parties in the dungeon areas. It just made very little sense not having random encounters when you’re basically forced to fight a majority of the battles anyway.

Sound 5/5
There is little else that I can say that I didn’t say in my Act 1 review. It is very fitting, and never annoying. Kudos!

Gameplay 2/5
Perhaps I’m alone in this view, but grudgingly hard battles do not a great game make. I was very happy to see that different gameplay modes were offered this time: easy, medium, and hard. Hating my experiences with the difficulty level of act 1, I opted to play in easy mode. While this does make battles a little easier, I’m still left mostly with a party of characters who only take 3 or 4 hits to go down. And it does nothing to stop those enemies’ whopping critical hit attacks, which will knock you out in 2 hits if done simultaneously. I understand this was all done to try and make battles seem more tactical, but there’s nothing tactical about endlessly tapping the space bar to kill enemies each and every encounter (the special attacks all take up way too much SP to be of much use to me, so you’re forced into being extremely conservative with it). If SP usage had been adjusted a bit, I think it would be a much more enjoyable experience (even if it’s only done for easy mode).
Aside from battles, you’re still basically just trudging from one town to the next in search of the next major cutscene.
The one thing that was done better in this act was the customization. Having a big, full party, and many new skills available to me made character customization much more useful this time around. Many of the skills were actually really well handled too, but then the SP shortage creeps up on you all too quickly. One thing that I would have liked to see was more customization for the other party members, as many of these cool features are only available to Auria.



ACT 3

Plot and Dialogue 2.5/5
I found this act, storywise, to be the cap to the end of the game. It basically felt like it was preparing you for the final bout of your journey. The dialogue was still on par with the second act, but characters also still seemed rather dull.
There are some “bad endings” that can be achieved throughout this act, and apparently two main ones. While multiple endings are often a good idea, and it gives the player the ability to play more of a role in the story, much of this felt like you were being asked, “do you want the bad ending now, or would you like to continue playing?” and unfortunately, that’s how this tacked on addition felt. While I didn’t achieve every ending, for this particular game, it ultimately didn’t feel very necessary to have them included at all. Knowing that there is a “correct” ending that will lead into the next volume took away the meaning of having other endings, for me. As with many aspects of this game, I understand why the creator tried it, it just didn’t achieve the desired effects.

Graphics 5/5
I had to bend to the 5 on this one because the menu system has been overhauled and looks beautiful. I think when these acts are put together into one complete edition, it will be commonly perceived as one of the best looking RMXP games available.

Sound 5/5
Again, can’t say much more about it.


Gameplay 3/5
This act gives you a new set of game modes that attempts to further improve gameplay for players who suck at this game (like me). They are Beginner, Novice, and… I forget. Something that described itself as basically impossible.
I’m not going to repeat all of the new additions act iii had over its predecessors here, as you can all read them on the game’s main page. I will say this, however, they were much needed, and made for quite the improvement. I think if all of these tweaks were added to the full edition of the game, more people would be interested in this game (aside from just the story).



Final Comments

VACANT SKY really wasn’t the game for me. I didn’t like the characters, and there was minimal gameplay on an overall very linear path. However, I do not regret playing this game. The graphical art is something of a spectacle, and not to be missed by anyone who can appreciate it. The music is most fitting, and quite varied throughout. For anyone who does like story driven RPGs with an emphasis on cutscenes, it is highly recommendable on that basis alone. Looking at these acts as part of the whole, it feels like a complete and solid experience, and something that I think everyone should at least give a try. When Sailerius finally packs these together, and Act III’s features have been implemented throughout, I’m expecting an even more impressive piece of work with a very loyal following of fans.

3.5/5

Posts

Pages: 1
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
Thanks for the review!

I've a few comments to make, so I'll start from the top.

Act I:
* You're spot on when you said that it was more oriented toward fleshing out the setting than the story or characters. That was my big mistake with Act I which I've fixed up in the new version. In the new version, the Alibaas segment is skipped altogether and the encounter system from Acts II and III is implemented, so there are explorable fields and whatnot. There's also a long-needed escape (?!) feature added to battles.

* I'm confused when you said that Act I needed sidequests, though. There are a good dozen or so. If you didn't complete any of the sidequests, that may be why you found the battles so difficult; the sidequests gave you equipment and the battles were designed assuming the player completed a couple sidequests.

* Yeah, the battles in Act I suck. Aside from the dated writing, they're the reason why I'm so embarrassed about the game.

Act II:
* I'm curious about why you only gave the writing a 3.5 when the only complaints you mentioned were the length of cutscenes and the pacing in Act I. Was the problem in Act II's writing the fact that it followed Act I or was there something else? I'd really like to know if there was something you thought could be improved.

* When you're talking about avoiding enemy encounters, I'm guessing you mean in Maladorr Manor. Yeah, that was fixed in Act III. I'm adjusting the dungeon corridors for that reason, and the Escape option will make that a lot less of a pain.

* I'm really surprised that you said that the Beginner difficulty was extremely difficult. Not to sound like a jerk or anything, but I designed Beginner's difficulty such that people who've never played RPGs before would have a little bit of a challenge, but that it would be a joke to anyone who's ever played one before. I've watched a lot of people (including several friends who don't play games at all) steamroll through the game with no challenge, so hearing that it's too hard is kind of a shock to me. What build was your Auria? What reaction did you use? How did you spend your points at level up? There are some builds in Act II that are harder than others, but I've had it tested on every difficulty with most builds and I didn't notice any that was significantly underpowered.

* It's intentional that you can't customize anyone but Auria. The idea is that Auria is the person who you control, so you're the only one you can make decisions for her. A problem I acknowledge in Act II is that she grows to be far more powerful than anyone else in Act II, which was remedied by adding unique functions to the party members in Act III.

Act III:
* What about the characters seemed dull to you? This is actually the first I've heard someone make that complaint (and I've heard a lot of complaints about the game). Normally, the liveliness and strength of characterization is the one part about the writing that's consistently complimented, so I'm very interested to hear what you didn't like and what I could do to improve it.

* Which endings did you get? Resurrection and Resignation aren't really meant to be full-fledged endings. They're nonstandard game overs (the game over music even plays). Did you receive the Relinquish ending? I could understand if you thought that Resurrection and Resignation were just tacked on, but your complaint about bad endings being forced in doesn't really make sense considering Relinquish (which is a fully-featured 'bad' ending route).

* It's true that Return is the "canon" ending for the rest of the series, but there is no "correct" ending (contrast it with Remission to see what I mean). Remission (as well as the two new Act II/III scenarios being added in the Complete Edition) is a completely different take on the story which could be regarded as equally "valid" as Return or Relinquish if the story is looked at as self-contained. What would you say are the "desired effects" of the alternate endings and how would you suggest I improve them?

* Much thanks on the compliment abut the menu system. It's actually been improved a lot in the new version, thanks in part to the much nicer windowskin.

* You didn't mention any faults about the gameplay in Act III. What about it didn't you like? There were a ton of sidequests and optional areas, along with three completely separate story routes and a couple optional dungeons. What would you suggest improving about the battle system? Again, I'm confused at you saying that it was too difficult, since the general consensus of Act III's gameplay was that it was far too easy. This matters a lot to me since I want to get the gameplay perfect in the Complete Edition, so I want to know what areas (and, if possible, what specific aspects) need to be improved.

General:
* You say in your final comment that it's a "very linear path." In what way is the game after Act I linear? I'm not sure if you noticed or not, but Act II was completely nonlinear. The order in which you explored the new areas was up to you and the order in which you did them actually affected the story. It was designed such that every path you took would adjust itself to be seamless and make it seem as if you were doing it the "correct" way, so if you didn't notice, I guess that means it worked well. Furthermore, Act III was far from linear. Ignoring the two dead ends, there were several places where you could significantly alter the story and a lot of optional content.

* In general, how do you think the plot and dialogue could be improved? It seems that you just didn't like the characters, which I guess is entirely opinion, so I don't know if I can do much about that.

* What features do you think the battle system needs to make it more fun? I've recently completely redone the battle system from the ground up and it's still open to modification, so I'd like input on what I can do to improve it.

Thanks again for playing and for the review.
Woah, that's a lot lol.

Well, obviously with a review of this size, I left quite a lot out. In terms of the story problems, as those seem to be your biggest concern with my review, there are two things that really stuck out. One was the characters. I felt that they lacked the presence of voice of Auria. Yes, the scripts were very well written, even philosophical at times. However, I felt that at any given point, if you were to pull a piece of dialogue and blank out the name and portrait of the character talking, you'd have no idea who was saying it. The personalities weren't nearly as strong as Auria's, and the aspects that separated their personalities only made minor appearances throughout. And then there was Auria, who I've stated I just didn't like. Her sarcastic lines were a little too hostile, and it seemed as if she were suffering from severe clinical depression. I realize that that's just how you wanted her to be, so I'm not suggesting changing her. The other characters, with a few odd quirky lines added into the mix for good measure could really go a long way in immersing us in the story.

The second point... I should have clarified what I meant by linearity. It's not so much the whole linearity of the plot as a whole, which as you've said, branches out quite a bit in Act II. By linearity, I was more referring to the process of "go here, watch cutscene, leave here, watch cutscene, go here, watch cutscene" cycle that occurred too often. This affected gameplay as well. It just seemed a little tedious, especially with such slow walking speed (can that even be changed in XP? I haven't tried...). Anyways, it was a matter of pacing overall. I am just now realizing, however, I mean to give it 3.5 for Act III instead of 2.5... very sorry, I wrote that act's review quite late, and I must have just hit the wrong key. Doesn't affect the overall 3.5 though.

As for gameplay, perhaps I did just suck at this game. But I had an easier time in act III than I did in Act II, and I feel that if those battle features were to be spread throughout the entire game, It would have boosted the whole score of the game up to a four, maybe even more. The problems of earlier acts most likely influenced my feelings on later ones, as much as I tried to look at each one separately. I started a "new game" for each new act instead of carrying over my save files, which I believe contributed to some of my frustration. Again, in a complete edition of this game, I would not be able to do that and thus my character would be more conditioned to my likings.

Anyways, I stand by my final comments. With the new act 1 coming, and a complete version overall, I am sure I would have enjoyed this more than I did. That being said, this being not my cup of tea (I'm more into retro RPGs with their relentless conventions), 3.5 is nothing to be ashamed of. I wasn't nearly as thorough as I'm sure others will be, and my playthrough was more focused on finding the immediate problems than anything else, so that I could make some suggestions for the final version of the game. It seems pretty evident by the progression of these acts that you realized where the faults were and have been progressing in the right direction. Now all you need to do is wrap it up in a neat little package. As separate acts (and especially the way I played them), they are a different experience than one would get from the whole. I did this review in an attempt to look at them as three separate entities, however, which I now believe is not how a player should approach them.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
However, I felt that at any given point, if you were to pull a piece of dialogue and blank out the name and portrait of the character talking, you'd have no idea who was saying it.

Really? I could see a case for Seri and Zaqris, but what about, say, Vel, Blaise, and Rayonne? They all have distinctly different personalities and act in different ways.

Her sarcastic lines were a little too hostile, and it seemed as if she were suffering from severe clinical depression. I realize that that's just how you wanted her to be, so I'm not suggesting changing her.

Yeah. I knew from the beginning that Auria would be a polarizing character, so I fully respect that you feel that way.

The other characters, with a few odd quirky lines added into the mix for good measure could really go a long way in immersing us in the story.

I can see what you mean about Vanquish (whose purpose in the story was kind of deprecated after Act I), but what about, say, Rayonne and Blaise? Both of them were huge catalysts in how the story played out because of how their strong opinions about Mia, Auria, and the situation with the Virad turned into action.

By linearity, I was more referring to the process of "go here, watch cutscene, leave here, watch cutscene, go here, watch cutscene" cycle that occurred too often. This affected gameplay as well. It just seemed a little tedious, especially with such slow walking speed (can that even be changed in XP? I haven't tried...).

I see what you mean there, but isn't that the formula that every RPG follows? Also, yes, the walking speed can be changed in XP, but I don't think it was slow at all. The player's walking speed is 4/6 and is actually higher than the walking speed in most RM* games.

I started a "new game" for each new act instead of carrying over my save files, which I believe contributed to some of my frustration.

Aha! There we go. The game is much, much, *much* easier if you carry over your past saves. When you start a new game, you only start with mediocre equipment, items, and money, and those make or break your strength in battles.

Thanks for the suggestions and I'll definitely keep them in mind while working on the Complete Edition.
I'll give you Rayonne and Blaise, although much of Rayonne's personality was accentuated through other characters' reactions to him, rather than his own boasting of it (dude needs more lines, as I found him most likable).

author=Sailerius
Aha! There we go. The game is much, much, *much* easier if you carry over your past saves. When you start a new game, you only start with mediocre equipment, items, and money, and those make or break your strength in battles.


Yeah, and in retrospect I probably should have played in that way. The reason I played the new game modes instead was just to try and examine each part as a whole. I was hoping it would be like The Way episodes, where it kinda flowed no matter how you played. Oh well, I'll most likely play the completed edition of this when you finish it for a new perspective. I'll need a recap of it when you start releasing volume 2 acts anyway.
I still don't know why Vanquish was in the game.
The review was awesomely put and detailed and the comments part was the best give and take I've ever seen. People should look at this page as some sort of a model for future reviews.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=Jericho
I still don't know why Vanquish was in the game.
A subplot that was going to be really important but ended up being dropped at the last moment. It was supposed to be in Act II, but as I got further into development, I couldn't fit it in so I said "eh, screw it, it'll go in Act III." Then I couldn't find anywhere to fit it in Act III.
Yes the only RPG game with voice acting that I'm not embarrassed to let my roommates overhear.
author=Ravenite1
Yes the only RPG game with voice acting that I'm not embarrassed to let my roommates overhear.


Totally agree with you! The voice acting was just well-done. :)
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