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Did I Break a Review Length Record?

Introduction
Dis bitch gon' be long! Erm... sorry. Speaking in English – this review is going to be rather lengthy. Why? Well, it simply doesn't make sense to me to review this work as a whole. As such, much like one reviewer before me, I'll be reviewing each of the three Acts separately, judging each as a sole game. I will however review the graphics and sound in one section each at the end of this review, as these are consistent throughout the three Acts. In short – dis bitch gon' be long.

Act I

Story
Brilliant, to say the least. The world is quite intricate and detailed, with much going on that gives the impression of a MUCH larger overall plot. We don't see a lot in Act I and many questions are left unanswered, but this serves the purpose well for enticing players to continue onto Act II. The only gripe I can offer is that we are thrown head-first into this world, and the jolt leaves a nasty bump - some terms and events are difficult to wrap one's head around.
Score: 4/5

Characters
All refreshingly well developed, I found. Our lead Auria has a distinct personality and is a joy to play as, contrasting well with the supporting cast. The villains we glimpse in the prologue are also very well written. I cannot fault the characterisation here, and I only found ONE error in the dialogue ('four tickets to East Haven tickets', or something like that). Well done.
Score: 5/5

Gameplay – Out of Battle
'Twas good and bad, honestly. Anyone who likes an immersive story experience like myself will enjoy exploring the areas and completing quite a number of mostly explorative sidequests. I missed quite a number of those though, as the sidequests are detailed in the journal which does not alert you whenever it updates. It took me a while to realise I should be checking it every five minutes. There was also the unfortunate instance of 'talking to the wrong person suddenly advances the plot and you're in a new area' syndrome, which as a meticulous explorer, I -really- hate. I may have missed several sidequests, and there were plenty I simply couldn't find a solution for (Missing George, the Photographer guy, Missing Body). That could just be that I wasn't looking very well, but those ones were seemingly dead ends.

Oh, also - I won't bitch too much about the skill system, since the developer realised its uselessness and removed it for further acts, but it is an annoying system of seven skills which you use (maybe once each in the entire game) outside of battle.

Lastly, I must commend the prologue. WOW was that fun. Instead of starting with the heroes, you play as the villains in a short prologue with a few battles in which you -decimate- your enemies. You had a lot of commands to choose from which I suppose is confusing, but it really didn't matter since the point was to show you just how powerful the villains were. Awesome opening.
Score: 3/5

Gameplay – Battles
Ugh... not brilliant. The game was very short, and while there were no random encounters (refreshing, I found that. I don't dislike random encounters but it's nice to play a game without them occasionally) there were a number of unavoidable fights throughout the game. While most of these weren't too difficult, the final boss was badly done (written, I believe, with the intention that you'd saved your few-and-far-between healing items up for this final confrontation, which I -had not done-) and there was a nasty 'meant-to-lose' fight preceding it that REALLY does not come across as a 'meant-to-lose' fight. The first time, I used all of my items struggling against the five soldier guards (who are meant to beat you), was still killed by them of course and was then destroyed by the final boss, which you obviously must beat. The second time went a little better but I didn't have that many items to begin with, and my victory against the final boss was a fluke with all but one character down and that one on his way out should the boss have had another turn. (Which, for all my complaints, was an epic finish and made me quite proud of myself... but that's a point for me, not the game!)

Also marring the experience was an absolutely ridiculous glitch. One of the interesting features in this game is 'Reactions' – namely, how a character is set up to respond to getting hit. You can either Guard, which reduces the damage you take, Counter, which grants you a turn every time you're hit but increases the damage you receive, or Dodge, which allows you to occasionally evade an attack, though half the time you'll be hit. The ridiculous glitch was that Seri, our speed character and thus our only decent Dodger, would actually DODGE whenever targeted by one of my healing spells.

WOW.
Score: 1/5

Act I Overall Score: 2.5/5

Act II

Story
Dare I say, even better? The story that continues to unfold retains its engaging and thrilling intrigue, plunging the player even deeper into Auria's world. The drama is genuine and compelling and the plot reveals in this Act are very clever, leaving room for speculation while not disappointing in any way. The very best mysteries answer questions fairly regularly, but create more with each reveal. Vacant Sky handles this style expertly.
Score: 5/5

Characters

The cast expands significantly, bringing in some welcome variety whilst approaching the awkwardness of character juggling. I feel the game is able to balance the characters well, developing every character to a reasonable degree and keeping them interesting. Even those we do not learn very much about (I'm thinking of party member Vanquish, here) are given memorable points (in Vanquish's case, he is notable as the primary opposing voice to a certain course of action attempted by members of the party towards the end). There are some areas that could be improved upon, but I shall retain the 5/5 score here since overall, the writing here blows me away.

I will admit that I am slightly disappointed that a subplot involving Vanquish was removed (as I read in a comment somewhere.) His presence lacks a certain depth because of it, while at the same time he's my favourite character. Why? He brings to the table a sort of calm, voice-of-reason wisdom at times, and seems to offer much more respectable views than any other character. As such, while the common opinion regarding him seems to be 'Gee, he was pointless' due to the missing subplot, I must disagree. (Though to be fair, his dialogue in Act III does this better than in Act II, but I thought I'd mention it here.)
Score: 5/5

Gameplay – Out of Battle

Linearity has received a roundhouse kick to the privates in this Act, though a pattern is still noticeable. You are given three main objectives to complete in any order, accessing a different area for each via a hub location (the town of Svaneholm). New areas are explored, as well as old. Though you choose the order of the first three objectives, the story does not change overall and the ending sequence progresses in the same way regardless of your actions. This is to be expected, considering this is only the middle portion of the story and multiple paths would prove far too complicated at this stage.

Explorable dungeons and chests are added in this act, resulting in a more traditional RPG. Sidequests also abound – this time I believe I completed all but one, which appeared to bugged (Virad Artifacts, which was completable and resulted in a reward, though was never marked as completed in my journal.) The god-awful skill system is gone, praise be to whichever deity you subscribe to. Overall the gameplay was engaging, though nothing remarkable.
Score: 3.5/5

Gameplay – Battles

Oh, how the mediocre have risen! Battles were quite a lot of fun in this Act, a notable improvement from Act I. Random battles were added in the dungeons, allowing you to train, earn money and generally equip yourself in order to handle bosses much better than in the first Act. The reaction system was interesting, as were most of the various options available. Difficulty was bearable unlike the first game, and a difficulty level could be selected at the beginning – a nice and rare touch for an indie game. The Heal-evasion glitch was fixed, a wise decision since had the developer not addressed it I believe I may have tracked him down myself, fired off a few shots and seen if he could dodge THAT. ...Well, not really, that would be illegal. But a frustrated gamer can dream!

Overall, the battles were MUCH better here and I applaud them.
Score: 4/5

Act II Overall Score: 4.5/5


Act III

Story
For the most part, the story has no notable differences from previous acts, so I shall not rehash the same praise I've been giving it. The plot, pacing and drama retain the remarkable quality of the preceding acts, with more brilliant reveals. However, unlike Acts I and II which followed the same, solitary plot, this game introduces multiple endings. Oh dear.

I'm not generally a fan of games with diverging paths, depending on how they're handled. I liked the original Alter A.I.L.A, for example, as it presented the fourth path as the 'true' path with the original three as 'What-if' scenarios. In Vacant Sky's third act, your choices in the game result in one of five endings – two (Resignation and Resurrection) are 'Bad ends' and don't really count, two (Return and Remission) are proper endings offering alternative choices as to which is the 'truth' and the last ending (Relinquish) is somewhat of a mix between bad ending and proper ending as it requires a fair amount of work to achieve, but does not reward you like the two 'preferable' ending paths.

The thing is that the Return and Remission endings each allow you to begin a New Game + (called New Cycle) after completing them. At first, the Remission ending is unavailable. One must complete Return in order to access Remission in a new play-through. So, which one is the true ending? Logic says Remission, but... Return is far better. The Remission ending was lacking in many ways, while the Return ending was quite brilliant. Personally, I believe the multiple endings took away from this otherwise cohesive, plot-heavy game and I must mark the story down because of it. I can't say that the ending wrapped up the plot nicely, since both main endings wrapped up some parts well and completely bungled others. A much better option would have been to combine Return and Remission into one story, including elements of both into the ending of Auria's story.
Score: 3.5/5

Characters

Characterisation was again brilliant, and certainly a highlight as always. There isn't much more for me to say regarding the characters.
Score: 5/5

Gameplay – Out of Battle

While remaining more of the same, the game is still a joy to play through. However, for perfectionists attempting to get all of the endings (or even semi-perfectionists who simply want to get Return and Remission), the game quickly becomes a slog at certain times. In a New Cycle after Return, the first part of the game must be repeated before getting to the new content for Remission, which I find a pain. The final dungeon must also be repeated (though perhaps the most tedious part of it is skipped, for which I'm grateful for.) Playing through Relinquish adds another layer of 'eugh' as you must endure the final dungeon a THIRD time, under more difficult conditions. I've never had much respect for a game that recycles the same dungeon more than once, so I can't really let it slide.
Score: 2.5/5

Gameplay – Battles

Battles were much the same here as they were in Act II, which is to say, fun and engaging. An interesting side-quest area called the Void Arena was added, wherein every boss fought in all 3 acts can be re-challenged. However, they are tougher... AND only Auria is usable. This is actually a brilliant mode, however. Though a pain at first, as you progress through the bosses in order you learn how to 'solo' with Auria proficiently and the strategy aspect is quite fulfilling. Sadly, the final boss of the Void Arena is not battle-able due to a mapping error, which is a major let-down (and begs the question 'Is it that damn hard to release a damn patch, dammit?')

The side-effect to this that I found? I grew too used to soloing as Auria and began to grow tired of the rest of my party! I'm not kidding. Auria is built to be far superior to everybody else, with many bonuses to all of her stats. This is necessary to make the Void Arena playable, but in terms of balance? Oh dear. She WAS overpowered in the previous acts, but it is much more noticeable here. Though I do indeed love the girl, the imbalance is an issue.
Score: 4/5 again, since the new good and the new bad cancels out in my opinion

Act III Overall Score: 3.5/5


Overall Comments
So, we've come to an end of my separate analysis for each act! All that remains to look at are the two areas where I decided to view the game as a whole.

Graphics/Mapping

This game is preeeeetty! But not perfect. The maps are well designed and aesthetically pleasing, but there are some pathing errors (generally no more than 3 per act) and one frustrating instance of an impossible-to-reach treasure chest. In the town of Ciel, I spent a very long time in Acts II and III trying to reach an enticing chest. Eventually, I googled the bugger to find that the developer had made an error and that it was not actually reachable. After murdering several of my neighbours in a rage, I moved on to the rest of the game.

Also, there are a LOT of low-lighting sections where you can generally only see a small circle around your character. These can be fun and challenging, but... they're overused here, to the point of annoyance.
Score: 3.5/5

Music

I have not even the slightest gripe. A soundtrack composed entirely for this game, the music in Vacant Sky is breathtaking and enhances every second of the experience. There are even theme songs for each Act, again composed for the game and sung by talented female singers. Incredible.
Score: 5/5

Conclusion

Vacant Sky is a brilliant narrative experience, marred only by the poorly executed and unnecessary system of multiple endings in the third Act. Gameplay begins poorly, though I strongly encourage any player to endure this as Act II improves upon it tremendously. Though not perfect, the game is for the most part a shining example of a meeting between terrific writing and enjoyable gameplay. Play the damn thing, would you?

Overall Score
Hmm, how shall I do this? Three scores for the Acts, plus the other elements I scored separately. First, lets rehash the scores I gave -

Act I Overall Score: 2.5/5
Act II Overall Score: 4.5/5
Act III Overall Score: 3.5/5
Graphics/Mapping Score: 3.5/5
Music Score: 5/5

The game is certainly above average and worthy of a high score. Act II is my favourite, though Acts I & III were by no means bad. The other two scores are each just as important as the scores for each act, given the style of the game and the impact the atmosphere has on the whole experience. In short? I shall be mathematical here. Adding those five scores gives 20/25, so what does that leave us with?

Overall Score: 4/5

Posts

Pages: 1
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
Thanks for playing and for the detailed review! I'm glad you enjoyed the game overall.

There's no particular point on which I disagree, although I fear that you might not like the Complete Edition, because it adds a significant degree of branching to the story beginning in Act II (and is largely the reason it's taking so long). If I may ask, what about the branching didn't you like?
It isn't so much the fact that is -was- branching as much as that it didn't feel necessary to alter the flow of the story after so long. Starting the choices earlier may cause the same problems, but it may also help the story out with consistancy. It all depends on how its handled, so I suppose I won't know until I play it.

Will you be adding in those cut subplots (specifically, Vaniquish) or still relunctant to do so?
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
Vanquish's won't be added back in, unfortunately. Although important to his character, it isn't important to the main plot or to Auria enough to warrant the screen time.
@Gavaroc Fevinor: I think I was the person who asked about Vanquish XD I guess we're one of the few people who genuinely liked his character (and he's awesome in battle too) ;__; Also, reading your review was fun :D

@Sailerius: Aww, Vanquish's storyline is still in the cutting room floor? Guy just can't take a break XD
In that case, in the spirit of curiosity, can you tell us what it -would- have been? :P
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
It's alluded to a few times. He was involved in the Lykken Corp case in Svaneholm along with Blaise and Frank Jones. I'm not going to say too much about it right now, as it's currently planned to release a novella after the Complete Edition is done which tells the story and does it justice.
Oh. Well, in that case I won't cause your violent, untimely death :D
Pages: 1