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This ambitious RMXP project is well worth your time.

Pros: Great visual presentation - Outstanding original soundtrack - Extensive character customization - Engaging story - Rewarding sidequests

Cons: Graphical bugs cut into the visuals - Very linear progression - Menu can sometimes be cumbersome

You don't see many RPG Maker XP games that show a lot of effort. Most of them are the uninspired story of some brash, good-hearted teenager fighting an evil overlord "because it's the right thing to do." Vacant Sky is quick to throw that trend off, and that's a very good thing.

Numerous developmental setbacks delayed the game for about a year, and as a result a lot of visual and audio revisions have cropped up over the months. Despite the complications, Vacant Sky is an ambitious project that shows a lot of promise.

Story: 9
The story begins with a brief cutscene narrated by the game's main protagonist, Auria Edith, whose journey begins when she's killed.

Before you're introduced to her, though, you get the chance to play as three of the primary antagonists, who belong to the elusive terrorist organization known as the Virad. The Virad are "abducted" and shortly thereafter begin to wreak havoc in a high-security prison. That sequence ends, and the pace shifts to a town not unlike the American Midwest, in which Auria Edith's main concern is doing afternoon shopping and finishing her Chemistry paper. Auria learns that there are rumors of Virad activity in her town, and it's because of her suspected involvement in the Virad that she's killed and her quest begins.

The story isn't strikingly original, but it's a significant change of from the trite plots that sadly consume the majority of RMXP projects. While you're playing, it's entertaining and clever, and when you bother to talk to people in towns, you're sometimes rewarded with little bits about the characters from Auria's point of view.

Plot advancement comes largely from the fairly standard dialogue between characters, though you can occasionally ask them direct questions about themselves. Auria will also sometimes stop to narrate and offer some insight into her current situation or past experiences that tie in with it.

Gameplay: 7
Vacant Sky's gameplay is a bit of a mixed bag. It has all the components, but they haven't quite come together just so yet. As RPGs go, it's a fairly traditional setup, with a few interesting tweaks thrown in.

There are no random battles in Vacant Sky; apart from pre-scripted battles that are mandatory (though you don't always need to win). It might sound as if this makes battles very scarce, but there are several battles against both bosses and regular enemies throughout the two or three hours of gameplay. These battles also give a significantly higher amount of experience than most other methods of finding

In and out of battle, you can change each character's method of reacting to attacks: dodge, guard, and counter. Each setting has its own set of advantages, depending on the stat build you choose for Auria early on. That aspect of battle adds an extra layer of complexity. Is it better to take less damage indefinitely or to take a gamble on dodging an attack and sometimes taking none?

As you level up, you're allowed to divide up points amongst your stats as you like, giving you full customization of your character. Early on, you'll also gain access to a unique area in which you can purchase increases to your stats or new techniques and passive abilities for battle.

Outside of battles, there's a lot of exploring to do, despite Act I's very linear format. It's never forced upon you, but there are usually items and money in it for you if you look around enough. These sidequests aren't necessary, although skipping them will keep you from getting all the story and all the items you could otherwise use.

A lot of the sidequests are dependent upon skills, special stats like Strength, Charisma and Awareness. At any given point, you might need to perform a skill check to see if you're able to do something like move an object or convince someone to tell you something. These are never necessary, but when successful, you'll get a small reward. Not all these sidequests depend on skills, though, and some are independent of all skills. Still, it seems like most of the sidequests are in the very first town rather than increasing in volume as you progress, which seems a little strange.

Graphics: 7
Apart from some occasional blips like being able to talk through counters and fences, and not being able to walk into certain open areas, the graphics are great, although there is one particularly glaring bug in which Auria's sprite is invisible in battles until she's attacked. You also run into the occasional clipping when walking under trees and there are some brief hitches you'll occasionally see as you're walking around the areas.

The characters all have custom artwork and battle sprites, which really adds a lot of life to them, and the sprites look especially nice. The few powerful attacks you do see also have their own custom animations, and despite some of them looking a little overdone, they're nice-looking and non-intrusive.

There are also a lot of really nice effects like sunset and fog that make it more convincing when someone says "It's almost nightfall" or something to that effect. You're not just standing there in broad daylight, wondering what the characters are talking about, and this is a surprisingly powerful thing.

A lot of effort was put into making Vacant Sky look unique, and the effort paid off. The game might not be the prettiest out there, but it has more than just superficial beauty going for it, and its distinct style is sure to make it easily discernible from the crowd.

Sound: 10
Vacant Sky's sound is as perfect as any RMXP game's can be. The voice acting is essentially the only example out there that isn't frustratingly bad or indistinct, and it's used infrequently enough that the sections in which it does appear are quite welcome and serve to nicely break up the otherwise tense, dark story.

Beyond the voice acting, Vacant Sky has an outstanding soundtrack, with two full vocal tracks featured. The style of the soundtrack has a wide range, with styles similar to those of the Silent Hill and Tales series. Similarities aside, Vacant Sky's soundtrack is distinct and beautiful, loaded with memorable tracks.

Overall: 4/5
Vacant Sky is more than the sum of its parts. Overlooking the linearity of the first act and the graphical bugs, you'll find a great first attempt that shows a lot of potential. It's only a few hours long, but it's a worthwhile investment of your time that bucks a few long-standing RPG cliches and offers you a lot of options with building your character. Give Vacant Sky a chance, and you almost definitely won't be disappointed.