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A dazzling city in the sky

Skyborn is a traditional RPG created in RPG Maker VX by harmonic, available commercially on Steam. You can download a free demo from the creator's website that allows you to play for one hour. For full disclosure, I was a tester for early versions of this game.

The game takes place in the tower-shaped city of Granminster, ruled over by the oppressive Skyborn, a race of dragon-winged humanoids whose magical power and superior technology has made them the undisputed biggest badasses in the land. From their fortress of New Stormrook, they rule over both humans and the inferior half-breeds, who are hunted and scorned. However, that's of no concern to protagonist Claret Spencer, a talented airship engineer who owns her own business doing what she loves and is completely content with her place in life, and has no interest in politics. But while Claret is happy to live under the Skyborn dominion, other citizens of the city are not, and a rebellion is brewing in which Claret is destined to play a part.

While the cast is certainly likable enough, the real star of this game is the city itself. Granminster is one of the most interesting locations you'll see in an RPG. It is arranged into several levels representing social class, with the Skyborn at the top in their impregnable fortress, human nobles who have earned their favor beneath them in a menagerie of gardens and bustling airship docks, and so on all the way down to the bottom where beggars and common laborers just try to eke out a living in the smog and filth. The city is pretty fascinating and a lot of fun to explore, and a lot of it is really beautiful. My only real complaint is we don't spend enough time there. While the first hour or so of the game introduces the wondrous city, it isn't long before we're torn away to explore more typical RPG locales like caves, volcanoes, deserts and jungles. And while there's nothing wrong with these sections, they just aren't as interesting as the city.

The plot centers mostly around Claret being strong-armed into spying on the rebellion by a high ranking Skyborn named Dhacian, and her rather tempestuous relationship with her latest client, Sullivan Chesterford, the son of a wealthy industrialist and key leader of the resistance. The two characters are likable, play off of each other well and have good chemistry and a lot of fun dialogue together as Sullivan and the rebellion slowly win Claret's favor. Their relationship is enough to carry a relatively short game like this one, which is good as the other main cast members aren't especially engaging. Corwin, a half-breed magician, is given some interesting story hooks early on but they never really go anywhere, Alda joins too late for the player to really get attached to her, and Chaska isn't given much to do besides stand around and act adorable (which, to her credit, she does extremely well.) The characters are supplemented by unique and emotive character art that is honestly some of the best I've ever seen. It's so colorful and expressive that it's hard not to be charmed by it.

This pretty thoroughly captures Claret and Sullivan's relationship.

The story is divided roughly into three parts; the early sections involving the city and rebellion, a middle phase focused on building a powerful superweapon capable of vanquishing the Skyborn, and a final section where you finally take the fight back to the enemy. The early sections poking around the city and learning things about the city are the best, but the longest is the middle section and it is unfortunately the least interesting as it's mostly exploring a series of dungeons away from the intrigue of Granminster, and while the quest has some personal significance to Claret there's not a lot of investment here. Fortunately the pay off to this is the final portion of the game where you get to use your new superweapon to wreck some Skyborn face in a pretty fun sequence. The plot staggers a little in the final hour as you're forced to suddenly confront an extra-dimensional threat with only the most tenuous connections to the main plot, and while this section does answer a few hanging questions about the greater setting it leaves the main plot lacking a satisfying payoff.

The game's combat plays out in a standard Dragon Quest style with a few innovations, namely the 'threat' mechanic. The character with the highest 'threat' level is generally targeted by enemies, so in addition to dealing damage you'll want to use abilities to control which member of your party is taking the most heat. The combat is for the most part pretty easy even on harder difficulties, and on easy mode you can easily steamroll even bosses. I don't see this is a bad thing, and considering that encounters are non-random and enemies on the map aren't very aggressive, this is a game where you are free to fight as much or as little as you like depending on your play style. The dungeons are also pretty simple, most just hunting for switches with a variety of treasures to find, as well as other bonuses like rare ore and gems to mine and 'exploration nodes' to get bonus experience. All in all, I feel like this is a great RPG for casual players or people who are new to RPGs, though people seeking a steep challenge aren't likely to find it here.


Which isn't to say there's no depth to the game, as there are a few methods of progression. The game has both an extensive crafting system to make new equipment form materials found in dungeons as well as gem 'augments' you can add to weapons and armor to increase their stats or give them new abilities. Equipment does more than just raise stats too, some grant additional perks like making specific skills stronger. Finally, at specified times in the plot you'll be given the opportunity to 'class change' which will change the development of each character's skills, such as giving you the option to make Sullivan focus on offensive or defensive skills. I find this less interesting than the skill tree system seen in harmonic's previous games and the one-time nature of it can make the choice feel daunting, but honestly the game is easy enough that you can pick whatever sounds more fun and not worry too much.

Last thing worth mentioning is the game's score, which is 100% custom composed by harmonic. The tracks are all extremely high quality and sound very good, and fans of JRPG soundtracks are likely to note a lot of references in harmonic's work. Hitoshi Sakimoto is one I hear a lot, for instance.

While it has a few missteps and doesn't feel as epic in scale as some of harmonic's other projects, Skyborn is still a fun, breezy, and colorful romp through an interesting world. If you like steampunk, this might be one to check out.