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I Promise Not To Laugh

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  • 08/15/2014 09:34 PM

A Game Made By: Skie Fortress
Created Using: RPG Maker VX Ace
That Roughly Takes Around: 1 Hour To Complete

“A promise,” eh? I dunno… I’ve been promised a lot of things before in my life but they usually always end up being more of an “empty promise” more than anything else…

You know, when it comes to Skie Fortress’ long running legendary “Sacred Earth series,” or not so legendary depending on who you might ask, I seem to have quite a rocky relationship with it over the years, mostly with the Bonds / Memory iterations more than anything else. I mean, I know there are other ones out here, but I’ve only played a select few of them.

Oh, I remember like it was yesterday…well, more so six years ago…! I remember being a regular hell-hound on a site known as GamingW.net, before it became SaltW.net, posting stupid crap here and commenting on stupid stuff here until I happened to stumble across a game – a good game, with fantastic graphics and the promise of something special. That game, originally a demo, was called “Sacred Earth: Bonds” for the good ol’ Rm2k3. At the time, it was probably the first dungeon crawler RPG I ever played back then besides Breath Of Fire: Dragon Quarter. I wasn’t a big fan of dungeon crawler RPG’s back then – and Breath Of Fire: Dragon Quarter didn’t really help much, because it SUCKED - mainly because I like the opened endedness of a massive world and expansive locations to explore; I just like the personal freedom of it all, you know? I dunno, the concept of being stuck in one location for the whole duration in an RPG always bothered me… Nonetheless, I gave Sacred Earth: Bonds a chance and, although it wasn’t perfect, it was mainly the main characters, such as Veili and Gunnar, and the incredible battle system that really made this game stand out to me. And for many years after that, I became a fan of Skie’s work, more so that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Sacred Earth: Bonds 2.

…Yeaaaaaaah…that didn’t really pan out well, didn’t it...

Oh well, at least Skie did a remake / remastered version of the Sacred Earth: Bonds, simply titled “Sacred Earth: Memory.” At last, I get to play as Gunnar and Veili again in their purest forms!!!

Then…she decided to change everything that made the original game great to me and decided that, “Hey, F*** making it a dungeon crawler where you explore a vast dungeon like the original – we’re going to jack that shit up to the max and change it into a pseudo-visual novel RPG! And instead of making Gunnar the loveable, timid side-kick that everybody knows and loves, we’re going to make him the manly man of all men and just make Veili a much nicer character who’s actually gonna take all the orders from him now for a change. Oh, and instead of relying on boring old recovery items and having equipment / statistical upgrades like before – I ain’t gonna bother with any of that shit from now on, niggas! From now on, I’m making this series in the purest of all forms, where all I gotta do now is basically draw, edit, and push that shit out like nobody’s business – booya!”

“…It’s not like anybody’s gonna notice or care about these things.”


Rest in peace, old friend. You’ll always be a loveable dipshit to me.

So the series got a major “retooling” and became the mixed entity that it is today. And whether you like or hate the direction that this series is going down the yellow brick road now, it appears that it’s here to stay…at least until Skie Fortress decides to turn it into a first person shooter…or an action RPG…or a golf simulation game. *sigh* Moving on…

So besides Memory, there’s one other entry in the revamped series that was just recently released just in time – and I mean just in time – for the Indie Game Maker Contest 2014 entitled “Sacred Earth: Promise.” Oh boy… Not only is Veili and Gunnar not even playable in this game – Priel is the main star here. Priel! Nobody gave a shit about Priel back then, nobody! Why make this entry a game entirely based around her? Why!?!?!? Next it’s gonna be a cooking simulation game with Melodia as the main character for her next game – I just know it!

Either way, this game promises to deliver a much better experience than experiences past. So naturally, I guess I just have to be a good little boy here and just take the word of a gamepage and just give this a game a chance. Okay, fine. I hate Priel but I’ll give this a game the benefit of the doubt and just play it. And if this game happens to suck hard – I’m burying my copy in the same landfill with all those E.T. games. It’s the best of a bad situation.

The Story

…Maybe we can just dump you in the lake then and see if you can float.

Our story begins after a few quick lines of gibberish with the original game’s protagonist, Veili (oh, why couldn’t we play as you) waking up her friend and one of her former comrades, Priel, to get her out of bed and get her ready for the Tournament Of Arms being in held in the local city of Garenia. However, to Veili’s surprise, Priel’s already been up for quite a while and can’t wait to get in there and start showing everybody in the competition just how awesome she is. Unfortunately, for this year, in the final rounds, Veili informs Priel that she’ll need a partner to participate in the latter half, as this tournament seems to have more focus on working in pairs this time around than before. Now, naturally, Veili would be the ideal choice (and I’m pretty sure the choice of everybody else here that’s played the former games), but Veili has some sort of a plot device, er, I mean, she has to help out her brother, Gunnar, clear out some of the monsters in the Icefall Labyrinth, so she’s out of luck. I’m guessing Gunnar would have also been a good choice as well, but I’m guessing that the actor who plays him is just holding out for more money and can’t do anything else other than just be a useless NPC for this game. *sigh* Oh well. I didn’t like you anyway, “new Gunnar.”

After going into town and asking all over the place for a partner to help participate in the tournament, Priel seems to not realize that nobody likes her around here and everybody else has already got a partner for this thing. Well, dang. I guess the only other person in town to ask is the girl at the local church, simply named “Perrine,” who I believe is Priel’s sister, which makes me wonder what the hell happened to “Patchoulli?” I’m guessing that this girl IS her but she underwent an identity change, kinda like what happened to half these other characters in this game.

Anyways, long story short, Priel and Perrine enter the competition together, kick some ass, end up fighting against two “familiar foes” that you may or may not have heard of before, kick their asses, and then eventually after a couple of cutscenes end up having to chase those two familiar a**holes halfway around the world to recover some lost artifacts that they stole from Remina, the other party member that you get.

I dunno, the story really isn’t that much in terms of anything other than what it’s just mainly supposed to be: a side story that’s not completely canon. Newbies to the series that decide to start here will ultimately end up getting confused with all the introductions of these many different characters from games present and past. With so much going on, and with not even a backstory to set up this game, the overall presentation can be quite overwhelming for first timers. Either way, the story itself isn’t practically interesting, as it mainly feels just like a short side quest more than anything, which I guess is expected for just an hour game.

The writing, although cheesy at times, has its humorous moments and I found myself snickering to a bunch of these many different conversations at times. A lot of them do drag on a bit too long, but there is some comedy gold found here if you’re willing to stay and pay attention for the long haul. Even though I hate Priel in the original games, I found her to be quite amusing and – dare I say – likeable in this game. What the hell happened to her? She became cool! The other major characters still manage to retain their Memory characteristic aspects, but some of them, like Priel, have changed for the better. But then again, when your face is on the box cover - you better change for the better.

The Gameplay

Poka, Poka, Poka!

Arguably, similar to the other games in the series, like Bonds and Memory, the battle system is basically the main draw for this game, and is pretty the much the only reason I would come back to play it again. After worrying about how complicated and how much was removed in the previous games that made it, just simply for me, not very fun to play, I was a bit skeptical on how the combat would work out in this game. And when I first saw that “wonderful” long winded tutorial menu about how the combat worked during the first fight, I was a bit nervous. But after fiddling around with it enough times – and getting my ass handed to me by the first bosses (why are they so hard? It’s the first god damn boss) – I managed to eventually figure it out and I was pleasantly surprised just how well the combat worked; it’s relatively simple enough while still being a bit of a challenge and not entirely overwhelming. Even though you still have no access to items or status recovery magic, the game does provide some healing based abilities, like “EX Recovery” and Perrine’s “Light Aura,” to give you the necessary healing techniques in order to survive.

Basically, in this game, you have three actions to choose from at the start of a character’s turn: “Chain,” “Ability” and “Focus.” Chain is your basic attack. Your EP’s basically determine how many times you can attack the enemy in a row. For you see, it’s not just one attack but multiple attacks in the same succession with each chain. When you attack, an “Assault” gauge will pop up, and by pressing the action key before the meter happens to run out you can continue your combo. It’s sort of similar to the timed hits mechanic found in Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars. It’s a nice touch, but I found that sometimes, when you’re pressing the action key at particular moments, that the sequence doesn’t seem to respond correctly to your own input, even to multiple taps, and it just slows the battle down to a crawl. This is probably a glitch, but it’s like it works and it sometimes doesn’t at times; it’s really annoying.

Abilities have a wide array of functions. Each character has two elements attacks, status buffs and debuffs, like increasing or decreasing you or the enemies speed, luck or attack power, and two to three extra abilities that play out once your EX meter reaches a certain point. These abilities, like EX Recover, are fantastic to use in a pinch against a very tough enemy. Your EX meters rises the more you attack, so you’ll want to keep it high enough for certain situations. When you use an ability, there’s a certain “cooldown” effect to them that last a couple of turns, so you can only use it for a limited amount of times. Of course, if you use EX Recover, the cooldown effect will be removed. Actually, speaking of EX Recovery, I had no idea about this stupid ability until after I got to the Icefall Labyrinth. I was kicking myself that I didn’t know about this useful move during the game’s first boss battle, because it would have made it a lotttttt easier.

And focus is basically just defending but it will restore your LF and your EP. You can’t use this for some reason if you’re at full EP, but it’s good to use for characters that are almost useless in a particular battle or almost on death’s sweet embrace.

Speaking of death, similar to the previous games, if one of your characters happens to die, and if you can manage to survive for at least a couple of turns, they’ll come back to life, ready to fight again. Since this game doesn’t use recovery items in the traditional sense, this is the only way to revive fallen party members, which…I actually like. You can even use EX Recover when they come back for an instant recharge! (Seriously, that move is awesome.)

Combat just seems a lot more fun and easier to approach than the previous games. Sure, it takes a while to know the basics, but once you do you’ll find Sacred Earth: Promise’s battle system to be as enjoyable as its counterparts. I really like what Skie’s done to keep things more streamlined and not to be extremely overwhelming for some. It’s a nice sort of blend between the two. And also, another plus, no levelling up or grinding in this game. Awesome!

Now, despite all that, I do have a few problems overall that I hope that the next entry in the series improves on. Yes, I know that recovery items can get in the way and it’s not something Skie likes, but I really would like to still have that option, especially in regards to status problems. Yeah, they go away after a while, but abnormalities, such as burn or poison, really, really hurt over time. EX Recover removes this, I guess, but it’s not widely available in all circumstances. Also – where’s the upgraded gear that you get, like weapons or armor? I can see removing the items, but what about finding new gear to equip? Yeah, simplicity is good, but you should also still reward players with new equipment to find to make them feel like they’re progressing in some sort of form or another. What happened to the skill set system in Bonds where you could increase your stats? What about currency? What about finding rare materials to take back to Mir’s shop? I suppose that these things were considered, but because of the contest and time restraints, Skie just couldn’t do it. I hope that the next game has a bit more in terms of progression instead of just the skills that you have from start to end.

Being a visual novel, there really isn’t that much interaction in terms of dungeon exploration or town exploration. In towns, you can highlight various characters and watch Priel and company interact with them, but that’s about it. There’s no shops or stores – or even going into the arena from some practice matches – to even go to. Hell, you can’t even rest or go inside your own god damn house. What the hell!?

Dungeons are this little map thing that has you moving from spot to spot trying to find the boss’s lair and trigger the cutscene for it. But this process involves SOOOOOO many encounters that you’ll eventually get sick of them after a while. There’s no treasures or mini-games to play or get; it’s just simply battle, battle, avoid traps, battle, battle, pointless conversation about Priel’s hair, battle, battle, and battle again. There’s not much to break up the monotony.

I guess for a visual novel, something like this presented in the way that it is, is actually a major plus instead of just reading a story and picking the odd option that does this or that, but I still would like some more elements added to not only the combat system but the dungeon and town exploration too. If it’s just going to be like this for the rest of the way through, it’s gonna get pretty boring pretty fast for some.

Also, how come you can’t recover all your LF in the town or at Priel’s house? What happens if you run out of monster encounter spaces in a dungeon and have little LF left to fight the boss? He’ll destroy you without no means of full recovery before the fight. Either put in an Inn somewhere in town that you can go to or have an auto-recovery event at the end of each battle to prevent this.

The Soundtrack

Talk about your delusions.

Musically speaking, the tracks that were used in this game did its job and did its job very well. I’m happy to say that the battle theme, “Spiritual Feather,” is an incredibly catchy tune and helps makes the battles come to life. It also reminds me of a cross between a Secret Of Mana and Star Ocean: The Second Story’s battle themes if they were both merged together and both composers had a one night stand together and shared notes. It’s definitely one of my favorite battle themes used in any RPG maker game thus far. Also, the Icefall Labyrinth theme, “Tower Where The Star Fell” is an upbeat tune that’s works quite well for a first dungeon theme. Seriously, a lot of the music choices here kick incredible ass and it makes me wonder why couldn’t Sacred Earth: Bonds have this type of awesome music for the full version like this? Oh well, live and learn.

This game also supports some custom voiceovers for the characters when they fight in battles, which is a nice touch. I was actually a bit shocked that Skie got Rina-Chan of Brawl Taunts fame to do the voiceovers for Priel – that’s pretty amazing! She’s a highly touted voice actress and I don’t what Skie did to get her to sign on board, but wow…

The only problem about the voiceovers, although nice, is that the music can be so loud at times that I can barely hear the voiceovers at all. It would have been nice if the music was toned down a bit, or you could have the option to tone it down yourself entirely at your whim, along with the sound effects and voiceovers. I never usually complain about this sort of thing, but that would have probably helped.

The rest of the sound effects that you’ll hear are your typical RTP fare, nothing really amazing or anything stands out. It works for this game, so it’s not really anything that breaks the experience at all.

The Aesthetics

Yar…it’s some kind of treasure map!

This is a pretty game, definitely for sure. Although the backdrops are ripped from elsewhere (as I do recognize some of these pictures used, you sneak devil, you), the custom facesets for when the characters are interacting with each other definitely adds a nice charm and personality to these guys. Even the NPC’s have the same custom facial expressions, so it’s not just reserved for just our main heroes, here. And even though the battle sprites were ripped directly from Skie’s 2k3 games, they actually end up working quite well with the rest of the graphics. Either way, this is a pretty looking game and I don’t have much of a problem with it. Everything looks well and is presented quite nicely. It’s a nice blend between the old and the new.

The End Result

I’ll say!

Sacred Earth: Promise “promised” something good here for once. After being disappointed and almost feeling like being punched in the gut with all these changes to the original game’s formula over the years and seeing Gunnar being reduced to the cesspool that he is now, I think I found the shining beacon in the middle of the motherf**king black sea. It’s about time that Skie steered the ship of broken dreams into the right harbor and deliver something that both old time fans and new ones can appreciate. Although it definitely needs some more things fleshed out in terms of progression and exploration, Sacred Earth: Promise seems to be running on the right track. And the jump to VX Ace certainly has made this whole thing stand out even more. So there’s hope for this series after all.

3.5 / 5 - C+ ~ A Few Quips, But Otherwise A Great Game.


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Also, speaking about Perrine, I’m guessing that's Patchoulli and you just decided to change her name? Either way, I like the new name, Perrine, a whole lot better.

Yes, Perrine is Patchoulli. Honestly I had no problem with her old name whatsoever, but my writer partner for this iteration has said on multiple occasions how dumb a name it is. ...I decided that if he could come up with a better one, I'd take it. He came up with one. I took it, heh.

Admittedly there has been some backlash, but overall, the name will stick. Considering the VXA version is a fresh start, it's a good chance anyway.

Yeah, sucks about adding any puzzle filled themes to the dungeons anymore due to time restraints and what not, but I would still like having the off beaten paths offer you some new weapons, items, maybe even facing a gauntlet of enemies in order to nab something really cool. like what Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest did with those stupid battlefields. I suppose if you drop it in favor of keeping things a bit easier on you, then that’s fine.

Actually, the VXA version of SEM will of course have progression and incentives to fight, level, and get stronger. Symbol Maps will also have more active elements. So while it won't be exactly like a good old classic RPG dungeon, it won't just be smooth sailing through a bunch of nodes with little challenge.

No need to worry, I /tried/ to think of most everything. Even without direct puzzles and maps.
author=Skie Fortress
I still don't understand the issue with Gunnar.

Maybe he just seems a bit different to me? You’re probably right; he probably hasn’t changed a whole lot since Sacred Earth: Bonds, but to me - I dunno - he just doesn’t sound or “feel” like the old Gunnar that I’m used to… Maybe it’s just the change in artwork or something that I’m missing.

He's also not manly by any stretch of the word.

Lol, yeah, after that whole scene with Gunnar having a slight crush on Perrine and having him just standing there like a moron – yeah, he’s not quite ready to graduate in that department as of yet, but alas, I guess, in time...

Also, speaking about Perrine, I’m guessing that's Patchoulli and you just decided to change her name? Either way, I like the new name, Perrine, a whole lot better.

Yeah, sucks about adding any puzzle filled themes to the dungeons anymore due to time restraints and what not, but I would still like having the off beaten paths offer you some new weapons, items, maybe even facing a gauntlet of enemies in order to nab something really cool. like what Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest did with those stupid battlefields. I suppose if you drop it in favor of keeping things a bit easier on you, then that’s fine.

Thanks for commenting back. :)
Thank you for the review. It was certainly entertaining to read, and you make some good points that I'm currently in the process of addressing. However...

I still don't understand the issue with Gunnar. Playing SEB and then SEM to compare both iterations, they're literally written the same way. He's been sarcastic, cautious, and level headed since SEB and that hasn't changed. He's also not manly by any stretch of the word. He's just..Gunnar! 8V

The gameplay mechanics changes though, you have a point on. I certainly won't apologize for making the game easier to make for myself, but I do acknowledge that it might be jarring for those who played SEB, or followed early SEM through development. The fact of the matter is that I just don't have the motivation or manpower to make puzzle filled dungeons anymore. Though I do love my puzzle filled dungeons, it's not feasible to make just by myself, while also making good time on progress overall.

That being said, I am doing my best to provide an alternative, even if it's not the exact same. Only time will tell how it turns out!

Thanks again, both for the review, and for keeping up with my rocky development history, haha.
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