Auria Edith was just your average smart-mouthed university student, unsure of what she wanted to do with her life and coasting along... right up until the night she died. For most stories, that would be the end of things, but for Auria's, it's just the beginning. In this short first installment of Project BC's free indie RPG Vacant Sky: Act 1, there's a war going on and Auria's unexpected death and resurrection is about to put her right in the middle of it whether she likes it or not. Packed with humour, darkness, and adventure by turns, it's an ambitious modern fantasy adventure that fans of classic turn-based RPGs will want to check out right away.
In a lot of ways, Vacant Sky plays like a traditional console-era RPG. Move around with the [arrow] keys, and interact/make selections with the [spacebar]. Battle is turn-based, but fortunately for foes of random encounters, you can see and avoid all enemies on the map as floating black spots of... evil... cotton candy, I guess? While you'll find familiar attack options, you can also set your "reaction", which can, for instance, change your character's stance from relying on their speed for dodging or their defense for, uh, defending. After fights, simply nip off to the nearest save point to restore your hit points and spell points. However, while you'll still level up by earning experience points, Vacant Sky allows you a bit of freedom by giving Auria skill points you can allocate to stats, and also granting you the ability to choose what special attacks/passive skills you want to learn. If you just want to enjoy the story, you can set the difficulty to something easy when you first start playing. Of course, in my day, when we played an RPG we had to grind 99 levels, uphill, barefoot, in a snowstorm, just to scratch the final boss, you whippersnappers, consarn it, where's my cane...
Analysis: Though it takes a while for the game to get around to filling you in on the details, Vacant Sky has a surprisingly complex plot. It balances moments of surprising warmth, humour, and light-heartedness with some genuinely grim and frightening stuff. Initially, Auria can across as Mary Sue-ish (and a bit of a jerk), though the more time you spend with her the more you'll grow to recognise where the mask she wears ends and the real girl begins. (More or less. She's still a bit of a Sue.) Unfortunately, certain bits come across as either rushed or cut, particularly the decision not to show any of the weeks Auria spends traveling with her companions initially, which seems odd when you think it would be prime opportunity for some character development on all sides. The game as a whole is extremely lovingly detailed, however. So much detail has been put into everything from the soundtrack to the cinematics that seems like every effort has been made to make the game look and feel polished and professional from every angle.
The flaws to be found in the game are largely those shared by other classic-styled RPGs. Fights feel slow, especially when your enemies can use the "dodge" reaction too, and without a "dash" option to speed up movement all the back-and-forth involved in the sidequests winds up feeling like it takes far longer than it should. Additionally, the game offers you a lot of jerk/not jerk style choices in dialogue and in minor actions throughout, but if they have any influence on aspects of Auria's personality as reflected on the status screen, they weren't yet implemented in this first installment to a noticeable extent. Vacant Sky: Act 1 is clearly a labour of love and has a considerable amount of talent behind it, which should leave you excited for the upcoming second and third installments. Especially since Act 1 is a bit on the short side (the party's level is capped at 5), but as a first taste of what's to come, it's a compelling play. It has a massive amount of potential, and I, for one, can't wait to see how Vacant Sky lives up to it.
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