I've been playing a lot of smaller Metroidvania games lately, and generally having a fairly good time of things. Astalon: Tears of the Earth was an unexpected instant classic, but even smaller, rougher games like Sector 781 and Sun Wukong VS Robot have charmed me. The Skylia Prophecy is the latest one I've tried, and even though there's a lot to like it's just not clicking for me.
Combat Doesn't Quite Work
The Skylia Prophecy is a melee-focused sidescroller that has you exploring 2D environments as a female protagonist. That's quite a few “checks” on the list of making a game Troytle will like, right away. Unfortunately, my issues with the game started almost immediately. Unlock Castlevania games, which typically arm your character with a whip, the player character here is armed with some sort of a blade attached to her arm. It doesn't have the worst reach, but I always felt like I had to let enemies get closer than I would like before I could hit them.
Right on the first screen, the game then complicates the combat even further. A spider shows up, which naturally made me want to crouch to stab along the ground. So I hit down, then hit the attack button and… nothing happened. You can not do any kind of low attack in this game. Instead, you have to wait for crawling enemies to get even closer to you and the put up some sort of a magical shield that disintegrates them. It's not really satisfying, because it mostly means waiting and waiting and waiting for them to get close enough.
The World Makes Me Want to See More
The strongest aspect of The Skylia Prophecy is its world-building. It's not in-depth, but it's interesting enough that I pushed further in the game than I otherwise would have, hoping to learn more
When you get into towns, there are a lot of folks to talk to. They don’t have much to say individually, usually just a line or two each, but having even that amount of NPC dialog in this kind of game feels great. There’s not a lot of depth in what they have to say, but it all comes together to make this feel like a world folks actually live in. I’m especially fond of the monks who quote proverbs when you speak with them.
The level design, on the other hand, feels a bit off. Outside of the cities, you explore forests, caves, temples… really a pretty decent variety of environments. Unfortunately, within each environment, things tend to get really samey. And, since there’s no map, you really have to depend on slight differences in space to keep your bearing. I ended up lost before the first boss fight because I couldn’t tell where I’d come from apart from where I needed to go.
Messaging is Lackluster
The map isn't the only thing that makes navigating this game tough. In general, The Skylia Prophecy seems to struggle with messaging. I had trouble figuring out how to use my magical abilities when I first unlocked them. Getting a new power should be an exciting and empowering moment, but instead, it made me frustrated.
Most cities you encounter have a tavern where you can pick up missions. Completing these gives you extra cash you can use to buy items, which is nice. Unfortunately, the descriptions of the missions are vague enough that I never really felt like I knew what it wanted me to do.
One of the most important things you can do with your cash is buy keys. These are required regularly to enter the “levels” between towns. If you ever forget to get a key, though, there's a mysterious catlady who will show up and give you one. She makes some vague threat about you having to repay her later but… I have no idea what that means, or what the risk/reward of taking her help is.
Finally, there's the first boss fight. I spent an absolutely embarrassing amount of time on the first boss in this game. You're in a small room, with an enemy that shows up on the walls to spit projectiles at you. You have to dodge the attacks while getting in hits before they disappear. That's all just fine. The problem is that every once in a while an explosive barrel drops on the right side of the screen. Up to this point in the game, explosive barrels have been a super useful way for the player to open access to new areas. So, every time they'd show up, I'd go try to explode them, assuming it'd damage the boss. There is a risk here since being too close to an explosion hurts the player.
Anyway, I tried and tried and tried again, and eventually looked up someone else's battle with this boss to realize that the explosive barrels didn't do anything at all. I guess they are just there to get the player to kill themselves accidentally.
And that sucks.
I can't really give this a review score, because I don't feel like I've seen enough of the game. I don't think it's a terrible game, but I think it is a flawed one. The core movement and basic attack feel fine, I like the worldbuilding, and I love how many female characters there are in the cast. Unfortunately, I just ran into too many small, frustrating details to push through to see where the story went.