Publisher: Dragoon Entertainment / Developer: Dragoon Entertainment / Platform: PC

You never know what to expect from an indie game.  Most indie developers lack the budget or team needed to make a really well-rounded game, but you can usually tell there was a lot of love for the game itself during development.  Skylight by Dragoon Entertainment is a good example of this.  While it may look cheap on the surface, there’s enough underneath that works surprisingly well to make the game somewhat enjoyable.

Skylight plays like an isometric JRPG with grid-based combat, and takes place in the near future so instead of swords and sorcery, characters use guns and nanobots to fight evildoers.  This puts an interesting twist on how fights play out, since there is more of an emphasis on ranged combat than in other RPGs.  When combat begins, everyone is spread out along a grid representing the battlefield.  Each character—enemies and allies alike—has a yellow bar above his or her head that fills up at different speeds.  When this bar fills completely, that character is allowed to make an action, anything from attacking to moving to using an item.  Different actions take different-sized chunks out of this bar, and different characters will fill their bar faster or slower than others.  So, for instance, a fast character that spends their turn moving two squares will be able to take another action sooner than a slower character who chooses to attack.  I haven’t played many JRPGs so I’m not sure if this has been done before or not, but it seems to me like a mix between Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy Tactics.

Once combat is over, your team receives the game’s equivalent of experience points.  A ‘level up’ is always 100 points, which keeps things pretty uniform, since you’ll always know when to expect a new skill point.  The skill system in Skylight is something I think is worth mentioning.  Skill points are spent on various skills—some passive and others that need to be activated in battle—that then branch off into new skills.  These skill trees are different for every character, meaning one character may have a long, branching skill tree for Shotguns but another character might have a small, two-skill tree for Shotguns and a larger tree for an entirely different skill.  This gives an unexpected amount of depth to the game, and allows a pretty large amount of room for customization.

It’s disappointing, then, that all this potential is bogged down by everything else in the game.  While the mechanics of combat are done well, the majority of the game consists of walking down blank, boring hallways and fighting the same three people every couple of feet.  While the combat works, it becomes less fun when it’s literally just the same battle thrown at you multiple times within ten minutes.  The game does attempt to break this up later with different enemy types that need players to utilize different damage types in order to win, but these usually drag on way too long and end up becoming more annoying than the repetitive normal fights.

The worst offender of this issue is a boss fight that had me stuck for an incredibly long time.  Your team is set up against two enemies—one resistant to everything except fire, and the other resistant to everything except acid—along with a boss character that raises the acid and fire resistances of the two enemies.  Alright, so maybe if I kill this guy first the resistances will drop?  No.  Wait it out a few turns and it’ll wear off?  No.  Waste your time and do little itty bitty bits of damage despite the fact the one of the enemies regenerate health every turn?  Yeah, that seems to be the way to go.  While Skylight was never really that hard, suddenly throwing players into a battle like this is a little ridiculous.

This f’in guy…

Aside from frustratingly boring battles, Skylight isn’t exactly the best in terms of art or story.  The visuals and sounds pretty amateur, and the music is downright annoying with no option to turn it off.  I played through most of the game with the sound muted entirely, and I can’t really say I felt like I was missing much.  While I can’t really say I’ve been a stickler for a game’s story, Skylight was one of a few times where the story and characters have actually bothered me.  The two lead characters are an over-exaggerated “Good Cop/Bad Cop” pair, the lead man a lazy, womanizing idiot, and his female partner a job-oriented do-gooder.  Both stay that way for the entire game, and none of the other characters you meet really seem all that interesting.

Skylight has all the right ideas, but is ultimately ruined by just about anything outside the skill and combat system.  It’s incredibly fun to level up your characters (and is actually the one thing that kept me coming back), and that alone I would say is worth at least a look, however, the rest of the game might leave a bad taste in your mouth.  If you find yourself interested, you can try out the demo or buy the full game at the developer’s website.