We’re all familiar by now about the effect Castlevania has had on gaming. Even without the backtracking, it’s an oft-aped game that draws instead recognition for what it brought to platforming. Whilst this influence is notable in The Skylia Prophecy, it’s not alone. Ghosts ‘n Goblins deserves a share of the blame too.
You see, it made sense for it to be difficult when it was a coin-operated arcade series. Players dying meant more coins into machines, ergo profit. Yet ported to consoles, and then aped by future games such as this, makes no sense. There’s challenge, which is fine, and then there’s unnecessarily cheap enemies and obnoxious checkpoints.
So with these shortcomings in mind, does The Skylia Prophecy do anything right to balance these issues and make it an enjoyable game? It is foretold that you will read ahead and find out…
Could Have Seen That Coming…
Our Belmont surrogate in this adventure is Mirenia, an eighteen year old on a quest for redemption. Not some fated, “You will be the destined hero” schtick that most games shoehorn in, but something Mirenia has done in the past that needs sorting. Stolen the village’s Shield Blade (which sounds like an oxymoron), or fled an arranged marriage and cursed the traditions?
No, she killed the big bad demon lord as a [presumably younger] teenager and generally made things a whole lot worse. Think of it as analogous to the reign of Saddam Hussein: yes, he was a bad man, but overthrowing him led to much worse popping up in his wake. Now, that’s a very glib generalisation (please don’t send me hate mail), but that’s what’s happened here.
Mirenia offed the overlord and in his place, a greater threat has surfaced. So, because she’s responsible for it, she’s off to Tirkin Fortress to sort it all out. Yet far be it from starting afresh, The Skylia Prophecy actually starts some ways through Mirenia’s adventure. Of course, you wouldn’t know that by looking, as the generic towns and castles all look the same wherever you are in the story.
Hack, Slash, Swear A Lot
As the more astute of you may have gathered, the combat and platforming on offer here is the tried and tested 2D pixelated variety. Mirenia only has the one weapon, the aforementioned Shield Blade, at her disposal. With this, she’s able to slash anything that’s coming towards her, as well as throw up a damage-inflicting shield. Weirdly, she can crouch but not attack whilst crouching. So if an enemy is coming for your ankles, you have to throw your shield up and wait for the beastie to walk into it.
There are magic-based projectiles that can be learnt too, but the cost is high and the refill potion mark-up in shops is wildly unbalanced. It’s almost like a Derringer pistol; you get one, maybe two, shots that you’d better hope hits something and then have to wait a while to use it again. Down the line, players will acquire more magic attacks, like area of effect-types. I used them more in a pinch than an offensive item, but that’s just how I play. Everyone’s different.
In regards to platforming, it’s fairly standard. Mirenia can’t climb, so it’s the old “hop from ledge to higher footing” familiarity here. Thankfully, she can attack midair, but not block. So players can go on the jumping offensive, yet don’t expect to block projectiles you’ve jumped face-first into.
Wait, I Have To Buy An Item To Progress?
So far, The Skylia Prophecy sounds like it’s shaping up to be a worthy Castlevania/Goblins clone. In broad terms, you can’t fault the gameplay being that sticky-tricky combat being similar. However, there’s also the worst bits from those games included too.
For one, Mirenia has the constitution of wet bread. Whilst you don’t expect any game to start you off at maximum health and strength, it’d be nice to tank a few hits to get used to proceedings. Not killed off quicker than Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and sent a ways back to a save point. In fairness, the save/checkpoint system is no different than that of Castlevania’s (or later pseudo-spinoff Bloodstained), it’s just that you lasted a bit longer between them.
The other massive negative is the game’s key/lock system. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but the way I see it, keys to relevant areas should be found nearby or on fallen enemies. Not, weirdly, bought from shopkeepers who assume you have the clairvoyance to want one. If you don’t buy one ahead of your journey, there’s a character (who’s name I couldn’t be bothered to remember) who offers you one by said door. They don’t want coin but instead offer some Faustian bargain I never took them up on. It just seems really… daft. So you automatically buy a key the moment you enter town, because you know you’ll need it. At your own expense.
Town, Dungeon, Boss, Repeat
The thing is, I really wanted to like The Skylia Prophecy. The trailer made it look like a slick action/adventure, in a similar vein to the other titles I’d mentioned. But much like Funny People or that equally awful Eagle vs. Shark film, trailers can be very misleading.
It’s a very slow burn, despite starting in the middle(?) of Mirenia’s quest to right her wrongs. It also gives off massive deja vu vibes as you play. You know the old expression, “You’ve seen one X, you’ve seen them all…”. Well, that’s very true in this case. Our protagonist goes to a town and listens to random texts from villagers, including the oddly specific tracker above. Potions and one-off revival items can be purchased, as well as forward-thinking keys, as well as a doctor’s visit to restore health and magic, and you’re off.
And then it all becomes pretty rote from there. Leave village, trek through palette-swapped woodlands area, reach new fortification or castle. Forget you didn’t buy a key, ignore claw-handed lady’s offer, backtrack for key. Finally get into dungeon-like area, get killed after two or three hits. Forget to use potion, get annoyed at how far back the last save point was.
This may have been “the norm” back in the coin-op days but when it’s implemented in a home release, it’s just not fun. I’m not suggesting auto saves, auto potions and piss-poor enemies, but a steep introductory curve just doesn’t endear when you want to get it done for review.
No Faith In Your Own Product
Now, it’s a well-known “thing” in the gaming world that there are achievement/trophy hunters. To put it lightly, this one is an easy Platinum (on the PlayStation). I got it within two nights, with an hour total play time. But rather than celebrate, do you know what that says to me?
That Ezekiel Rage and 7 Raven Studios put about as much consideration into people seeing this through as the folk behind the Avatar game on Xbox 360 did. You remember, the game that let you get 1000G within ten minutes by spamming B repeatedly. Well, couple that here with a poorly written and grammatical awful list of trophies and it just smacks of, “Yeah fine, lure them in with that”.
Perhaps I’m overthinking it, but when a game offers something so easily on a plate (the last trophy being “Finish Act 1”) it just feels like a low effort inclusion. Or perhaps a last minute one that couldn’t be evenly spaced out. Who knows, but all it says to me is that trophy/achievement hunter will overlook this for a quick fix. For me, I have a low effort Platinum on my tally now.
Maybe it’s petty to complain about trophies, or perhaps it’s just another indictment of how little I’m enjoying The Skylia Prophecy.
Should Have Left The Demons Well Alone
Sometimes, it feels slightly harsh to rag on a game for trying. If it’s a one-man passion project for a unique, never before done idea then doubly so. Yet when it’s a template so easily imitable as the 2D action/adventure, then a poor game deserves calling out. There are shining examples of difficult-done-right, just look at Cyber Shadow: a brutal game, yet rewarding at the same time.
By contrast, The Skylia Prophecy wasn’t enjoyable. I haven’t finished it, but then why would I? I’ve got the ridiculously easy Platinum insipidly nestled next to my Bloodborne, Sekiro and Resident Evil 3 ones. Do I need to finish the story that doesn’t really compel me to do so, no trinket to spurn me on further? What am I going to do other than presumably vanquish some Wicked City-esque bosses and save the day from the mess I caused?
I don’t feel compelled to push through the challenging grind and copy/paste locales, no matter how “Dark Souls-like” comparisons I expect some other reviews are going to thumb in and call it a day. Perhaps over time it may be patched to strike that fun/frustrating balance that makes it enjoyable, but for now, I’m happy to let the demons do as they please.
What could have been a fun and entertaining 2D slice of action instead falls into drab, unfairly punishing territory. The Skylia Prophecy could have done its homework, rather than crib the worst parts of older, more difficult platformers.
The Skylia Prophecy is available now on PlayStation (reviewed on PS5), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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