While some retro games have aged badly over time, there are still some timeless 16-bit titles that are worth your attention. Such is the size of the enduring audience for these games that many developers have borrowed heavily from them in their own ‘retro-inspired’ titles. These ‘new’ releases are often less interested in making something innovative though and instead focus on exploiting and repackaging nostalgia which, more often than not, results in a poor imitation.
The Skylia Prophecy, a side-scrolling 2D action-adventure developed by indie developer Ezekial Rage, is a prime example of a poor to below-average attempt at ticking the ‘retro’ checkbox. The story is introduced with an opening dissertation and has you battle the undead with the main character Mirenia, as you journey through the world to put an end to the evil you unleashed upon the world.
As delectable as a mouth full of dry crackers, the gameplay consists of traveling through very similarly designed areas and attacking enemies walking across the screen that actually, often don’t even attack you, let alone block your attacks. The immoral slaying of helpless monsters aside, attacks consist of using what seems like a sword (though the sprite art makes it hard to confirm) and an energy force field of sorts for a defensive attack that is lazily implemented to compensate for a lack of aimed attacks and a separate guard action. Numerous bosses exist with largely the same moves and all follow their own unchanging pattern of behavior each playthrough. Some of the bosses are optional existing only to unlock further moves, but their effect is negligible and are as forgettable as the bosses themselves and the people populating the towns who sing the same tune in every area.
Unfortunately for The Skylia Prophecy, that’s about it. There are shops in the town areas which allow you to purchase potions (though puzzlingly only one of each) to ease the difficulty of the bosses and also quests that offer money, but the biggest difficulty here will be motivating yourself to continue through the monotony of the game.
Limiting the game to 16-bit standards limits the potential of the visuals somewhat and because of this they are neither impressive nor disappointing, but the sound design is poorly implemented. Whether the recorded voices are unconvincing or the volume levels too high, there is no cohesiveness with the visual presentation and the mood set by the audio, representing a real wasted opportunity to increase the overall presentation and quality of the experience.
The game’s biggest selling point, according to the developer, is its ‘kill the player’ philosophy inspired from the ‘Souls’ games. This difficulty is present in easy mode, with even non-boss enemies being overpowered, resulting in you becoming sick of the ‘game over’ screen until you figure out and memorize their repetitive movements. Personally, this style of game doesn’t appeal to me as it restricts the freedom of the player and interactivity of the game, making the window of opportunity and potential success so small that it’s almost a passive or mathematical experience, with no difference in playthroughs and no satisfaction to be gained from all that failure. Such is the reliance on your interactions with the grim reaper that without them the game’s runtime would last less than an hour and a half.
Traveling through the small number of similarly designed levels while spamming the attack button had me at my wits’ end by the second boss. Frustrated by its difficulty and lack of quality I was procrastinating around my flat for large stretches – much like the enemies walking across the screen with little purpose – simply to avoid playing it.
The Skylia Prophecy might have been inspired by others, but its own offering is less than inspiring, providing rehashed and boring mechanics that would fail in this and the 16-bit era. With its shortfalls unable to be concealed by its harsh gameplay it would take a dedicated retro game fanatic or a purveyor of punishing games to enjoy this, but with far better options available elsewhere it’s hard to recommend even then.