Do you remember Sega’s Dreamcast? You know, that lovely white and square-shaped toy-box – does that ring a bell? If yes, you might also recall one of the most exciting RPGs ever released on a former “next generation” console – Skies of Arcadia.
Two and a half long years have passed ever since its original release back in year 2000, today Skies of Arcadia steps on stage once again, this time on Nintendo’s Game Cube.
Awaken from the same dream, in the same house, at the same time.
Skies of Arcadia Legends is supposed to be a Director’s cut of the original game, yet improvements consist mainly of some optional features, such as Moonfish collecting or Bounty hunting and minor updates of game-graphics.
The first thing worth mentioning, due to its exclusivity, is SoA’s extraordinary setting. It breaks up with the traditional RPG mountain-forest-ocean scenario and introduces a new laputaesque world of floating island and cities in the sky, which can only be accessed by travelling with impressive airships
For all those of you who are not yet familiar with SoA’s storyline, here’s a brief introduction:
The action starts with a mysterious girl, Fina, being chased and captured by an airship of the Valuan armada. This is where your alter ego, a young air-pirate named Vyse makes his first appearance. After attacking and infiltrating the imperial air-vessel he and his childhood friend Aika force their way through to rescue the poor hostage.
The Blue Rogues, as they call themselves, are not pirates in the literal sense but rather airborn Robin Hoods, who steal from the rich to aid the poor.
However, the Valua Empire makes a great effort to regain possession of Fina, who is obviously a key figure, straight from the beginning. They therefore take the pirates by surprise and attack their hideout without warning, injuring many and capturing even more – sadly Vyse’s father, the smart and charismatic leader of the Blue Rogues is among those being imprisoned and taken away.
What more reason does it take for a true hero to finally face his destiny?
One has to admit that SoA’s plot is anything but extravagant – still, although it may look pretty worn out, it doesn’t feel so. This is due to several factors – first of all the storyline unfolds at a very decent pace and is though simple nevertheless highly motivating. Secondly, especially the main characters bear very distinct and likeable personalities, which make it easy to identify with them. Thirdly the creative overall setting succeeds in drawing one’s attentions and stay interesting throughout the entire game.
Another basic factor to make a good RPG is a well working fighting system that is both challenging and entertaining.
Randomly encountered round-based standard battles offer a very traditionally kept RPG set of actions, featuring the usual suspects “attack, magic, items, run...”, as well as some new elements such as the force meter, respectively the Spirit points, that depending on the actions you take during battle either increases or decreases. In order to cast a magic spell or perform a special attack you will have to wait until the force meter reaches a certain level – an interesting tactical feature, which reminds heavily of the one used in Chrono Cross.
By attaching special moonstones of different colours to your weapon you are able to inflict more or less damage according to the basic element of your opponent - again this is very similar to Chrono Cross’s element shift. What makes battling a little more vivid visually is the fact that if one of your characters is attacking, the others also approach the enemy and start swinging their weapons (without dealing or receiving any damage). Sadly SoA’s fighting system lacks both innovation and dynamics, like for example those seen in Grandia, and is therefore the game’s weakest point.
Another type of battle encountered in SoA is the airship battle, which introduces the player to a more strategy-based part of the game. Depending on the number of people in your party you can take several steps in battle and chose from a whole set of different manoeuvre to perform. Again the force meter shows the current status of your party’s Spirit Points, which are necessary for any airship to attack. Air battles are without doubt one of the most exciting and motivating factors in this game, unlike in standard battle you really have to think and plan in order to stay victorious.
As announced earlier, the new version of Skies of Arcadia offers some marginal changes, like for example the bounty hunting side quest. You are now able to fly around the world and hunt down various criminals in order to gain money and experience.
While Moonfish collecting, another newly introduced feature, you’ll have to make heavy use of the first person perspective so that you can investigate the area more carefully. After collecting moonfish you may feed it to a mysterious bird and get rewarded with various items and a growing and loving pet.
Regarding the fact that Skies of Arcadia is already more than 2 years old, visuals are still not altogether outdated. Of course, since it is more or less a direct port of the Dreamcast version one mustn't expect Final Fantasy aesthetics, which is made quite obvious after taking a closer look at the character models. Although their face’s mimics are rather vivid and varied their overall appearance seems to lack of details, be it either their clothes or their movements.
Backgrounds, on the other hand, are very colourful and beautiful to look at and therefore add very much to the general atmosphere of this celestial world – Arcadia is a really nice place, the perfect resort for any RPG explorer.
Controls are kept very simple. Moving the Analog stick makes Vyse either walk or run, shoulder buttons, as well as the C-stick make it possible from time to time to take control of the camera angle. Sadly camera-rotation takes rather long compared to for example Zelda Windmaker. Accessing and navigating through the menu is a piece of cake and needs no time to get familiar with.
While flying around the world map you will have to steer an entire airship, adjusting height and direction, which is both easily managed by the analog and the c-stick, or L and R buttons.
There are few games on the market that have an equally memorable score like the one played in SoA. The different themes change quite often and rather encourage the player to advance in the game than to get boring and repetitive over the time.
One interesting aspect worth mentioning is that while fighting area bosses, the music changes as does your fate in battle which would be perfect to increase and support atmosphere if it were not for the boring fights...
Sound-effects are solid, yet far from being spectacular – especially the rarely scattered moments of “voice acting” are pretty annoying.
Being the first RPG released on the Game Cube, Skies of Arcadia Legends is indeed a very good start. Although the fighting system is a bit of a mess and the graphics are not what one may expect from today’s technology this game still has all the things it takes to make up an interesting and most of all enjoyable RPG.
If you have already played the Dreamcast version back in 2000 the minor improvements of the Game Cube version might not be enough reason to buy it a second time, if not don’t even consider to hesitate buying – the sky waits to be discovered!