Title: Skies Of Arcadia
Platforms: Dreamcast, GameCube
System Reviewed on Dreamcast
When the Dreamcast was released in the US back in 1999, the most significant oversight that Sega had to assess was the lack of RPGs. Because of how the Saturn flopped they realized that they needed a killer new title. Games like Sonic Adventure and Soul Calibur definitely made their impact as day one launch titles; however, the RPG market was still in Sony’s favor. Even with inferior hardware that was 15 times weaker than the Dreamcast, the Sony PlayStation had games like Lunar 1 and 2, Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy 7, 8, and 9, Parasite Eve, Xenogears and so on. While there was a handful of RPG’s released in the early months of the Dreamcast’s lifespan most of them were simple dungeon crawlers such as Evolution the World of Sacred Device, Evolution 2, and time stalkers.
Even with games like Grandia 2 coming to North America nearly 3 months after its Japanese release Sega, in order to appeal to the hardcore RPG crowd, needed a AAA RPG that they could call their own. With a development team of fewer than 40 people, Overworks took a leap of faith in creating one of the most original breathtaking and captivating RPGs of the decade. You get to watch every character in your party develop over time from your typical spiky-haired RPG protagonists to characters with such astoundingly lovable personalities that you can’t help but smile knowing that it was your hands that guided them towards such a path. The characters that you come across are equally as robust and exciting, with each step forward you discover something new. And unlike too many RPG’s nowadays, unfortunately, every bit of dialog is intriguing and showcased in such a manner that actually makes you care about what goes on in this world.
Every location that you traverse in this game is slightly more diverse than the last. In the land of skies, different continents were levitated into the stratosphere.
You will explore the native jungle of Ixa Taka, submerge yourself in an underwater cave inside a volcano in the Asian Continent of Yafutoma or the desert-like region of Nasr. Every location in this game is incredibly detailed, and although a bit Stereotypical at some points, is still bursting with liveliness. Though for me it was the more subtle moments of this game that I enjoyed the most which brought it to life. Subtleties, such as a palace that was frozen in a continent which had been abandoned for thousands of years, or an isle in the middle of nowhere that at first seems to provide nothing more than a starting point for your adventure that will, later on, play a vital role in the overarching plot of the game.
Many people might not be able to enjoy these desolate environments, but for me, this game’s lack of onscreen action at certain points is very similar to the lack of action in games such as Shadow of the Colossus, sometimes it’s the lack of a certain something that fills in the void with something else. The player’s imagination is the true guiding light for Vyse Inglebard and his crew. The game dares you to explore new places and take risks when risks are needed. Although the game is scripted so that everything will happen the way the programmers intended, the limited amount of dialog that you are given to chose from topped off with an excellent presentation as well as facial and hand gestures, make Skies feel as genuine and interactive as any open world non-scripted game. These incredibly well scripted moments truly are the driving force behind progressing through the adventure.
In one instance I was given a choice to either comfort a girl in my party by either talking to her or just putting my arm around her as we both gazed up into the night sky. But the gameplay is far from merely interacting with others and piloting your ship. The battle system is a fresh take on your typical turn-based system. Rather than have you and your partners in a straight line facing your enemies, you and your crew are spread throughout the deck of your ship or ground or wherever the battle takes place. Depending on your position, you can attack different enemies, either with your regular attacks or with special attacks that use energy from your focus gauge to unleash horrifically beautiful techniques that will take up the entire screen for an epic presentation which would make any other RPG protagonist just a little jealous.
On top of that, the game also features a weakness/strength system. You have 6 different colors to chose from all of which are strong or weak against an enemy depending on those foes traits. It’s sort of like a six-way rock paper scissors war, only don’t depend on your weapons attributes too much. There are a hefty amount of foes that you have to face off against, and sometimes taking the time to figure out the enemies weakness can be detrimental.
Especially when fighting the bosses; your best bet against them would be to use your neutral weapons that don’t have any color. If you really want to risk it have one or two of your strongest teammates use different weapon attributes while the others stay on the sideline ready to heal your partners if and when they’ve suffered enough damage. How you enter a battle and what tactics you should use are the driving points in the game just like any good RPG should be. You could always rely on luck hoping that the attributes that you give your weapons are a perfect match for the enemies weakness, but truly skilled players will only count on that as a last resort. On top of the regular battles, you will also partake in mandatory ship battles. These battles take place on a 4X4 grid each of your teammates selects a move that they want to use and when to use it.
To help increase your ship’s potential during these fights you can recruit over 30 people from around the world whose specialties include increasing your ship’s primary attack power, secondary attack power, resistance to magic, resistance to physical damage, etc, etc. At some point, this may seem to feel like information overkill, but after you’ve invested about 40 hours or so into the game, it starts to feel like second nature. You can even hire people to sell and buy items from you on your base, that’s another key innovation that this game presents yet for some reason is rarely used in the RPG’s of now, on top of building your own pirate army, you can also customize your very ship and base. My one nitpick would be that even after you hire someone to be a central supplier for goods in this game, you still have to pay them for whatever they sell you, you won’t even get a discounted rate (Cheap bastards), oh well I suppose if you didn’t pay people for their work that would be communism.
Love it or hate it Skies of Arcadia is likely to go down as one of the greatest RPGs of all time. Given how great this game is from the moment that your protagonist introduces himself, to the final confrontation which is truly unique because rather than give you the feeling of something insanely powerful that you are clinging to a thread of hope to beat, it harnesses the momentum of the story to that point, by practically announcing that this is an equal battle, something that both parties can win. You feel the strength of equality throughout it, as the game’s emphasis isn’t on the final boss’s power, but that this struggle will be remembered throughout history.
With nothing holding Vyse, Aika, or any of their friends back you know for sure that there will be great challenges ahead of them, but they will take them on together no matter what stands in their way this is a fanfare of finality.