Sometimes when a game is re-released it gets a new name, sometimes it is a marketing ploy but on occasion that name is 100% justified.
Skies of Arcadia Legends is one such game.
|SKIES OF ARCADIA LEGENDS (DC -2000)
|EU – May 23, 2003
|USA – January 27, 2003
|JPN – December 26, 2002
As an RPG fan, it is always interesting to see how the classic tale of a small group of heroes saving the day can be told in so many ways. From Japanese high school students leaping into TVs to confront their shadows to a group of adults stopping an insane clown from ruling the world, classic RPGs always bring something new to the table. And in Skies of Arcadia, that unique selling point, to me, is a vast world where you play as pirates exploring new worlds. Forget Vaan or Balthier, these are the original – and best – Air Pirates.
Skies of Arcadia was a game developed by SEGA for the Dreamcast, which was later ported to the Gamecube under the “Legends” banner. This remake added in some different touches, such as a side-mission involving the deadly pirate hunter Piastol and the Pirate Bounties (which cover everything from slightly harder bosses to your evil doppelgangers). This version also edited some stuff out, such as antagonist Belleza’s outfit in Nasr being less revealing, and the removal of cigarettes and alcohol (rollerblading was still allowed though). But despite these alterations, Legends was the game I played, and as such is the one I’m reviewing today.
The game centres on the Blue Rogues, a band of Air Pirates who do nothing but to cause trouble with the neighbouring Valuan Empire. When Vyse and Aika find a mysterious girl called Fina and her…thing called Cupil, they go off to find mystical items called Moon Crystals to prevent the Valuan Empite resurrecting ancient weapons of mass destruction, Gigas. Along their adventure across the 6 lands of Arcadia (and their different moons), they meet surly sailor Drachma, ladies man Gilder and…someone else, who I won’t say as it spoils the plot. Big time. But they off and adventure together to stop their world being destroyed. In fact, there’s a lot about this story that I could say in this synopsis. The game itself is vast, the story rich and the characters are people who you can emphasise with.
That was one of the joys of this game – another being the openness of the game world. You literally sail in the skies from island to island, fighting monsters and saving people along the way. Not only can you sail left right, forwards and back, but also up and down, leading to a larger game world than seen in other games. The sailing was also fun, with the chance to find legendary discoveries as you went on that opened up a rich back-story to this world you’re in. The only downside in the whole game exploration-wise was those battles. Those many, many battles.
Nowadays, RPGs have strayed a bit away from the random battle formula, allowing players to opt in or out of a fight where necessary. With Skies of Arcadia: Legends, however, the random battle counter was set a bit too high. It was like fighting in Mt Moon after awaking a nest of Zubats, but without any repels. This did certainly lead to a few annoyances, such as trying to get to a port to heal, but having to fight 5 different battles to get there. But, on the plus side, at least the battle system was simple to understand and relied on no reactions (unlike other SEGA-based RPGs involving certain blue hedgehogs).
Battles are you standard RPG fare – kill or be killed. Here, you have a pool of points which slowly increase after every turn and get used up as you perform actions, with bigger and stronger actions costing more. So it was a clever trade-off mechanic – do you attack constantly to prevent foes from landing a big attack on you, or do you defend until you hit the maximum pot available and unleash a devastating blow at the risk of great injury? Each boss needed a different tactic, but it wasn’t a huge chore to experiment to see what was best. But what I really liked was the ability to change your weapon’s affiliation, i.e. the element your weapon is infused with. As the game went on, you got more powers for your gear. These allowed you to switch your weapon’s elemental affinity in battle freely, with the chance to offer more damage. For example, foes strong against one colour might be weak against another, leaving it much more open ended. The fact the characters ran around the field to attack rather than stand in a line added to the effect too.
But one thing everyone remembers battle wise, are the ship battles. At times, you needed to face off against opponents in your ship, and that led to a completely different set of tactics. These battles required you to man various cannons or load magic cannonballs to try and catch your foe off guard. The ships circle and dart as the battle goes on, with the aim of attacking when your foe’s engines are exposed and guard if yours are. It takes getting used to, but it offers a different style of battle that helps keep the game fresh.
Graphics wise, truth be told, could be better. It’s not aged particularly well, though at the time it was respectable. Given that Final Fantasy X was out when Legends was, it did cast a bit of a difference between the hardware specs of the Gamecube and PS2. However, in my opinion, graphics only go so far, and the story in Skies of Arcadia, in my opinion, outranks that of FF X. The music was also a joy to listen to as well. The opening theme that cries action, the boss music that changes depending on how well you’re doing, the soaring melodies when you fly around Arcadia – they all fitted together so well.
This review could go on and on about why I love this game. The great story, the epic music scores, the inventive combat, the fantastic characters, the open-ended world. And there are things I haven’t mentioned, such as Vyse’s ranks or the crew system. But all together, they make this a fantastic RPG not only for the fans of the genre, but also the casual player too. It is also one of my top 5 RPGs I’ve ever played, joining games such as the DS masterpiece The World Ends With You and the majestic Persona 4. It’s stuck with me for so long that currently my favourite character and track on ASRT is, and shall be for a long time to come, Vyse and Rogue’s Landing. I think that just about sums up my feelings for it.
|By far the game’s sticking point nowadays, but it is certainly not as awful as most games from that era were.
|One of the better OST’s I’ve heard in an RPG, and every track adds to its absorbing effect.
|Ship control is quite loose, but otherwise the control scheme both in and out of battle is very responsive.
|It’s an RPG – what do you expect? Discoveries, crew members, Piastol’s story (Legends only), Cupil’s levelling up scheme, Vyse’s rank…There’s so much to do in this game, and you will spend ages on it and loving it.
|Whilst the graphics may have aged they don’t detract from the game experience and that is of a classic in every sense. Nothing more, nothing less.
THIS, Bioware, is how you do an RPG. Sonic Chronicles…Well, I’ll get onto that some other time…