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Much like the US presidential elections, people enjoy thinking about new stuff way before the current stuff is even close to being finished. And while I can only apply so much blame to those people (I am writing this editorial, after all), some of the blame could be placed at Nintendo's feet. Specifically the feet of one Satoru Iwata, shoes scuffed by all the times he has dragged them in place of walking, since he made a recent announcement that brought up the code name of their next console, the "NX". The announcement was principally about a partnership with Japanese mobile tech company DeNA (read as "DNA") to begin making games for smart devices, however many of the juicier details remain unsaid. No news on the kinds of games or IPs that will be developed, except that "only new original games optimized for smart device functionality will be created". It is also quite possible that this company will work with Nintendo going forward on a more robust network to compare more favorably with Sony or Microsoft whereas now their service clearly demonstrates a lack of expertise in that field.
With earlier rumors suggesting that the next Nintendo home console would either combine or greatly integrate its own handheld efforts, this partnership with a mobile tech and games company suggests that their next machine might not stop at proprietary Nintendo hardware. It is all a big swirl of speculation at this point, but many of these potential directions are new ones for Nintendo. Historically speaking the company has had rough to spotty relations with third party companies entrusted with Nintendo brand IPs, but the only unsurprising thing is that the steps they are taking today are the product of long deliberation and mulling-over. DeNA has apparently courted the company for years, and Nintendo shareholders have been hounding Iwata for some kind of move into the mobile space as dedicated gaming devices struggle in Japan amidst a booming mobile market.
So what could be around the bend for my favorite company to rag on? Well, I think the first order of business is to realize when any of this is likely to come to fruition. Mobile games may hit the market as soon as a year from now, but as for this partnership's impact on Nintendo hardware, I suspect that will take much longer. Nintendo is unlikely to release an "upgrade" style release for either the New 3DS or Wii U with new features any time soon, given how early into the hardware cycle Nintendo is on both fronts at present. For that matter, Sony and Microsoft's consoles have yet to really shine even a little, with early cross-gen efforts only now giving way to real eighth generation support. The overall "ecosystem" of this generation is not ready for a big hardware change yet, despite Nintendo's reference to their coming console. For now, this "NX" is just a name and will likely remain so for a couple more years until about E3 2017 when a first glimpse is more reasonable to expect. Iwata did say he would announce more on the matter next year, but I will not be holding my breath. On top of all its other issues, the last thing the Wii U needs is more attention being drawn away to something else. I see this generation lasting roughly as long as the last, maybe only a bit shorter, with hardware cycles turning over around 2018 or '19.
That covers the "when" of it, but the "what" is a lot trickier. I still believe Nintendo is looking to combine their home console and handheld efforts as their own restructuring and PR statements have made that pretty clear. Until recently I thought that just meant that the next handheld would offer things like the Vita's remote play, more consistent controller functionality (as with Smash Bros.), cross saving/buying, and who knows what other cute gimmicks to pad out an E3 sizzle reel. Maybe the handheld will have face tracking and outward cameras that allow it to function like a window to see a Mario world rendered all around the room as the device is moved around. I can see the smiling paid actors now...
But now that DeNA has officially been given permission to take Nintendo's daughter on a first date, perhaps we shall see more of them and their work in future developments, unless of course Nintendo catches them copping a feel at that tender Pokemon IP and the whole thing ends in a nasty phone call. The kinds of things I might expect to see, aside from a better Nintendo Network, would be app integration with some titles and perhaps with amiibo in some fashion (if that remains a thing) despite their claims that mobile efforts would be original. The mobile games likely will remain separated and I have the suspicion that there will be a lot of Japan-only content involved. This partnership being chiefly a remedy to a Japanese problem, where gaming hardware is under a lot of pressure from mobile phones, I suspect Nintendo will want to continue to act in a localized fashion. Hardware is much stronger abroad, they will claim, and therefore the market in places like the US can be seen as uninterested. When mobile games do come outside of Japan, I would suspect them to be further cordoned off by country for nebulous reasons.
It is early days for these developments, and while some info has been given I cannot really suspect it is all so immutable that in three or four years' time these lines will not blur and these positions will not "evolve". The whole of gaming has gotten bigger than a single-focused company like Nintendo can manage on its own, that much is clear.
Yup, anyone who played this game knows instantly what I'm talking about unless they were lucky enough to have missed the button prompt in the Roivas (hey, that's Savior spelled backwards! :ppppppp) mansion. It has no bearing on the plot other than to convey you're losing your friggin' MIND and for once it actually works. All the gimmicky screen effects, fake video cut-outs, weird noises; those were mostly all unsettling, but to a teenage kid playing a game he loved alone in his room at night, this scene was terrifying!
After this happened, if memory serves, I actually dropped the controller and pushed myself to the back of my chair. I then stopped playing to look around my room for, you know, ghosts or something. After looking around for ghosts suspiciously yielded no results, I concluded I was still pretty scared and saved the game and stopped playing. Considering my game chair was sat in front of my closet, the very epicenter of all supernatural phemomena as any child knows (your closet isn't, only mine is), I thought I'd try to go to bed.
Maybe with the lights on.
Some of you out there, those few who still remember this title years later and alight when its name is mentioned, are probably beaming right now. If not you've probably already written a c-blog about this very game. To the rest of you I have to assume the deal with this game is a perfect mystery. Indeed, to me it is as well. So I want to try to unravel that mystery a bit, and I hope in the end we all come a bit closer to what makes this game so special for seemingly just a few of us. Also, this is my first c-blog so be kind [rewind].
I don't fault the confusion others voice about the passion I have for this game. On its own Skies of Arcaida Legends is a conflux of old JRPG tropes. It was a throwback in an age before throwbacks were becoming popular, when nostalgia for past games was overshadowed by notions of regression. It stood firmly in the way of the gamer's and the industry's quest for tropeless realism and bloom lighting and online multiplayer and MORE bloom lighting! Occlusive dissatisfactions aside, SOA:L is also a testament to an older gameplay engine many RPGs were moving away from: turn based combat. In 2000, and 2003 when the Legends re-release was made, turn based combat was threatening extinction and I seem to recall discussion of the mechanic's retirement to be a regular topic in RPG enthusiast sites. As well, the game features characters pulled right from the JRPG playbook of 1995 before the dower anti-heroes hit their stride with the release of Final Fantasy VII. All of this, combined with the game's release on less popular consoles like Dreamcast and GameCube, meant that many would pass it over and many more would never know about it at all.
But this is supposed to be a blog about why it's my favorite game. And so one feels a bit compelled to justify the why of it. It's more of a problem than it might seem, because all of the reasons I just listed that clarify why the game was unpopular are part of the reasons why I love it.
The cast of SOA:L are about as unique among other RPGs as grass in a field, but nevertheless offer up a crucial difference to the anti-heroes of the time. Lead characters Vyse, Aika and Fina all exude positivity, eagerness and above all, friendship. Their whole excursion is not unlike some school aged camp friends having an adventure one summer that they'll remember the rest of their lives. And while not particularly complex, the characters have more than one dimension to them, with contrastingly dark or somber beginnings that highlight their desire to seek positivity going forward.
Even the secondary characters, Drachma, Guilder and Enrique have an endearing desire to press on despite hardship. It all represents a sense of pluck still largely bereft from game protagonists today as we move callously away from the storybook beginnings of videogame's past.
The Battle System
It asks for some patience, I can't deny it. The random encounter rate for these turn base battles, especially on the DC version, are as legendary as the game's name to those who've played it. Lessened somewhat on the GC version, it's still quite a frequent affair for encounters that can be fairly lengthy. With some inside info it can be helped by acquiring special items, relying on certain AoE attacks and picking certain party members but it still remains the game's biggest flaw. Despite this, the battle system manages to work in some interesting mechanics I've yet to see replicated elsewhere (doesn't mean they aren't replicated, I just don't know about them). While turn based, it's also position-reliant. Characters will move around to attack targets, and their positions will have an effect on the range of AoE spells. Movement isn't controlled, but determined by attack type and target position. It's a neat wrinkle in the system that can take some getting used to.
And of course there's the ship battles. You'll fight in your airships (more on those later) like a naval commander would fight on the high seas. The combat is round based and the ship movement is automatic, requiring you to analyze how ships behave then plan the next round accordingly. Commands are plugged in ahead of time for the whole round, so switching between offensive and defensive maneuvers is a matter of prediction. In all, it's a fine change of pace from the on-foot battles and often quite challenging lengthy affairs.
The Game World
This is the biggest reason for me. I love me some airships and no game has done them as well as this one. Final Fantasy? Nope. You have full three dimensional control over your airship while traversing one of the most unique overworlds in any game. Floating continents, rock reefs, sky fish, dynamic midi-fading overworld music, and just the right amount of guidance before the world suddenly opens up completely. Later in the game you can even get rid of overworld random encounters by flying at super high or low altitudes, which is neat, all while scouring the realm for Discoveries. These are hidden objects or areas that, when found, can be turned in for money and are a required part of unlocking one of the game's secrets. For as staid and traditional as the rest of this game is, this is one aspect that I've found cannot be matched by any before it nor has it been by any to come.
I play it about once every year, and as long as I have the means to play that old GameCube disc, this little tradition of mine will keep transporting me back to that world of Air Pirates and that age of exploration.