Although most RPGs aim to provide an epic storyline for gamers to lose themselves in, very few succeed in such a complete way that they engrave the adventure on your memories. Whether it was my childhood dreams of being a pirate (I thought pirates were both tremendously brave and awesomely sexy) or my affinity for games with a touch of steampunk influence (airships!), Skies of Arcadia did the job right.
Painting adorable, quirky characters against the backdrop of an adventure in the clouds, Skies had style, substance and fun, and easily ranked among my favorite Dreamcast titles. Hit the jump to find out what Skies is all about, how deftly the characters sneak into your heart, and how a game can transition with ease from being just a story to a true adventure.
Skies of Arcadia (Eternal Arcadia)
Platform: Dreamcast (rereleased for the GameCube as Skies of Arcadia Legends)
An RPG draws near!
When Skies of Arcadia came out in 2000, RPG enthusiasts were already grumbling a little about the repetitive themes of their favorite games -- from saving an unusual girl with magic powers she doesn't quite comprehend to fighting for the glory of the empire, we'd done it all before. Skies retained the general structure, but bravely instilled the game with a new setting, which made it feel like something brand new and exciting.
Before I get to the story, a quick side note for ganers thinking about going back to replay Skies -- the game was originally released for the Dreamcast, but was rereleased in 2003 for the Nintendo GameCube under the new title Skies of Arcadia Legends. Load times are reduced and there are 24 new discoveries to be made, but the title also cut out some of the mature content of the original, so things like cigarettes and alcohol vanished from the remake. It also features a new character, the assassin Piastol.
Skies of Arcadia begins with a bang. Young Silvite girl Fina is fleeing across the skies in her airship, being pursued by Valuan Admiral Alfonso on the orders of Lord Galcian. He opens fire on her ship and it is about to go down when she is saved by a Blue Rogue vessel. This is how we meet Vyse and Aika, pirates extraordinaire. They save Fina and bring her back to their secret hideout, Pirate Island (which is cleverly disguised as "Windmill Island.")
After a trip the next day to gather resources for their ship, Vyse and Aika find Pirate Island has been attacked by the Valuan Armada and many Blue Rogues have been kidnapped. This is all because of Fina, of course, and she quickly becomes the quintessential female which we will pursue across the game's endless skies and dungeons. While trying to unravel the mystery of Fina's mission. the party must defend her (and themselves!) from the powerful Valuan Armada.
You're saying, "But didn't you just describe the structure that you said RPG gamers were burnt out on in the first paragraph?" I did, but here is why: As I mentioned before, Skies retains the classic structure that addicted RPG players to the genre in the first place, but by adding a healthy dose of bravado and quirk, it stuck in a way that I needed as a gamer in that time. It made me remember what I loved most about adventure games.
Skies of Arcadia has two different types of combat. Character to monster battle happens in the overworld and is fairly straightforward as turn-based battle systems go. These battles were frequent enough to make some players complain, which caused Sega to reduce the frequency of battles for the GameCube release of the title. Later in the game you have the ability to avoid overworld combat, but this is the one point of the game where it shines less than the rest, pretty much following the general battle pattern of RPGs.
The second type of battle, ship-to-ship, was a totally fun new way to fight at the time of the game's release, and it really lent a lot to the devil-may-care vibe of your pirate party. There's something really gratifying about firing giant cannons on your enemy. You can also battle against powerful creatures called Gigas with your ship, although these encounters are also later in the game. If only all battles in RPGs were as lighthearted and fun as these!
Of course, the biggest element of what gives the game its memorable tone are the characters. Skies of Arcadia is rich with personality and the new faces you meet are more likely to stick with you than your usual NPCs. Vyse, Aika and Fina are the permanent party you play with, but you will meet more road-hung pirates, proud princes and dashing rogues than you know what to do with. When I see Johnny Depp's excellent Captain Jack Sparrow character, I often find myself thinking fondly of meeting similar individuals in Skies of Arcadia.
The game's soundtrack is absolutely stellar and in fact ranks in my top ten favorite scores of all time. It was composed by Yutaka Minobe and Tatsuyuki Maeda and is originally known as Eternal Arcadia, which was the game's Japanese title. With 67 tracks weighing in at over two hours, this score is not to be missed and should be a part of every game music enthusiast's collection. It truly captures the spirit of the game.
I can't begin to describe to you what a fulfilling adventure Skies of Arcadia is to play. Much like the Indiana Jones films, Skies neatly fits the bill for everything I would expect from a truly epic adventure title that refuses to take itself too seriously. Your characters laugh in the face of danger, but never fail in showing their humanity as well. Somehow, that makes them a lot more like me -- in which case I found it entirely natural to dissolve into their story and imagine myself piloting an airship bravely across the skies.
>Attack: If your favorite feel for an RPG is epic yet fun, you love to explore, you enjoy a solid dose of swashbucking, and you want to hear one of the most wonderful soundtracks in RPG history.
>Parry: If serious RPGs are more your cup of tea, you dislike pirates, and you hate watching people having fun. Because fun sucks, you know.