There is a moment early on in the Dreamcast classic Skies of Arcadia when you are exploring a temple in the hopes of finding a fantastically valuable treasure that has crashed into it, and you pass through a hallway and step outside. You walk out onto a bridge and notice stones and dirt above your head: the underside of the island. You look down and see the vast, blue sky stretching on beneath,
you. Another moment has you climbing a high ladder in your home island, and you look out past the land at the sea. Not the ocean, of course, but the sea of sky stretching on endlessly before you. The spirit of adventure and of discovering more beautifully realized settings like this one, is what powers the entirety of Skies of Arcadia.
Skies of Arcadia is a well-beloved classic for many of the same reasons that the SNES classic Chrono Trigger is. The plot is unpretentious yet engaging, and the characters utterly lovable–their relationships forming the heart of the story. The gameplay is simple, yet refined in a way that encouraged a degree of strategic thinking. Most importantly, though, the game's theme of chasing adventure and the unknown permeates absolutely every aspect, much like the original Grandia.
Skies of Arcadia takes what could have been a generic RPG world and plot, and through careful refinement–not to mention the fully-realized potential of the "islands in the sky" setting–it became something far more memorable. Each country the player visits is unique in both appearance and atmosphere, and the dungeons, which started out with the beautiful Shrine Island, only ever improve on the initial promise of the sky-bound setting. In one of the most inspired touches, every major country has its own musical theme, and when you sail through a particular land on your flying ship, the background music shifts subtly to incorporate key instrumentation and audio cues from that country, so that even if land is not in sight, you know where in the world you are.
From the earliest part of the game, Skies encourages exploration and adventure. The Discovery system allows you to hunt down rare locations and objects, giving you incentive to fly out to the farthest reaches and check out each and every chunk of floating land, no matter how small or out of the way. After acquiring your own private island and ship, you can scour the world in search of the most talented crew members to man the ship, each having a unique effect during ship-to-ship combat–another well-realized facet of the game. One of your lead characters can only power up her weapon–a mercilessly cute silver thingy called Cupil–through the use of a hot-and-cold minigame that pipes little sounds through the VMU when you come within range of its favorite food. From the very outset of the game, you simply know that someday, you will dive beneath Deep Sky to see the world below.
Skies of Arcadia represents a kind of RPG experience that is what many of us frequently lament the loss of these days. It represents a kind of "un-pretention"–a belief that the simple spirit of adventure in a beautiful world and enjoyably engaging characters were reason enough to see a tale through to its conclusion. The combat is fluid, if a bit time consuming, and the party shared a common pool of Spirit Points, required for many of the more powerful actions your characters can perform. This engendered a degree of light strategy, with the player considering how to make use of their limited SP. For years I had hoped for a true turn-based successor to the stellar original Phantasy Star quadrilogy–and while we still haven't gotten one, Skies of Arcadia was the next best thing. Also, rather than a brooding loner, the hero, Vyse, is an upbeat Air Pirate who represents everything good about the RPG heroes of old–why did he save the world? Because that's what nice guys do!
The team responsible for Skies of Arcadia, Overworks, produced a few other titles you may have heard of, like Sonic the Hedgehog, Phantasy Star, Shinobi, Alex Kidd, and the sadly never-localized Phantasy Star 1 and 2 remakes. The company is still together today and clearly still has the chops to produce quality RPGs&ndashthose of you that enjoyed the Valkyria Chronicles games can attest to that. Some of Skies' protagonists even made an appearance in the original Valkyria Chronicles, so we know that Sega certainly hasn't forgotten them. So what's stopping them from delivering the oft-requested sequel? It's certainly not because they're busy at work on a new entry in the original series of Phantasy Star games (which, truthfully, would be a great and totally acceptable reason). If Valkyria Chronicles is any indication, this team clearly still remembers the things that made Skies of Arcadia so memorable for so many people, and the potential to take those strong foundations and build a new sequel on a modern console undoubtedly exists.
This piece represents my sincere hope that we have not seen the last of the land of Arcadia, and that someday we'll see how beautiful its skies could look in HD.