The Dreamcast needed a great RPG. Members of the team that brought us some of the Phantasy Star games for the Genesis returned with a bang and delivered one of the most memorable RPG experiences of all-time. Skies of Arcadia captures the feelings of discovery and friendship, and puts them together in the most epic of ways. This one will not soon be forgotten!
In the world of Arcadia, all the lands float as islands in a sea of sky; they are kept levitated by the power of the six Moons, which are all different in color and provide this unusual gravitational situation.
The story of Skies of Arcadia begins with the inquisitive and adventurous Vyse leaving his home of Pirate's Isle for his first adventure. Vyse is a member of the Blue Rogues, which is in essence the Robin Hood and gang version of air pirates. Vyse's world is turned upside down when he meets Fina, a foreign girl who is being hunted by the Valuan army, the most powerful nation in the world. Fina seems to know nothing about simple things such as flowers or shopping; Vyse takes it up on himself to help her finish a mission she must complete.
The plot becomes increasingly deeper as the game progresses, with several plot twists, but the underlying theme of discovery is prevalent throughout. Though it becomes cliché at times, it rarely fails to entertain with its lighthearted tale of Vyse and friends, who must in the end save the world from a powerful nation whose corrupt leaders wish to bring back an ancient destruction.
The presentation is what makes it memorable, and though you may have seen it before, the original setting provides an unparalleled atmosphere, which makes the tale of Skies of Arcadia a true classic.
The characters in Skies of Arcadia are the usual happy bunch of protagonists against the evil, plotting madman who wants to rule the world. Thankfully, there are a few interesting twists in the story to help the character development, and the bright and apparent personalities of each character really make them memorable.
Vyse wants to adventure, much like the protagonist Justin from Grandia. Thank the heavens Vyse never gives up his manliness like Justin and stays strong and cool throughout the game; his aspirations can even have some inspirations for gamers. His hopes of sailing around the world and discovering new places are really conveyed in a smooth, powerful manner.
The other characters also have interesting personalities. There is really no deep, complex character development, but the personality and charm is there. The character design is overall very good, with some really cool looking characters like Guilder. Again, they aren't the best or deepest cast, but they serve the game well and will not be stored away in the depths of your memory.
The soundtrack in Skies of Arcadia is also nothing less than brilliant. I don't know what individual composed it, because in the game's credits they refer only to the Skies of Arcadia symphony. Nonetheless, the music fits each scene perfectly, and the melodies are all catchy. There are different battle themes, which is refreshing, since you don't always have to hear the same battle theme over and over. Most of the music is classically influenced and gives the game that adventurous, epic feel it warrants. There are other varying tracks, such as the town themes, which accurately reflect the culture and atmosphere in the area.
Another plus is that some of the music is dynamic, meaning that it changes depending on the area or situation. For instance, the theme that plays when you are piloting the airship around the world sticks with the same basic melody, but when you arrive in a different area, another instrument culturally linked to that area is added in the song, so you know where you are even without looking at the screen! In boss battles, depending on the outlook of the battle, the song will change from oppressive to a more upbeat melody when you're winning. Things like that make for an enjoyable audio experience.
There is one major flaw, however. The recording quality is sub-par. The game's soundtrack is recorded in 32KHz stereo, not the standard, clearer 44KHz. This will only torment the most demanding audiophiles, but even casual music fans will notice a lack of clarity. There is voice acting, but only random battle cries or laughs scattered throughout the game. They are also very low quality, even more noticeable than the soundtrack. Thankfully it's not a prevalent aspect.
The sound effects were pretty good; not as great as the soundtrack, but still very good and there were many varying sounds. The only thing hurting this game here is the sound quality; this is a Dreamcast game, people, there should be nothing less than perfect CD-quality audio here.
The gameplay in Skies of Arcadia is varied between character and ship interactions. More or less, when controlling Vyse, the gamer treks through dungeons, filled with random battles, to reach a certain goal. Though it irked me that Skies stuck with random battles, they aren't boring in the least. The battle system is turn-based with a few twists, such as the building up of Spirit Points to pull off magic and special attacks. However, the dungeon design is brilliant, and Skies of Arcadia is filled with some of the most logical and interesting dungeon designs; no nonsensical layouts, but very well structured areas, and even some completely original ideas that are executed brilliantly.
The ship battles, on the other hand, are great tactical sequences that allow gamers to control the ship they own, and depending on things like weapons, armor, and crewmembers, will affect the stats and performance of the vessel. The battles are turn based, where the gamer picks and plots out four moves that will be pulled off in order. To determine what to do, certain colors are used to help hint at what will happen in that round. For instance, if the block above the first round is red, it would be unwise to go out for an attack; that means the enemy will be attacking, and massive damage would ensue. Things like that keep the gameplay fresh. It's a lot of fun, even with random battles.
The graphics in Skies of Arcadia are nothing short of breathtaking. With detailed environments, great textures, wonderful color use, and smooth animation, Skies of Arcadia is one of the best-looking Dreamcast games I've ever seen. The areas you visit are huge, well designed, and have excellent textures with no boring, stale patterns. The characters have numerous animations that all flow and cause no breakup. They also have distinct facial expressions, which are clear and very easy to see; this makes for a whole new experience with dialogue and other scenes.
The entire game is composed of polygons, and what's even more impressive is the draw distance. With areas this huge you'd think you'd see layers of fog or some pop-up; this is just about nonexistent in Skies of Arcadia. With almost no pop-up thanks to an amazing draw distance, the environments in Skies of Arcadia will suck you in. Though I preferred the style of Grandia II more, there is no denying the visual beauty of Skies of Arcadia, which really shows some Dreamcast muscle.
The localization in Skies of Arcadia is also very good. With nearly no apparent grammatical or spelling errors, flowing English, and catchy lines, it's a good, coherent translation. Though the voice acted battle cries and lines were a little cheesy, overall the game had a very good amount of dialogue that was well written. Not as good as Grandia II's, but good nonetheless.
Skies of Arcadia proved to be one of the longest RPG's I've played in some time. It will last well over 50 hours for most gamers, even though the game is pathetically easy. The control is very good, with responsive analog stick control and clean, organized menus for easy navigation. There was no real loading time, and with the beautiful landscapes, that's a feat. Overall, Skies of Arcadia is not only one of the best Dreamcast games, but it's one of the best RPG's I've played. A real gem that all should try out.