Released in 2000 for the Dreamcast, Skies of Arcadia has since become nothing less than a modern classic. RPG fans loved it for its unique setting, endearing characters, and rock-solid gameplay. Over two years later, it has been improved upon and released as a "director's cut" of sorts on the Gamecube. Sidequests and characters have been added, the graphics have been given a minor update, and the load times have all but disappeared. The question is, do all of these things add up to make Legends worth the purchase for those of us who have already enjoyed the Dreamcast original?
Skies of Arcadia features not one, but two wonderful battle systems. The first of these deals with the characters while they are on foot and away from their airships. In many ways, it's a fairly standard fighting system for an RPG. However, the presence of the "Spirit Meter" adds a whole new layer of depth and strategy to deal with. The battles are turn based, with each character having the option to perform standard RPG tasks, such as physical attacks, spells, and the use of items. The catch is that each spell or special attack consumes a portion of your party's spirit meter. The meter recharges a certain amount each turn, with the amount being dependant on the level of your characters. It can also be replenished at a higher rate by assigning characters the "focus" action when their turns arrive. It seems simple at first glance, but it requires a great deal of forward planning during battles, which adds a great deal of strategy to the mix.
The other battle system found in the game revolves around large-scale battles between airships. Not only are these fun to participate in, they are also quite enjoyable to watch, as the ships maneuver through the skies, launching various attacks at their enemies while attempting to dodge the ones that are directed at them. The actual battling involves utilizing a grid that determines which of your characters will attack during a particular turn. For example, if you have a full four-character party, you will see a 4x4 grid. The characters can act in any order you wish. The spirit meter is also present here, and it functions exactly as it does during the character battles. These battles are highly strategic, and although they aren't nearly as common as the character battles, they are always a welcome event.
Legends also adds several new gameplay elements that were not present in the original version of the game. Almost all of these are purely optional, but they are generally worth the extra effort it takes to complete them. You can now accept bounties at the Sailor's Guild, which results in your party finding and attempting to defeat various new enemies. These battles are generally quite difficult, but they also yield plenty of experience and gold to make it worth your while. The other major addition is the Moonfish hunting sidequest. Early on in the game, you'll meet up with a professor, who asks you to find moonfish in order to evolve a creature for him. What makes this especially entertaining is finding the moonfish requires the player to make extensive use of the first-person view mode. Delivering these moonfish to the Professor can yield some impressive loot, so it's well worth the extra effort to find the moonfish.
For a game that was originally released on an outdated console, Skies of Arcadia Legends still looks quite lovely. It has received only minor touch-ups since its original release, such as slightly improved character models and textures. It can't compare to the visuals of something like Final Fantasy X or Dark Cloud 2, but it's still better than a lot of what's out there. Part of the reason these graphics hold up so well lies in the appeal of the character and area designs themselves, rather than technical quality. The environments are lively and colorful, and the characters are both unique and appealing, without resorting to the gravity defying hairstyles and androgynous clothing styles seen in many modern RPGs.
One of the original Skies of Arcadia's strongest points was its story and characters. This remake is certainly no different, as it tells the exact same story, with just a few minor additions to be found by completing some of the bounty hunting quests. For the uninitiated, Skies of Arcadia is the story of a young air pirate named Vyse and his quest to save the world from the evil Valuan Empire. It seems very clichéd at first, as you are basically on a journey to collect the six elemental crystals, which is a plot device that's been in use since the days of the NES. What makes SoA so much better than that is its highly unique setting and well-developed characters. The game takes place in a world where chunks of land float around in open skies and pirates sail the world in airships, searching for treasure. This alone makes the game more interesting than 90% of the other RPGs that get released. The characters are wonderful and easy to like. They have well-defined personalities and are far from formulaic. It's these things that make playing SoA Legends such a tremendous experience.
The audio of SoA Legends is an issue that brings about great conflict in my mind. On one hand, the music is excellent. It's one of the few game soundtracks I'd bother to listen to when I wasn't playing. On the other hand, the actual sound quality in the game is very low. Everything sounds muffled and even a terrific audio setup can't make the game sound as it should. Another minor annoyance is the short voice clips each character has. While reading dialogue, you'll occasionally hear a "yeah!" or "uh-oh". Usually, these little comments don't even fit the text being displayed, and it's fairly annoying. However, the music is strong enough to make up for the majority of these faults, and I rarely hit the mute button on my TV while playing.
Overall, Skies of Arcadia Legends was a total blast to play. However, it should only be purchased by two types of people. If you've never played the original version on Dreamcast, run out to get it as soon as possible. If you're a hardcore fan, you should probably pick it up at some point. Those of you who played the DC version already, but aren't obsessed with it, should probably just pass, as there's nothing here to make you turn into a SoA fanatic. For the aforementioned two types of people, however, this game is pure bliss. Every RPG fan simply must experience it at least one time in his or her life.
© 2003 Sega of America