I enjoyed Skies of Arcadia thoroughly when it was released on the Dreamcast several years ago. When I heard rumors of the game seeing a re-release on the GameCube, I was pleasantly surprised. I hoped that the game would see a nice re-vamping and a slew off additional things to do. Sadly, very little was added and the game is more or less a simple port of the Dreamcast version with hackneyed additions. In light of this, Skies of Arcadia remains as an excellent console RPG, but is probably not worth buying for those who have completed the Dreamcast version.
The game’s plot remains the same. Skies of Arcadia introduces gamers to the wondrous world of Arcadia, where land floats magically in a sea of sky; where explorers use flying boats to travel amongst the clouds, where pirates are alive and well. The setting itself is presented beautifully; the adventurous plot is apparent thanks to such an open, free world. Gamers take the controls of Vyse, a young Blue Rogue pirate. Though pirate has somewhat a negative connotation, the group Vyse belongs to runs more along the lines of a Robin Hood pirate theme. The game follows Vyse’s adventures, as they evolve from the simple to the grand; soon he finds himself entangled in a war with a greedy empire that wants nothing but world domination. There is a fair share of plot twists, but on the whole the story remains somewhat clich?and straight forward. The presentation is what truly shines, and the adventurous manner in which the game is presented is what assigns an epic feel. Characters retain a single, dominant personality trait for the most part, and there isn’t much character development. However, the striking character design and vibrant personalities are more than enough to make the dozens of main cast members memorable. On top of this, the theme of exploration is emphasized greatly, as gamers are given freedom to fly the airship anywhere around Arcadia (progressing in the game allows for entry into new areas). There are several mini-games and side quests, which remain largely the same as the Dreamcast version. The only real additions to the plot are the doppelgangers and the new “bounty hunter”. Both of these add little content to the game, and have no effect on plot progression. It’s hardly enough to warrant a second play through based solely on this unless you’re in love with the game.
Graphically, Skies of Arcadia shows its age. Rather than sprucing up the graphics, it seems that the game is more or less a direct port of the original. What’s still impressive is the draw distance; there isn’t much pop up, and when there is, it’s played into the game with subtle fog or clouds; nothing too obvious. What offsets this is the mip-mapping, which seems to remain largely unchanged since the Dreamcast version. Textures are extremely clear up close, but when they fall into a distance the line between the blurry, further textures is extremely defined, as it was in the Dreamcast version (which was understandable due to hardware constraints). Something like this shouldn’t be on the GameCube version, but it is. There are also traces of the same break-up that was present in the Dreamcast version. However, the game still retains a colorful, bright world. It may look aged, but the designs and atmosphere are an excellent offset to that.
Aurally, Skies of Arcadia pleases. The soundtrack is a wonderful array of compositions, mainly classical pieces heavy on the wind and strings. However, there are plenty of percussive-heavy pieces, such as the various battle themes. Even better are the dynamic pieces; for instance, the boss battle theme changes from the standard techno-influenced piece to either an uplifting or depressive melody depending on how you are faring in the battle. The world map theme keeps the same melody the entire game, but depending on what part of the world you’re in; various instruments come in to accent the song, adding a flavor specific to that region.
The main downfall is that the soundtrack is recorded in 32 KHz sound, rather than standard 44 KHz encryption. The standard is what music CDs and most movie soundtracks are recorded in; 32 KHz is noticeably less clear. It was like this on the Dreamcast version, and I was hoping that the GameCube version would alleviate this issue. Again, I was disappointed. Sound effects and sporadic battle cries suffer a similar fate. It’s not much of a big deal, but it’s quite noticeable on a decent stereo system.
Skies of Arcadia retains the tried and true gameplay from console RPG’s from the days of yore. There are dungeons to be explored, stuffed with treasure chests and simple puzzles, and of course, the obligatory random battles. For the most part, this aspect of the game is straight forward. Random battles are an annoyance in any console RPG, but the strategic elements found in Skies’ battle system are somewhat rewarding. There are various weapon attributes that must be utilized in order to deal the most damage (fire, ice, etc.) and the magic system is built upon which attributes are used in battle (thus gaining points for spells in that discipline). Special attacks are used by building up a meter, shared by all party members. There are also instances of movement in battle. Without a doubt, though, the most impressive part of gameplay is the ship battles. It isn’t as prominent in the early parts of the game, but later on it is integral. Ship battles are turn-based showdowns between Vyse’s air ship and another ship. Dependant on what crew members Vyse and the gang recruited (similar to Suikoden) varies the abilities and skills of the ship. Battles become thinking matches, and though there are simple methods incorporated, the animations are enjoyable to watch, and the strategy is welcome.
Skies of Arcadia Legends is an excellent RPG in its own right. However, as a re-release it fails to offer anything of note to returning gamers. There just simply isn’t enough here to warrant a purchase again; so the game is scored according to how it should as a stand alone title. My warnings to gamers curious to know if the “extras” are worth it have seen what I have to say. However, anyone who missed out on the original title won’t want to miss out on this release: the age of exploration has returned once again!