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We Sail the... Skies?!
By: Lassarina Aoibhell
Sadly, I came rather late to this wonderful game. One of my friends, upon getting the Dreamcast version of Skies of Arcadia, promptly ordered me to play it, but since I didn't have a Dreamcast (and couldn't afford to get one for just one game), I had to wait for the GameCube port. I consider it worth the wait. (However, I can't comment on any changes made from the Dreamcast version, as I have not played it.)
The gameplay in Skies of Arcadia Legends is smooth and easy. I would go so far as to say that it's too easy. A few battles challenged me, but overall I beat this game like a redheaded stepchild. Apart from some visually confusing dungeons, there were no real challenges in finding your way through areas, either. The ship battles, however, added a nice touch to the gameplay. Battles are of two types: regular battles wherein it's your party vs. some number of enemies (or a boss), and ship battles between either your ship and another ship, or your ship and a creature of some kind. Ship battles involve a lot of strategy, and take much longer than even the toughest boss fights (mostly because of the element of "showing off the pretty graphics) that plays a fairly large role. Regular battles use a fascinating system of Spirit Points. You can attack, defend, and use items without consuming Spirit Points. Special attacks and magic consume SP, which regenerates every turn. Each magic spell consumes only one MP, but varying numbers of SP, meaning you have to plan boss battles carefully. I found the Spirit system intensely fun and useful, because it makes battles into so much more than "attack, attack, attack." Different magic spells are learned by equipping different-coloured Moon Stones to your weapons, as magic comes in the six colours of the Moons. The Moon Stone colour you have equipped will also affect how much damage you can to do any given enemy, because enemies have colours as well, and certain colours are opposed (blue and purple to red, for example.)
There are also some great side-quests involved in Skies of Arcadia Legends. Finding the twenty possible crew members is one of them. There are also battles against Black Pirates to be won (for money and fame) and rare items to find. You can make a total of 80 Discoveries (for which the Sailor's guild will pay you money.) There's also your Swashbuckling rating to raise--your choice of words in certain situations affects your reputation, and your reputation affects how people react to you. There are some crew members you cannot find unless you have a certain Swashbuckling rating. Gameplay gets a solid 10 from me. This game was a joy to play from start to finish. My only real quibble is that until you get to a certain point in the game, navigating the world map can be very confusing. I got lost much more than I'd like to admit.
The music, like the setting, is interesting and fun. Each piece is uniquely fitting for the area it is assigned to. Most of the music has an upbeat, lighthearted feel, like the game itself. There is very little sad or solemn music, although there are such moments in the game. The score is pretty good, but there aren't any tracks that jumped out and grabbed my attention, nor do I feel a particular compulsion to get my hands on the soundtrack. (Since I have a rather prodigious game music collection, that's saying something.) The sound effects were nice, though--crisp and clean. Music and sound get an 8--it's good, but not great.
I'm kind of torn on the originality issue for this game. Obviously, this is a port of an older game, but since I never played the first version, I have to judge originality based on the version I played. The world of Skies of Arcadia Legends fascinates me because it's an unusual concept that was well-presented and that fit well with the way the game plays. On the other hand, the plot and characters are (good) reworkings of old standbys. I'd have to go with an 8 for the originality. Original enough to never be boring, but not something that totally blew me away in an "Oh my God why has no one ever done this before?!" kinda way.
In Skies of Arcadia Legends you take the role of Vyse, a young Air Pirate out to find adventure with his friend Aika. There are two factions of Air Pirates, and you belong to the "good" sort, the Blue Rogues. As the story progresses, you occasionally find yourself pitted against Black Pirates (the bad Air Pirates), and you frequently find yourself pitted against the powerful Empire of Valua and the many Admirals of its navy.
The plot of the game is nothing too terribly original when stripped down to essentials, but the richness and originality of the world of Arcadia more than make up for that. I found myself hooked into the story almost immediately. You're given a mystery of sorts to investigate in the very first scene--who is this girl in the strange clothes? Why is she here? And it just gets more interesting from there. My sole gripe with the plot is that the writers apparently felt it necessary to beat you over the head with a sledgehammer every time they wanted to present foreshadowing--I guessed all of the plot twists hours before they actually happened. Overall, however, the plot kept me interested and determined to keep playing, so I'd have to give it a 9.
The characters are a fairly standard, but varied lot. You have the confused newcomer, the brave and sometimes reckless hero, the cheerful sidekick, the good-natured ladies' man, and a few others I won't describe here. And that's just the main party--you also go around the world collecting crew members for your ship, each of whom has his or her own story and personality. Your enemies are all given goals and personality, a touch that I really appreciate. Characters' expressions change, and the bits of voice acting here and there really add to your mental image of a character. Characterization was really solid, and I enjoyed it a great deal.
The localization on this game is excellent. I was never left wondering if the translators from, say, Zero Wing or Legend of Dragoon had somehow been turned loose on the script. The dialogue flows quite well, and I didn't find any examples of "Engrish." Also, there aren't any strange cultural references, which would have forced me to go pounce on my Asian Language & Literature-major friends demanding an explanation.
The world of Skies of Arcadia Legends is a rich and varied one. Everyone lives on islands or continents suspended not in a watery ocean, but in the sky. Travel is by means of airships. Six moons (Red, Silver, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple) hang in the sky. Each one gives its light and the blessings of its particular magic to a civilization, and the Moon Stones that fall from the moons power everything from cannons to airships to machinery. All of this is detailed in a smooth, rich, and very colourful graphic style. The game really comes alive through the graphics. Although it's lacking in the textured realism of a game like Dark Cloud, that's partly because it is a port of an older game. I would give the graphics a 9.
This game really isn't hard. It reminds me more of Final Fantasy IX than, say, Final Fantasy IV Hardtype. Spend a little bit of time levelling up, and you can take on anything. I whooped the final boss with complete ease. On the other hand, some of the optional bounty battles are ridiculously hard to get through--but then, that's kind of the point of optional battles.
Skies of Arcadia Legends is neither a ridiculously long nor a ridiculously short game. My save game before the final battle has about 50 hours on it, but while I did tackle some sidequests (God save me from the Giant Looper....Oh how I hate you, you dodging-and-running-away little pansy...) I left some of the nitpicky stuff alone. Overall, this game has some flaws. I'll admit that, but they are rather negligible in view of the whole. I can't recall ever really getting bored with this game. I didn't give up because some idiotic mini-quest had frustrated me beyond my (limited) patience. It's not a difficult game, and that kind of bothers me, but in general it was an amazing experience and I am looking forward to playing it again.
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