“Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies,
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes”
– The Beatles, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds
“The following is a guest post by The Midnight Mystic Mage.”
Whats up everybody, I am here to talk to you about an amazing/heartbreaking experience I had playing Skies of Arcadia. I will get to why that is in just a moment, first I would like to clarify that the original Dreamcast game was released in 2000 for Japan and North America. I played the GameCube version that wasn’t released until 2003, so that is the date I decided to use for the review’s archival.
Skies of Arcadia: Legends is described as a “Director’s Cut” version that is mostly just a port of the original. So why was this such a tragic experience for me you might ask? Well I got this gem from a Craigslist ad, for free! Someone was obviously getting rid of old games that probably weren’t even theirs and I seriously couldn’t believe my luck. Sadly when I got a good 20+ hours into the game I got to a point that froze over and over and would not be fixed no matter what methods I used. I tried general cleaning, toothpaste, chap stick, and I was going to move on to more methods but I finally just said what’s the point. It was definitely frustrating, but I think that I have played enough of this highly regarded Dreamcast/GameCube classic to write a review on what I was able to play.
This game did so many things right and was a real joy to play. I would like to save any of you who plan on playing the game some time by attaching the color strength and weakness chart below. The battle system is a blast, but I really wish I had kept this handy earlier in the game so that I could have been doing more damage to my foes. The weaknesses and strengths are easy to catch onto once you use them a few times in battle but it helps always have this handy on your smart phone or otherwise. Back at the release, the cases came with a manual that had this type of chart attached so that you could just hold that to the side while you learn the system, but sadly my copy was not complete with the booklet.
So there are obviously a few draw backs, no game is perfect. I love the JRPG-type battle system, but it can become a bit of a grind when you go 3 steps, battle, 2 steps, battle, and so on. On the other side of that though, there are times when that was exactly what I wanted to do. It just depends on what is going on in your game at the time, whether you are anxious to try out a new special move or to get to your next objective. It is significantly frustrating to be heading somewhere and get stopped a hundred times.
There was one base that was specifically annoying with this, because it had traps that would send you all the way back to the beginning and have you stop and go all the way back to the position where you needed to be. Not just that, but in these base areas or dungeons you cannot save whenever you want anymore, which you are able to throughout the rest of the game. I like that it makes you push through to get to the next checkpoint and everything, but I am an adult with screaming babies and a wife who needs help, so this was also a slight annoyance for me at times.
The characters make the story very interesting and hilarious to follow along with, especially our main two characters, Vyse & Aika. They are Blue Rogues who are Air Pirates, but the good kind. They do the whole Robin Hood bit of stealing from the rich and helping the poor which I don’t necessarily agree with, but I at least get the direction they are trying to take it. They also are helping with the resistance of the evil Valuan Empire, who attacks their home early on in the game. The two other characters that I was able to meet in the time that I played were Drachma & Fina. Fina is a permanent member of the group while Drachma is one of the interchangeable members. The other 2 members that swap around with Drachma that I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting are Gilder & Enrique.
When you are walking the camera follows Vyse from a third person perspective until you get into a battle at which point the rest of your characters appear for the fight. There are also many times when you will be flying from area to area. This is also a third person view from behind the ship. You are not safe from battles in the ship however, enemies will still hop on board and start a battle intermittently. There are also ship battles, which I thought were a lot of fun, where your ship fights another ship or a larger boss monster. It is turn-based combat like all of the other fights, but the mechanics are slightly different. I found both types of battles very interesting and the systems to be pretty deep and full of surprises the further you get into them.
You level the characters and the ship up with the experience from battling. There are also items you can pick up throughout your travels that allow you to add special moves to the character’s repertoire. The animation for the special moves still look very beautiful graphically. The whole game actually retains value in the graphical department for using that cartoon-like look rather than trying to be more gritty and realistic. There will always be a more realistic way to render a face or landscapes that comes along and makes the old versions look like crap, but when titles like this and the Wind Waker take a more cartoon-like approach, it really helps them in standing the test of time.
So the objective is to gather the moon crystals. You find Fina early in the game and she eventually lets you know that she can find them all. She was on a journey to gather all the crystals before the Valuan Armada who plans to take over the world with them by awakening the Gigas and having them do their bidding. Fina was snatched up quick by the Armada before being rescued by Vyse and Aika. There are six moons that the characters gain powers from. Each moon corresponds with the colors from the weakness chart I mentioned earlier and each moon gives you different powers depending on which colors you use successfully in the battles.
The controls took a little bit of getting used to after playing modern games for so long. Such as looking around with the c-stick felt a bit wonky compared to how much more natural it feels in today’s games. In battle this made no difference though, also the humor and good story make up for any qualms I might have had with the controls and otherwise. It is a vast open world that I really regret not being able to explore further. There were times though where I was a bit unsure of where I was supposed to go next, and also looking for some hidden places was next to impossible. I hate pulling up a walk-through but I ended up needing to when searching for the hidden area by the green moon crystal. When I saw how they found it I remember thinking, so I was just supposed to skim around across the ground randomly until this thing popped up out of nowhere? It was pretty confusing, but every game has its downfalls.
Well I think I am almost ready to move on to my 8-Bit review. It is with a bit of a heavy heart that I do so because I was so into this game and really looking forward to finishing it. I doubt I will ever spend the 100 bucks or however much it is going for to be able to finish it on the GameCube, and I would hate to start over on another platform after putting so much time into it. What can you do though? From time to time these types of things just happen.
The 8-Bit Review
I loved the style of the games visuals. I wouldn’t put them on par with some of the best of all time, but the mood that they set is one of lightheartedness and joy. I compared their decision to go more cartoon-like rather than realistic graphics earlier to the Wind Waker, but I do not think they pulled it off quite as well as that. Of course this could be nostalgia playing tricks on me since Wind Waker has always been a personal favorite of mine, but I picked that one up as well so hopefully I will be able to solidify that opinion soon (In the event that it too doesn’t have a game ruining scratch).
The music in the game was definitely the driving force behind the lighthearted and happy feeling I mentioned earlier that the game delivers. There also was very minimal voice acting with an emphasis on reading the dialogue which I really like. I have attached the title theme so that you can have a little taste of the music in the game.
What evens out the strange searching in the middle of nowhere and the unnatural camera control for me is the battle system. The system is very deep with plenty of different attacks for each character and special moves, then when you factor in the ship battles there is a lot there that is done right. Some things were just really frustrating though which caused me to bring my score for Gameplay down a notch. The two things I just mentioned, and the 2 steps battle, 1 step battle, frustration could be very hard to deal with at times.
The story is great, I love the plot and the characters, they are all developed well and the developers do a great job getting you attached to them. Remember, I only got to play until about the Green Moon Crystal area. The part that kept freezing is when I defeated De Loco for the second time and was moving on to face the monster in the ship battle. You might see the narrative as a bit higher or lower depending on the ending, the characters that are introduced later, or any number of things. From what I played though I think this is a solid grade that I can stick behind.
This is where the problems such as randomly searching on a grassy hill with hardly anything but some cryptic clues to guide you come into play. There is that and the fact that you are basically on your own when it comes to figuring out a pretty complex turn based battle system. I don’t wish that they held your hand through it or anything, because that is always very annoying in a game. I do however wish there was some kind of signal that you were using the right color for your attack. Maybe a little message that pops up to say strong hit or weak hit, anything that would have made it easier to understand what to do without constantly having to have a color chart to look at.
While there were times that felt almost too easy, there were also boss fights that would take a couple of tries or long stretches with many battles that were very challenging and took a toll on the crew. I think it was a pretty good balance as far as the hard and easy battles, but a few more that made you come to the brink of your abilities might have been acceptable. Again, this is only based off of the parts of the game that I was able to finish with my damaged disc.
It is the only game of its kind that I have any knowledge of. You play as pirates who sail through the air, using a style of combat that I absolutely love. It actually lets you steer the ship around the air in an open world environment and get off and walk around on the deck. Its completely original as far as I’m concerned, and I am sure that it was groundbreaking for the time it was released.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
It is a game that I would wholeheartedly recommend to fans of the JRPG genre. It can be a bit grindy and there are definitely shortcomings, but the overall experience is something that you cannot find anywhere else. I would seriously love it if they were to do an HD remake for Steam or follow through on the second game that they kept talking about that never came to fruition. It is a very long game also, so take that into account if considering whether or not it is something you would like to play.
Aggregated Score: 7.6