Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Release date: January 27th, 2003
Arcadia, A world that exists above the clouds. These skies are governed by many factions, from the oppressive Valuan Empire, to trading and commerce routes for sailors and merchants. Of course, in a world with Airships, There will always be air pirates.
During a pirate raid on a Valuan warship, a young pirate named Vyse rescues a mysterious young woman, who eventually reveals she is on a mission to save the world by recovering six Moon Crystals. After much reluctance, she agrees to allow Vyse and his childhood friend, Aika, to join her on this mission. Their journey takes them to the farthest reaches of the world, discovering many unknown landmarks, and ultimately making a name for themselves as air pirates. What secrets are hidden in the skies? What is Valua’s goal? One thing is for certain, nothing will ever be the same again.
To put it simply, this is a story that relates to so many of us. Setting out on your own for the first time, living your dream, and making a name for yourself. Add in the fun and adventure of an RPG, and you have something really special.
The game did a really good job of trying to keep me surprised with plot points. That’s not to say some things weren’t expected. It was pretty clear who the final boss would be, for example. Either way, there are some big plot points that were very surprising. Most of these happened in the second half of the game, closer to the end. I found the story enticing to the point of needing to force myself to turn it off so I can sleep. A part of me really didn’t want the game to end.
A good story is only improved upon by a loveable cast of characters, and Skies of Arcadia Legends had just that, and sometimes more. Each character, hero or villain, had a unique personality, and never felt bland or mechanical. Everyone had their part to play, and they played that part well.
For me, there were a few character that I feel were done incredibly well. If you followed my playthrough journals, you may have noticed my hate-love relationship with Drachma. He started out as a completely hard character to like, thanks to his actions early in the game. Once he opens up, and helps the Blue Rogues a bit more, he became more likeable, and his absence during the midpoint of the game was noticed.
I was also very impressed with Galcian as a villain. He was cold, ruthless, and not afraid to commit mass murder if it would advance his goals. He also had an air of intensity around him. I think back to a scene in the early game where he’s following you on a train. Just knowing that he is behind you is terrifying, because you can just feel what will happen to you if he catches up. Add the fact that he was respected by many of his subordinates. Whether it was respect or fear is hard to tell, but it was effective either way.
As for Vyse, He is a dreamer. His continuous “never give up” attitude worked incredibly well for him. Without it, he would have never achieved feats that were deemed impossible by his world’s standards. From escaping the most impenetrable prison in the world, to sailing so far below the clouds, he could see the barren land below. His sense of adventure knows no limits, and the stories about him will be told for generations.
For a game that was initially released on the DreamCast, Skies of Arcadia Legends has really held up to the test of time. Even for its time, its 3D models and environments are well polished and visually appealing.
Some of the key notes about the world are its dungeons. Each dungeon in the game felt like it belonged there. From an ancient tomb in the deserts of Nasr, to the eroded lost city in the upper atmosphere of Ixa’taka, and even the frozen palace in the South Pole felt like it belonged in its own part of the world. The developers really took the time to detail these locations, and make them feel important.
Another key element of the visuals are the combat animations. Watching characters perform their super moves was always a treat, and given that I spent a lot of the game spamming Pirate’s Wrath, it helped that it was fun to watch each time.
The music was composed by Tatsuyuki Maeda and Yutaka Minobe. These two composers are known for working on a lot of Sega projects, including the Sonic Adventure games.
Once again, the atmosphere of each dungeon was added to by the music chosen for each location. My only complaint here was that the same music was used for several of the Valuan dungeons. I would have liked some variety in that, but the music was still good. It’s really a minor thing for me in the bigger picture, but it is something to note.
The game has minimal voice acting. There are some catch phrases and victory lines throughout the game. Some of them are not timed well. For example, Gilder goes through his whole victory dance before he gets to say his line. It feel a bit unrealistic, but again, it’s such a minor point that its only worth a minor mention.
Gameplay – Exploration
World map travel is done in an airship. Given that you are in the sky, you are able to ascend and descend along with travelling forward or backward. The world does have many obstacles that may impede your ship’s movement. There are barriers, Tornados, and more. It will require ship upgrades to get through these obstacles. Typically, these upgrades are plot related, so if you can’t get through it now, you likely will be able to later on.
When it comes to towns and dungeons, that’s when you are on foot with a four person party. Exploration is fairly typical, and doesn’t really need too much explaining. Dungeons are the usual fare. Go in, complete the objective, and get out. There are two dungeons in the game that are traversed in your ship, and the same theory applies in these situations as well.
Gameplay – Combat
There are two types of combat in the game: party battles and airship battles.
Party battles use a typical turn based system, but also have a slightly unique spin on them with the use of spirit points. Your SP pool is shared among your party and is replenished slightly every turn. SP is crucial, as it is used for casting spells and performing super moves. Characters can also spend a turn using the focus command to increase SP. As your characters level, SP numbers can increase. These increases are not frequent, but happen enough that by the end of the game, you can start battles with more than one super move or spell.
Elemental affinities are also a big factor in your strategy. One of the nice things is that you can change the elemental properties of your weapons for each character on the fly. If you see something that’s weak to fire, you can change the element of your weapon with a single button press on the command screen.
Party combat can move a bit slower than I would like at times, as monster attack animations can be a bit long, but other than that, it’s a very fluid experience.
Airship battles are done in four turn rounds. During command selection, you are given a slight hint as to what the opponent may do during that round, so you can plan your attacks accordingly. Symbols will appear when you are at an advantage and your hits will do more damage that turn, or if you are in a position to use your most powerful attack. There are multiple attack options, based on your ship’s equipment. Main cannons are a high damage, one turn attack, while sub cannons can fire repeatedly for multiple turns in a round. Torpedoes are also an option, as they can be fired one turn, and land on another turn of your choosing. This creates opportunities to stack damage, but the enemy can also do this to you. You also have special abilities that can be used based on the crew you have on your ship. The more crew you recruit, the more flexible the abilities for use.
What I really like about airship battles is the fact that there is always movement happening. Ships are distancing each other and closing in for a better attack. While movement can’t be controlled, movement patterns can be discovered, giving you some knowledge as to when it’s best to launch a good attack. Cannons can miss if you’re too far away, so learning these movement patterns is helpful. The command grid really helps with this too, so it doesn’t involve too much guesswork.
Gameplay – Character progression
Characters will level up with base combat experience. This increases stats, and sometimes, SP production. Magic proficiency is increased with Magic EXP, also received after battle. Magic EXP will be awarded to the elemental property of your weapon. For example, If your weapon is set to the fire attribute when the battle ends, then the magic EXP will be awarded to his Fire magic attribute. When that attribute levels, the character will learn a new spell from that element.
Super moves can be learned by using Moonberries. Each new super move costs anywhere from one to four Mooberries, and it’s up to you to decide who gets them. These items are rare, but not hard to come by as they can be dropped by enemies on occasion, and are found in treasure chests throughout the world.
Your ship can be upgraded by installing new cannons and equipment, and its base HP and stats can be increased with the Captain’s Stripe item. These are received after major airship battles.
Gameplay – Optional content/Sidequests
For an air pirate, one of the biggest things is to increase your fame. This can be done throughout the game with your swashbuckler ranking. This rank will change Vyse’s title, from Vyse the pirate, to Vyse the King of Pirates, and if you do every little thing in the game, Vyse the Legend. There are several more titles he can receive as you progress through the game. While some of these will happen automatically through plot, there are many different optional things to do that will help improve this.
The first one will be by travelling the world, and finding discoveries. These are littered across the world and are unique landmarks. These are invisible until discovered. While traveling in your airship, you will know you are near one when your compass spins out of control. Once you have found a discovery, you can sell the information of its location to the sailor’s guild. While it’s fun to explore the world and find discoveries, I found that finding some of them required pinpoint accuracy, and had me floating around spots for longer than I’d want to, looking for a single discovery.
The sailor’s guild also has a wanted list of pirates with a bounty on their head. These are very challenging boss fights, as each person on the wanted list’s difficulty is scaled to your party, meaning that they will pose a challenge at level 20 or at level 50. They are usually worth a big reward, so it’s a good option to fight them. (Also, one of the bounties tarnishes your name and changes your swashbuckler ranking until you have beaten them).
Another fun little side event is collecting moonfish from towns and dungeons to help out a fellow doctor, receiving rewards for each moonfish you bring.
There is also a side story available where you are being hunted by an assassin. Her story is unraveled as you progress through the main story, but cannot reach its conclusion unless you collect all of the moonfish in the game. While it seems tedious now, the story behind is makes a lot of sense.
Lastly, every good captain needs a crew. Vyse is able to recruit twenty-two people from around the world to his crew. While this is completely optional, there are major benefits to recruiting your crew. Some increase the base stats of your ship, while others provide special abilities in airship battles. Recruiting is fairly simple overall, and is reminiscent of a Suikoden game. There were only one or two that required running around in order to recruit.
I spent a lot of time hunting down a copy of this game. I ended up paying quite a large sum of money for it. Do I regret it? Not in a million years. This game was fun, challenging at times, funny, and an excellent piece of storytelling. For anyone that has an opportunity to pick this game up, or even has a chance of finding a copy of the original Dreamcast version, give it a chance. This is a perfect example of a game that has aged well.
Also, if you haven’t had the chance, do check out my playthrough journals for this game. You get some good perspectives of what I think about the game at certain points.