Review by MSTie2K
I must admit, Skies of Arcadia struck me at first as being a completely unremarkable RPG, if even a little boring. You start with your basic mysterious female character who is being stalked by an evil empire of sorts, a spunky and adventurous hero who's perhaps a bit too willing to help out for his own good, and a supporting character who is a it more levelheaded than the hero, but no less willing to jump in and start slashing monsters at the slightest excuse to do so. However, a little ways into the game, after completing the first two dungeons or so, Skies really starts to pick up both in terms of story and gameplay.
The story takes place on the world of Arcadia, whose continents are not separated by oceans, but rather massive spans of empty sky. You at least have to give them credit for coming up with an original setting, because the only thing cooler than the world these characters live in is the way they travel between the islands in the sky: flying ships. These flying ships are powered by stone fragments from the six colored moons orbiting the planet, each of which has a particular type of power associated with it. (In fact these are the very types of magic you use in the game.) As an air pirate named Vyse, your dream is to ultimately become the captain of your own ship and discover everything that the open sky has to offer. Early on, you and your pirate comrades attack a ship belonging to the Valuan Imperial Armada, and in the process of making off with the loot, manage to rescue an mysterious girl who is being kidnapped by the Armada for reasons unknown. Soon, Vyse, his friend Aika, and the foreign girl Fina are off to locate the six ultra-powerful Moon Crystals before the Armada can use them to summon the long-dormant Gigas, the giant robots which were largely responsible for nearly destroying Arcadia many generations ago.
Your search for the Moon Crystals takes you to every continent in the world, and along the way you'll be doing battle with the Admirals of the Imperial Armada, as well as encountering people of the various races of the world, and meeting some new allies too. Perhaps not the deepest story ever used in an RPG, and it's easy-to-digest nature implies that it was written primarily with the younger set mind. However, Skies of Arcadia has it's own charming quality thanks largely to the unique setting and very likable characters, 1-dimensional as many of them may seem, that pulls you in and lets you really enjoy becoming involved in the exploits of Vyse and the Blue Rogues.
As for the gameplay itself, battles are a little slow at first due to the handful of low-level attacks at your disposal, and the scant few magic spells you're able to utilize. However, you'll soon begin unearthing Moonberries and leveling up your characters in multiple ways. Each character has a skill level, of course, and to grow your characters you must battle creatures to gain experience points. It's a pretty standard RPG setup. Your character can use a regular physical attack, or an S-move, which tend to be more powerful and eat up magic points. (The whole party shares a meter which keeps track of how many magic points can be spent at the moment.)
Characters can also learn magic spells associated with the same types of elements seen in most RPGs; there are water spells, fire spells, earth spells, and other less commonly seen types such as ice, lightning, and life and death. Each spell type is associated with a color; in addition to spell types dealing greater or lesser damage to enemies based on their elemental type, colored stones can also be fused with your weapons. (The color of your weapon will change depending on which type of stone you fuse it with. As with spells, having a certain colored weapon can give you and edge when fighting creatures of a particular type. Example: a fire-fused sword will deal more damage to ice creatures than a water-fused one.)
When your weapon is fused with a color, your party will gain experience points for whatever type of magic that color is associated with. The amount of experience will increase for every other character using the same color. As you gain magic experience, you'll be able to use stronger spells. So if there's a particular spell you want to learn, it's usually a good idea to have as many characters using the same color as possible.
As for upgrading your S-moves, you must scrounge through dungeons and towns looking for the aforementioned Moonberries. New attacks can be unlocked by giving a character specified amounts of Moonberries. Obviously, stronger attacks require greater amounts of Moonberries to unlock. Moonerries are fairly rare items in the game; most will be found locked inside a treasure chest hidden in a secluded area, so it pays to search each new area top to bottom before moving on. Once in a rare while, an enemy will drop a Moonberry after a battle. There are some higher level attacks which are pretty much they key to victory in later boss battles, so the more Moonerries you find, the better.
In addition to the standard turn-based battle system (which takes place on a 3D field, causing certain attacks to have different levels of effectiveness depending on character's positions on the field) there are also ship battles. These are a nice touch, and really help to develop the pirate-theme of this game. Often, discovering a new continent or artifact will result in a battle with rival Black Pirates, the Flagships of the Imperial Admirals, and sometimes the Gigas themselves. This battle system is pretty easy to grasp: there is a grid displaying different symbols and colors, all of which signify different attack opportunities and the levels of risk involved in attempting an attack. (Green being a low-risk situation, red being a high-risk situation, and the C! and Harpoon symbols being especially ideal opportunities to deal high amounts of damage.) Choosing the wisest course of action for each square on the grid (each turn covers about 4 squares on the grid, and the battle plays through automatically after all your moves for that turn have been decided upon) is important; attacking in a high-risk situation may be risky, but sometimes you have to take a hit or miss your only chance to cripple the enemy's vessels. These battles are fun, and definitely add to the depth of the game, but sometimes they can drag on for quite a while, and losing near the end of a long ship battle can be especially frustrating, as you'll have to start again from the very beginning.
The only other real complaint I have about the game's battling is the incredibly high frequency of random battles, particularly when exploring the skies in your airship. It can be downright infuriating to be looking for the well-hidden entrance to a village or summat, only to be met with a battle every few feet, leaving you very disoriented when you return to real-time.
The soundtrack for Skies of Arcadia is absolutely astounding. A lot of Dreamcast games have some exceptionally good sound tracks, and I'd say this ranks up there with Sonic Adventure and Jet Set Radio in terms of sheer listen-ability. Each of the continents has a cultural alignment which is usually depicted pretty stereotypically (particularly the Asian and Middle Eastern influence of the Nasradian and Yafutoman continents) but the music never fails to set the perfect ambiance. Whether the imposing grandeur of Valua City, or the free-roaming aerial exploration aboard the Delphinus, each region and dungeon has a perfectly fitting theme attached to it. There are also a number of great-sounding incidental themes, all of which convey just the right emotion for the many cutscenes in the game. (The cutscenes are integrated with the game seamlessly, only adding to the overall enjoy ability of the game.)
Although it's not without it's flaws, Skies of Arcadia is a very satisfying and enjoyable RPG experience, with likable characters, incredible musical scores, and enjoyable (albeit simplistic good-guys-vs.-bad-guys) story. If you own a Dreamcast, (or a Gamecube) you owe it to yourself to give this one a try.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 12/07/04
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