Review by Rorschach

"Finally a game that lives up to all expectations."

Introduction: In recent years the popularity of the console RPG has risen thanks in no small part to the popularity of Final Fantasy (FF) series. However, whilst the FF series was a mainstream success, one could argue that these games were not a true indication of how great this genre can be. However, with the arrival of Skies of Arcadia (SOA) on the Dreamcast, the RPG has been resurrected in its quintessential form. Whilst SOA could be attacked on the basis of it’s sometimes conservative structure, it nonetheless remains one of the great games of any console, in any era.

Gameplay: SOA centers on the adventures (or misadventures) of Aika, Vyse and Fina, 3 intrepid characters tasked with saving the world no less from the evil forces of the Valuans, a militant civilisation hell bent on world conquest. Along the way, these 3 meet up with like-minded adventurers in the form of Drachma and Gilder who help in the struggle. Sounds as though you’ve heard it all before, but SOA manages to put a twist on this scenario by raising the world literally into the air. During the Rains of Destruction in far flung past, meteorites fell from the moons that encircle the world of Arcadia, blasting the landmasses into the air.

Travel between the continents is accomplished by airships, aided by Moonstones that keep them afloat. Exploration is conducted by sailing your ship through the skies uncovering portions of the World Map bit by bit whilst fighting the Valuan Armada or any Black Sky pirates you may encounter. But instead of just travelling to each new destination to advance the story, SOA allows you to make discoveries of old relics which in turn can be sold and used to enhance you reputation adding the impetus to travel for travels sake.

The battle system is standard RPG fare where each character has to wait their turn to attack an opponent. However, SOA does improve this system with the introduction of the Spirit Point bar. Basically all the characters share the same pool of Spirit Points (SP) in a battle which slowly recovers after each turn. Barring that the characters can focus to build up the bar at the expense of an attack or spell. Every spell costs one Magic Point to cast but may cost up to 10 SP to execute. Special Attacks cost SP too, the stronger the Special Attack the more SP it is going to consume. It’s a balancing act between casting spells and Special Attacks, but the system works superbly and is quite intuitive. 9/10

Graphics: The graphics are consistently good in SOA without overly taxing the Dreamcast’s capabilities. The game world is huge and leaves you with a sense of awe as the continents fly by below and you cross the massive sky reefs. The characters are well done, but don’t expect intensive textures as seen in games like Shenmue or Grandia 2. However, the graphical style suits the mood of the game with bright vibrant colours and good use of facial textures which helps convey the emotions of the characters at important junctures in the game. Overall, the graphics are very well done but the emphasis hasn’t been placed on them, which turns out to be a good thing. 9/10

Sounds: Nothing to write home about, but what’s there is done well. The music changes to suit the locale you find yourself in which is a nice touch (when you visit Horteka for the first time, you can’t help but smile at the Andean woodwind music). Each of the character’s voices are well done when it comes time to launch a Special Attack or spell, but they can become annoying after awhile. Thankfully, you’re able to skip the battle animations by pressing the Start button. Overall the music is of a high standard. 9/10

Longevity: SOA’s strongest suite. The game comes packed on 2 GD-ROM’s and there is at least 45 hours of gameplay, 50-60 if you take your time. The game never gets stale as the plot keeps you moving forward and the experience of exploring your environment keeps you coming back for more. 10/10

Pros:
+ Marvelous RPG. Perhaps one of the best ever created. If you thought the initiative left RPG developers after 3 Final Fantasies and it pretenders on the PSX, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
+ An excellent story and protagonists you can actually like.
+ Massive gameworld that takes quite awhile to explore.
+ Just an all round excellent game, one not to be missed.

Cons:
- Won’t convert RPG haters.
- Random battles are frequent and can be very annoying.
- It ends.
- Requires your full attention to get the most out of it.

Final Word:

Skies of Arcadia is one of the best games I have played since the days of my humble SNES. From start to finish I knew I was playing a AAA game. The combination of story, character interaction and graphics makes SOA one of the most complete games I’ve ever played. If you own a DC, you must have SOA. If not, make sure you get it when it comes to the PS2 and Gamecube.

Overall: 10/10 (not an average).


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 12/10/01, Updated 12/10/01


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