Review by Prion
"EPIC! An RPG of epic proportions."
My experience with Skies of Arcadia is not typical. I bought a Sega Dreamcast console back in November 2001 when Sega abandoned their hardware division and liquidated their entire inventory. Given that Dreamcast games were so cheap, I bought as many of them as I could, one of them being Skies of Arcadia. I actually played the game in two concentrated sessions: One was during the holiday season of 2001 where I put in 30 hours into the game. As I played the game during that period, my personal opinion of it was that it was merely an above-average RPG. As a matter of fact, I thought that it was somewhat slow paced and occasionally boring. So I stopped playing it. I did not touch the game at all until Christmas 2002 when I decided that I should finish it once and for all. It is only once I started playing it again that I realized that it was truly an epic RPG that never got the recognition that it deserved.
Gameplay (8/10): Skies of Arcadia is an original RPG: You are in control of a small group of air pirates that fly old naval ships throughout the skies, discovering new lands, searching for treasure and adventure, encountering new people and getting into long battles. I admit that I did not find the notion of controlling air pirates to be particularly appealing at first, but it did grow on me. There are actually two battle systems in the game: the “normal” character battles that everybody who has played RPGs is familiar with, and the ship battles. The ship battles play more like a game of chess, where there is a 4 x 4 square grid and you decide what will be done by which member at what time. It is a little confusing at first, but you get the hang of it by your third battle. As the game progresses, the ship battles get more complicated and a strategy becomes necessary. I enjoyed both battle systems, although I found the ship battles to be long as some of them take over 30 minutes to complete. When battles last that long, you become quite eager for them to finally come to an end. I also found that the character battles were a little slow paced, although I did enjoy the variation of the enemies and the environments in which I fought.
Graphics: (9.5/10): The graphics are probably some of the best that you will see on the Dreamcast console. There are certain dungeons and environments that have an incredible level of detail, and the lighting effects from the spells and special attacks are excellent. However, there are a few (rare) areas where the game experiences slowdowns – that is, the animation slows down to 70% of the speed that it should be. Although slowdowns in my opinion are not as bad as choppy framerates (where the animation actually “skips” frames), it nevertheless is an undesirable trait. Also the faces of the characters simply consist of various images for different facial expressions that are mapped onto a polygon character – they are not actual moving polygons with mouths and eyes that can move around in a fluid motion. However, all that being said, the game still contains incredible enough graphics that you will forget this aspect. Hence why I give this criteria such a high score.
Audio (8/10): I enjoyed the music in the game as well as the sound effects, but the voice acting is pretty limited. 99.9% of what is said throughout the game is written to the screen as text. Occasionally you will hear the characters say a few words such as “Let’s go” or “Yes”, but nothing more than that. It is as if they wanted to include full voice in the game but did not have the resources or time to do so. Having the characters say 2 or 3 words audibly when they are saying hundreds visually on screen seems pointless to me. Hearing their voices only makes you wish that the entire game had voice acting, not just occasional blabs.
Replay Value (7/10): This is a long game – very long. When I first started playing it people told me to expect putting in 50 to 60 hours before finishing it. I thought that they were wrong or that it would only require that much time if you wished to complete everything in the game. I was wrong. Unless you follow a walkthrough or make a real effort to finish the game as quickly as possible, you will probably end up putting in anything between 45 to 60 hours in this game. According to the time counter in the game, I put in 51 hours before finishing it, however the figure is probably more like 55 hours. I noticed that the game does not count time continuously. I remember once spending at least 10 minutes assigning equipment to my characters and saving the game afterwards, and the counter was not incremented. I’m not sure if that was a bug or if that is the way the counter works. Either way, all this is to say that the game is quite long. Whether it is replayable depends on if you wish to invest that much time again into the game. If you are a RPG fanatic that enjoys finding every secret, equipping your characters with the very the best weapons, and learning all the spells, then you will find great replay value. However I suspect that most people will probably put this game away for good after having spent so much time.
Load Time (5/10): The game does not take too long to load to start up or to load the dungeons and towns, however the load time for the battle sequence is noticeably longer than the average game. It will take at least 5 solid seconds before the game loads up the background, characters, and enemies on screen when you encounter a random battle. You can actually watch your characters load up on screen one or two at a time – same for the different enemies. It is easy to tolerate long loading times when they are not frequent, but for random battles it is a difficult capsule to swallow, especially since the random battles are frequent in this game (there is one dungeon where I encountered a random battle every 4 to 8 seconds – no exaggeration). I promise you that you will find this quite frustrating when you are going back and forth searching for a particular item or location and you keep getting trapped into random battles. If I could change just one thing about the game, it would be the loading time for the battles: 5 seconds of loading per battle times 500 to 1,000 random battles equals a significant amount of waiting time.
Control (9/10): The controls for this game are very simple (most RPGs are) and the menus are intuitive. No complaints for this criteria.
Other Features (7/10): This is the first RPG that I’ve played that has two battle systems: the “normal” character battles and the ship battles. The ship battles seem boring at first and I felt like it wasn’t a necessary feature for them to add, but they do get more entertaining further on in the game. I also enjoyed being able to find various characters throughout the game and getting them to join my ship. The game is also very interactive in terms of the VMU.
Buy or Rent: Given that the game is so long, I would recommend buying the game especially if you can find it used for a low price.
Overall (9/10): I can simply conclude that this game is epic. It is truly epic. I think that it is something that you will only realize when you look back and recall everything that you have done and experienced. You visit so many different lands, encounter so many people, and go through what seems like a never-ending adventure that is constantly evolving. However I do warn you that it is a very long game, that it is slow paced, and that it can seem boring or even childish at times, but it keeps getting better and better as you progress. I can honestly say that out of the dozen Dreamcast games that I bought that day, Skies of Arcadia is my favourite, and that it is one of the best RPGs ever released on all consoles. Unfortunately it is only towards the end that you grasp this, and that is regrettable because a lot of people will have given up by then.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/10/03, Updated 01/10/03
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