Review by Shady

"Simply put, this game is exceptional.."

Skies of Arcadia is one hell of a game. Released late 2000 in North America, SoA received immediate attention from several gaming magazines and websites. Many were heralding it as one of the best RPGs ever, one that every Dreamcast owner should have in their game library. I acquired my copy of SoA as a birthday present earlier this year. I sure am glad that I got to give this game a try - it really is a masterpiece.

Set in a beautiful 3D world known as Arcadia, you play as Vyse, a young air pirate that is eager to explore. Aika, also a young air pirate, accompanies Vyse on this quest as she is very interested in treasure. During the early portions of the game, you will meet Fina, a mysterious traveler who is rescued by Vyse and Aika. Fina spills her guts out shortly later, revealing that she is searching for moon crystals before Valua, the ''evil'' country, can get their hands on them. If used, the moon crystals can call on the power of the Gigas - huge monsters that can easily destroy a whole continent. As you can see, retrieving the crystals is a very important task. The story is put together exceptionally well, especially once you get to the second disc. It may take a little while for the story to get going, but it is well worth going into in the long run.

While searching for the moon crystals, you get to fly an airship across the lands of Arcadia. Later in the game you can even get your own airship and obtain the option of hiring people to join your crew. Crew members can greatly help out during ship battles and some will open up their own shop at your home base. The airship idea is overall well thought out and is wonderfully done.

Making discoveries is another great idea used in Skies of Arcadia. On your journey you will no doubt find some items and/or areas that have never been discovered prior to your visit. If you successfully make a discovery, you can sell the information to a Sailor's Guild and make some money off of it. There are over 50 discoveries to make and some may take a while to find. Nonetheless, it adds quite a bit to the replay value of the game.

The swashbuckler rating system is also interesting. If you are presented a chance to reply during dialogue, then you can raise your rating by selecting the best answer. With a high rating, more people will trust you and you will definitely be more respected. This mode helps keep interest throughout the game although help isn't really needed.

There are two types of battles in Skies of Arcadia - normal battles and ship battles. Both are traditional turn-based battles, but they have unique differences that set them apart from other RPGs. Normal battles are hand to hand combat with the enemy whereas ship battles are ship to ship combat with the enemy. You will run into both types of battles several times throughout the game which can lead to some very boring parts of the game. For example, while going through a dungeon or even just flying on the world map you will encounter what seems like hundreds of repeated random battles. The frequent random battles are the worst part of the game, but thankfully they happen less often on the second disc.

The hand to hand battle system looks intimidating at first, but it becomes less complex once you know what you are doing. Normal battles, along with the ship battles, use spirit points. Spirit points are needed to cast magic spells and do special moves. Spirit points must be used wisely or else losing in battle will become a common place. You earn the points back after completing a round during battle and by using the ''focus'' command. The points add some useful strategy to the battle system.

Another little element of strategy implemented to the battles is changing the color of your magic attribute. By using the color attributes, you will learn some very helpful magic spells. Also, different colors on your weapons will work better against certain colored enemies. It is really an integral part of the game if you choose it to be.

Ship battles are definitely unique but they can become quite tedious. These types of battles are very similar to hand to hand combat with the main difference being the usage of ships. The ships take turns casting magic spells and using their cannons while the game runs through all the animations. The animations are what makes ship battles somewhat tedious because one simple round during battle takes a few minutes to go through because of the sometimes lengthy animations. Instead of watching the same spells over and over again, I just read a magazine during the ship battles. Overall, however, the battle systems aren't really that bad - they just sometimes get monotonous.

Skies of Arcadia is a beautiful game. The characters, albeit a little blocky, are excellent visuals. The places you will go in the game are dazzling - especially in some of the later areas. Each new place you visit has a whole different look than the others. No more of the same dungeons over and over again - this game has variety. The colors are all vibrant, except in some areas like Valua where it is intentionally dark. Even little details count, like smoke coming out of a chimney. To be frank, SoA is stunning.

To go along with the excellent visuals, SoA features a tremendous soundtrack. Every music track is memorable, even the ones that aren't used very often. My favorite theme is Ramirez's - it really fits his evil personality. Each of the ''main'' characters also have a little bit of voice acting and better yet, the voices actually match the characters nature. The sound effects are also top notch, just listen to a battle! The magic spells and special moves all sound great - I don't remember one bad sound from the entire game. It really is remarkable.

I'll say it again - Skies of Arcadia is one hell of a game. The story is one of the best I have seen in any game, the visuals are dazzling, the sound is amazing, and the gameplay is also excellent. The only thing that keeps this game down from being a 10 is the constant random battles. If you have patience, the random battles shouldn't bother you but for most they will. Either way, I still recommend Skies of Arcadia to anyone who enjoys RPGs. Give it a buy, especially now since it's only $20 in most areas.

Best Feature: Amazing visuals, excellent story.
Worst Feature: Random battles.

Final Analysis:
Graphics 9/10 - simply beautiful
Sound 9/10 - excellent soundtrack, great sound effects and voice acting
Gameplay 9/10 - unique and fun, random battles only exception
Control 9/10 - analog stick easy to use, menu easily accessible
Replay Value 6/10 - very long game, but you will probably only play it once
Challenge 6/10 - not the most difficult RPG around
Overall 9/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/09/01, Updated 10/24/01

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