Review by greyseal

"Square meets its match"

For all the hype that Final Fantasy receives, the series has forgotten its roots. The plots have grown so complex that gameplay has all but been removed from the player, because everything is necessarily linear. While Skies of Arcadia may not do such a great job of delving into the deep, dark recesses of the human soul, it succeeds in every other way that the recent Final Fantasy games have failed:

Graphics: SoA doesn't rely on FMV and prerendered scenes to tell its story. Instead, it puts faith in its graphics engine, and winds up a more graphically consistent endeavor than Square's series. There isn't a gameply version of Vyse contrasting with a higher-quality MPEG version of Vyse. There's just Vyse (I think the cutscene characters are slightly redrawn to have things like fingers, but they are otherwise identical). And the graphics engine works wonders. These are very pretty images here, and the graphics alone will propel you through the game.

Sound: The character voices are largely annoying, but I don't hate them as much as others do. And, unlike many, I rather like the anime-style of calling out the name of each move while they do it (just for super moves, mind you).

The music is well done... not quite on par with Final Fantasy, but certainly worth a listen. And a few tracks are quite memorable indeed.

Play: The battle system is nothing amazing, but it works well. You've seen it before. The only major innovation is the spirit point system, which has your entire party operating off of a collective pool of ''spirit points'' which they can use to cast spells. This keeps nicely in the teamwork and friendship spirit of the game, and provides some interesting play mechanics at key points in the game, while you might need to use a weaker move with one character to get a stronger one from another. Pretty cool.

The ship battles are also intriguing, but the system isn't well explained, so it never quite feels right. It works, eventually, but never as well as it should. Still, these battles control well enough that they are still exciting, even if they usually seem scripted.

Immersion: Any good RPG should immerse you in its world. SoA does wonders here. The characters are drawn in bold strokes, and rarely deviate from their own stereotypes, but this is partly what makes them so likeable. You know what you're getting. Vyse doesn't turn around halfway through and reveal his dark side by killing Aika. This means the game takes a hit in the character development department, but it doesn't matter... it just gives the game an old-school feel, which I really liked.

The random encounters are a bit of a problem when in your airship, and this does detract from the enjoyability of the game. But you'll get used to it, and then you won't notice anymore. Especially once your ship can fly high and low, where there are no enemies to deal with.

Longevity: You'll play this for a long time. It takes almost sixty hours to get through this, and that's if you're rushing a bit. Hope your weekends are free.

Replay: like any RPG, it's a bit low. But after 60 hours, who cares?

In the end, hardcore Square fans will insist this is a watered-down RPG with a lame plot. I argue otherwise... the two games try to acheive something entirely different. Final Fantasy revolves around complex characters, and is designed to make the player question motives and personalities. Skies of Arcadia is about the ride. It has a freewheeling sort of feel to it, and doesn't let character development stand in the way of the player's exhilaration.

Furthermore, this is a great game for kids looking to get their hands wet with RPGs. Parents can feel quite safe leaving their kids with this, whereas I'm a bit iffy about younger kids running through Final Fantasy. This doesn't mean the game is childish, it just means it adheres to more old-school video game values... basic good vs. evil, and the triumph, in the end, of friendship. Cheesy, but certainly a good moral lesson for children... something generally missing from kids' entertainment nowadays.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/02/01, Updated 07/02/01

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