Review by Ohio State

"Random Battles And Another Flaw Or Two Just Prevent This From Being The Perfect RPG"

I was strolling through my local video gaming store searching out any kind of game that seemed to have any potential in it. Strolling past the Sega Dreamcast video game display, I was hoping to find just that to fulfill my gaming desires. All I could spot was random garbage disguised with high prices or classics that I already owned. I had made up my mind to just leave when all of a sudden a game caught my eye. I glanced back toward one of the racks and stuffed, almost carelessly, amongst all kinds of clutter was a game I had seen the likes of before. The game was none other than, Overworks’ “Skies of Arcadia.”

I recalled reading on various gaming sites on the Internet that this was a game to save the Dreamcast for RPG fans and just about any other type of fan as well. I had never played an RPG before and had no idea what to expect from this particular genre. I had money to burn anyway, so I figured, “What the heck?” and bought the game for a price of about $40. Little did I realize at this point, that this was a small price to pay for such a legendary piece of gaming magic.

I eagerly popped the CD into my Dreamcast wondering what to expect from all the things that the game promised me just from the back cover. Tales of pirates, ship battles, amazing worlds, and much, much more were what awaited me as the Dreamcast booted up the game. The opening introductory movie introduces you to all of these concepts and gave me a sense of “WOW! Good thing I didn’t pass up an opportunity with this!”

The story that the game starts out is by telling you of a world where Black Pirates and Blue Rogues are enemies and are out to steal treasure for themselves. The Black Pirates are basically the bloodthirsty cutthroats of the world, stealing from poor people and defenseless merchants and destroying their ships as well. However, the Blue Rogues are, more or less, “good guys” of the pirating world. They do steal from people, but they prefer to stick with armed vessels particularly those of the dominant nation of the world known as Valua. The opening into movie introduces you to this concept by having you assume the role of the Blue Rogue, Vyse, along with his best friend, Aika, as you leap onto a flying Valuan vessel and begin to commence pirating.

That’s right, I said “flying vessel.” This game takes a stance I have never before seen in a video game and takes you into an “Age of Exploration.” The world of Arcadia is actually a series of continents and smaller islands that are suspended in mid air. The only means of transportation between these landmasses are by air ships and that’s where the pirates begin their duty. However, despite what the game says about conflicts between Black Pirates and Blue Rogues, it plays a very insignificant role in the game when you discover your true mission a few hours into it.

At the opening movie, you see the ship you are going to attack fire at a girl just before reaching them. This girl is on a very small vessel and is knocked unconscious and captured by the Valuans. You ultimately rescue the girl, who turns out to be called Fina, and get your mission for the game, which appears to be a typical “collect all the powerful stones to stop the ultimate evil power” type of mission. However, the game is packed with suspense, drama, and enough plot twists to make your head spin.

I fell in love with the story of this game. I played the game nonstop for hours on end just to see what was going to happen next and what was in store for me. Everyone who plays this game will adore the likable characters as well. They are always entertaining and even top off their characteristics with scattered humor throughout the adventure. Newcomers to RPGs, like me, and anyone else will thoroughly enjoy the story of the world of Arcadia and will even want to play the game again just to hear it retold. I know I did.

The gameplay of Skies of Arcadia is, for the most part, spectacular. To begin with the battle system is set up in a turn-based style of play. A turn-based battle system is when you select the moves you wish to make and then watch your characters carry out your commands. You also have a party with you at all times. The party always consists of the main hero, Vyse, his childhood friend, Aika, and the girl you rescued, Fina. You will pick up a fourth member during the game and may switch to different people as the story develops. The battle system also brings a new element called the “spirit bar” to RPGs. The spirit bar gives your entire team a numerical value of spirit points to use and thus which moves you can use based on their point value. A move that you start the game off with is called Cutlass Fury, a move sported by Vyse. To use this move, there has to be seven points in the spirit bar to be able to be executed. The system is set up to promote strategy and conservation of points making you question your every move. “Should I use Vyse’s super move or save up for one of Aika’s more expensive moves? Should I not even use a super move and use magic instead? Should I use a combination of cheap moves or a couple expensive ones?” These question and more are pondered throughout the game in an effort to find the most efficient way to dispose of enemies that you randomly encounter. You are able to regenerate lost spirit by focusing on your turn, regaining a certain number of points depending on your characters level, and you get points at the end of each round from each character, again depending on their level.

The super moves and magic that you would use in relation to the spirit bar are earned and leveled up in different ways. The super moves can only be leveled up by consuming “moonberries” that are found typically in dungeon chests, but they can also be found in a random battle here and there. The moonberries are usually a rare find and should be used wisely, so you make sure you get the super move which will be the most beneficial to your party the soonest. The price of moves goes up by one every purchase and most characters have a total of about five moves they can acquire. The moves in the game were great looking and a ton of lighting and sound effects were used in all of them. It’s no wonder that the game has an epilepsy warning at the opening screen because of all the special effects in these moves. I liked all of the moves, but sometimes got sick of watching them because I used them so frequently, but thankfully, you are able to skip through the moves by pressing Start. I only wish some other games would put this feature in them.

The magic is leveled up depending on what magical element you use in battle. You can apply a “moonstone”, which is a stone of a particular element, to your weapon. The types are the standard healing, fire, and other kinds, but the spells are varied tremendously. You can level up the magic by using that element in battle and receiving a number of magic experience points that are subtracted from the total needed for the next spell. The spell system is well done, but I never really used any of the spells due to the lack of any real usefulness with them. There were only two groups of spells that were any good, healing and killing/curing sets, and the rest were just basically there if you wanted to use or see them. Overworks should have definitely put some instances in the game where the spells would be useful, but sadly, they only put about two. The spells themselves are rather boring to watch as well. They all switch the screen to a black color with the elemental group’s symbol on the ground and the spell takes place by either having a little dome hover around the hero or enemy, depending on the spell, or a bolt shoot out of the hands of the character. This lack of variety caused me to rarely ever use the majority of the spells and I think Overworks could have definitely improved the aspect of the game here.

Your characters themselves are also leveled up by fighting monsters in the game. Your characters must level up to compete with tougher foes and bigger bosses that are encountered later in the game. To level your character up, upon completion of a fight, your character receives a certain amount of experience from the monsters. This number is subtracted from the total needed for the next level. When you level up, you achieve greater power with more health, strength, magic points, and everything else a growing RPG character needs.

Random encounters. This is the game’s only true problem and it persists throughout the entire game. For those new to RPGs, a random encounter system is when you can’t see your enemies in the areas you run around in, but every so often you’ll be attacked and taken to the battle screen. The random encounters system is used in a lot of different games, but the amount of encounters presented here is ridiculous. You could sometimes take less than a few steps from a battle and be thrown into another one. Fighting battles is fun, but they can get boring and quickly at the rate encountered here. I frequently had my fingers crossed throughout the game hoping to avoid another endless series of battles every five seconds. Well, the random battles really didn’t become that annoying until I began searching for discoveries.

Finding discoveries is one of the game’s major side quests and was very interesting and fun. In this “Age of Exploration”, there are things or places all around the world that have yet to be seen by any living soul. Through your journey around Arcadia you may be lucky enough to come across one of these valuable locations revealing a much sought after discovery. The benefit of finding discoveries is being paid money by “The Sailors’ Guild” which is a shop that is found in nearly every town or city. You can sell your info here or even buy information about discoveries and where they’re rumored to be. The downside of buying information is that when you find it and sell the information, your payment takes a steep drop from what it would have been without the clue. The only way to find discoveries without the hints is to look at your compass as you’re flying around in your air ship. When you’re flying around your compass will begin spinning wildly indicating you’ve found one. Some of the discoveries, however, are VERY hard to find and can take hours of searching due to the vague hints provided by the Sailors’ Guild and the fact that they’re in the middle of nowhere. I really enjoyed searching for these discoveries and felt like the next Columbus, during some of my gaming experience, searching for a new world.

One of the best parts of Skies of Arcadia is the ship battles. Ship battles happen after about every dungeon or after entering a new area. The ship battles are set up in a turn based style, too, and are extremely fun to do. The battle opens up by presenting you with a four by four square grid. Each row (horizontal) is a character’s turn for that sequence of attacks and each column (vertical) is a single round in the attack sequence. The character is presented with the choice of using an item, attacking, or using something else to attack or defend against the enemy. The battles usually always required a specific tactic against your enemy and were always fun to figure out and put to use. The attacks range from firing cannons to shooting torpedoes to even using a special cannon. I never got tired of the ship battle system and this is definitely one of the best parts of the game. To put it simply, I loved it.

The towns and people you encounter during your adventures are amazing. The sheer diversity of the towns and people’s lifestyles is enough to make you wonder why you didn’t buy this game sooner. The towns range from sand filled streets of desert cities to tree house filled jungle. The towns are really interesting to just explore to find every person to talk to and see every house. There are shops in each town, too, from armor and weapon merchants to ship parts and hotel owners. The people also fit the parts of the cities. The desert people wear long clothing to protect from the sun along with hats and the people in the jungle resemble a civilization time forgot with primitive spears, masks, and clothing. These things add to the already amazing world that you’ll discover in Skies of Arcadia.

There is also an interesting little system in the game called the “Swashbuckler” system. You will be given a ranking depending on how you stand with your, um, swashbuckleriness. The rankings apply only to the main hero, Vyse, and range from “Vyse the Blue Rogue”, “Vyse the Competent”, and you may even be branded “Vyse the Ninny.” These rankings affect how certain people react to you and they may treat you with more respect with a higher ranking. To get a higher ranking, throughout the game, you will be presented with a choice of what to say during some conversations. Some of these are very easy to figure out what to say. For example, let’s pretend Aika says, “Vyse, I’m going to commit suicide.” You would be presented with a choice like, “Really? Great! I’ve hated you for a long time!” or “Why Aika? You have so many things going for you!” Despite what some of you jokers may think, the correct answer would be the second choice. If you did pick the first choice, however, the conversation would turn sour for a few minutes but then return to a regular flow whether you picked the wrong choice or not. Picking the wrong choice can lower your ranking, however, so make sure you always say the smartest or most heroic things. Another thing that lowers your ranking is running from fights. This is a way of guaranteeing you don’t miss any of the joy of fighting battles every five seconds.

The soundtrack of this game is spectacular. This is the very first time that the music from a video game has actually moved me significantly through many different emotions. I felt like I actually had accomplished something and a triumphant feeling shot through me when the “Hero Tune” (I’ll call it) starts playing after completing a particular part. I even felt sad and almost depressed at certain points in the game and the music made sure that these were the feelings I experienced. The music is nothing short of brilliant and is great on all fronts. The sound effects of this game are also well done. The “woosh” of the boomerang striking an enemy and the “boom” of cannons were a luxury for my ears and never got repetitive or boring. Just about everything has it’s own realistic sound to it like the “clang” of climbing a ladder or the sound of Vyse sliding down the pole were masterfully done. One minor thing I didn’t like about the sounds was the characters’ voices, if you can call them that. Each character only has about two sayings that are triumphantly proclaimed at the end of each fight. I constantly wished there was a bit more variety to the sayings and that they could have had just a tad more emotion in them. I was also a bit disappointed with the characters outside of battle. The characters don’t have voices, except for these particular battle instances outside of battle, with the exception of a “Yeah!” or “Aye! Aye!” scattered about in the game’s dialogue. Whereas the game didn’t necessarily have to have voice acting, there could certainly have been a bigger variety of these short snippets in the dialogue and they could have been used more often. I loved the characters immensely in the game and rarely hearing them say anything, I felt, deprived me of fully “meeting” and understanding these heroes and heroines.

The graphics in this game are breathtaking. Every piece of clothing, every house, every bush, every sign has been paid tons of attention to by the game developers. There is nothing but variety and worlds full of life in every bit of Arcadia. The characters even have a fairly wide variety of facial expressions used on a number of occasions throughout the game. There are the standard smiles and frowns, but there are even some cases of realistic looking questioning expressions and faces that appear full of joy and laughter. The characters look beautiful with smooth features and brilliantly colored clothing and clothing designs. The textures are gorgeous in every aspect. The water in this game comes to mind with the glint of the sun upon it made it look so realistic and, simply, great. The houses are all perfectly rendered and the simple appearance of grass and sand looked so realistic it was like looking through a window at real life. I was in awe at the graphics in the game and Overworks should be commended for such a job well done.

The controls are hardly an issue in this game. As I said, Skies of Arcadia is a turn based RPG, so you won’t have to deal with the likes of attacking or anything similar using complicated controls. What little controlling you have to deal with (simple walking and ship flying) are very easy to pick up and put to good use. The camera is easy to manipulate and, even though you can’t kill yourself by walking off ledges or anything, the camera will never cause heartache by becoming stuck behind walls or anything else. The ship responds perfectly to your every command and you’ll be able to pilot to your destination in no time. Well, there are those random battles of course.

Skies of Arcadia is an epic adventure that I was glad to have been a part of. And epic is right, the game will last people about 55-60 hours going through the first time, but nearly every moment will be enjoyed wholeheartedly. The game does have a problem with random battles and a minor flaw here and there, but the fun factor of this game more than makes up for it. I loved playing this game and have played it again and again just to, once again, experience the magic. Dreamcast owners will only be hurting themselves by not picking up this spectacular title.

Skies of Arcadia. A journey. An adventure. An epic. A masterpiece.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/25/02, Updated 02/27/03

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