Aye, aye, Captain Sackbut!
Watching the trailer for Tiara Concerto at the Gamania Game Show stirred up warm, gooey, nostalgic memories of Skies of Arcadia that had long been dormant. With its outlandishly dressed characters, bright and vibrant color palette, and of course, heated battles aboard a flying pirate airship, it’s no wonder that my fellow journalists and I murmured whispers of the Skies of Arcadia 2 that we’ve all wished for oh-so long.
But I shouldn’t mislead you right off the bat—despite the setting and aesthetics, Tiara Concerto is not similar enough to Skies in any way to even be called a spiritual successor. This game is its own beast, a cel-shaded, fast-paced, action-MMORPG. The fact that you’re cavorting around with fellow players on rickety airships to explore the floating islands of the sky world Neume is just nostalgia-laden gravy for those of us who fondly remember Skies.
At the demo we had the option of playing with the keyboard or a 360 controller plugged into our PCs. If you’re familiar with standard MMO controls, the keyboard is a safe and comfortable choice; abilities are mapped to keys 1–9, while the controller simulates this plethora of commands by having you hit your special attack buttons while holding the control stick in different directions to trigger different moves, à la Super Smash Bros.
The only drawback to the keyboard, I found, was that being an action-heavy game, it could sometimes be tricky in the thick of battle to use the WASD keys to move around, which is where a controller excels. Even now, I’m still not sure which control method I prefer.
Either way, the targeting is fairly forgiving—the developers specifically told us that they don’t want the action to revolve around precise aiming. You just need to face your character in the proper direction to hack, slash, or blow up the target, and there’s absolutely no arbitrary “misses” like in many MMOs—if you see your attack hit the target, you’re always going to see those beautiful white numbers pop up and not the accursed “miss” taunting you for not beating a random number generator.
Our demo level had us fighting humanoid fire dogs off our airship as we fought our way to the engine room to hit a few pressure valves and keep the engine from blowing up, guided along the way by our captain named Sackbut (a name which I sincerely hope is kept). It culminated in a boss fight, a larger fire dog that periodically summoned cannon fire which needed to be dodged as it pelted the deck.
There are essentially three classes: a melee fighter called a Performer which uses either two-handed swords or polearms, a ranged gunner called a Composer, and magic users called Tuners. Tuners use their instruments to summon mostly offensive magic, though they can throw healing in when necessary. It seemed from the demo that there isn’t an emphasis on the holy trinity of tank-dps-healer, with most players capable of pumping out respectable damage without the need for a dedicated healer role.
The one thing I really wished for was platforming to be incorporated into the gameplay. The trailer showed characters hopping from boat to boat to get to the larger ship under attack, which looked like it could be really cool to do during a fight. Alas, the ship-hopping was just a cut-scene, though during our interview with the developers they did point out that they want to incorporate those types of platforming elements into the game at some point.
A North American release for Tiara Concerto is uncertain at this point, as the game is still awaiting its 2012 launch in its home base of Asia, but from the somewhat-localized English demo it seems likely that we’ll see it stateside soon after the initial release.