Sail the friendly skies.
On a clear day, I like to stare up and take in the natural beauty of the sky. The powder blue, the peaceful clouds...and when that gets boring, there's always the 'find the hidden pictures' game. Marshmallows, alligators, the Spanish Inquisition - there are all sorts of things to see while staring into the heavens. [Been watching too much Bob Ross, Johnny? - Ed.]
But while gamers are confined to terra firma, video games are not. Skies of Arcadia Legends lets you realize the romantic dream of stratospheric exploration in a world of open sky, airships, political intrigue and pirates. Arrr!
Skies originally came out in 2000 on the Dreamcast. While there are a handful of new additions to this Gamecube version, it's a little hard to get excited over a port of a 2 year old game. The new features include improved load times, 'wanted' bounties, a 'Moonfish' item-hunt and a new character to duel against. These extras are duly appreciated, but the sound and graphics have sadly not gotten the same amount of attention.
Vyse, a "Blue Rogue" air pirate, often stares at the sky, longing for the day when he can set out on his own to explore the far reaches of the uncharted atmosphere. His close friend and accomplice, Aika, shares that dream, except she plans to snarf up some extra treasure on the side. One day, a mysterious girl named Rina falls into the hands of the Blue Rogues. Their lives would never be the same.
The story is fun, charming and easy to get into, albeit all too familiar. The plucky young hero, surrounded by his saucy and equally plucky wenches, must face the unabashedly evil forces of villainy through fight after fight of random encounters.
The Gamecube port does promise some reduced fight encounters in certain areas in response to complaints on the Dreamcast. It's hard to exactly measure this change. It feels relatively similar, but the better load times means it's faster to run away from a battle.
The traditional turn-based system of combat gets an added kick of strategy through the Spirit meter. This SP meter is like one big meter pool that all the characters dip out of. S. Moves, an assortment of offensive and defensive moves you gain over the game, require a certain amount of SP points to execute. A character can spend his turn "focusing" to boost the SP meter.
Magic spells can only be executed when there are enough SP points available, but casting a spell will also expend one Magic Point. Red is obviously fire, but for some reason purple is ice. What kind of ice cubes do they use in Arcadia?
Each weapon is capable of equipping one of the six crystals; while equipped, your character will steadily gain magic spells from the respective color branch. The weapon is also imbued with the properties of its respective color - a red sword will be stronger against an enemy with purple properties.
In addition to the standard battles, there are Airship battles in which you plot out a series of attacks and then watch the ensuing exchange take place. These skirmishes keep things exciting and add to the atmosphere of a world filled with flying boats.
The Airships are really shown off through the impressive Overworld. The sense of exploring the unknown really comes through while piloting the ships. The controls utilize the C-stick, which feels just fine.
Landmarks are not always marked, so you have to pay attention to what the locals are saying to find the next dungeon or town. Newly discovered landmarks can be reported back to the Sailor's Guild for some welcome coinage.
At one point in the game, Vyse is urged to search out all the Moonfish he can find. Moon fishing is a tricky sport, requiring the first-person perspective camera. Vyse has to stand in a specific location in order to snag one of these fish. A beeping tone will tell you how hot or cold you are, though at least once, the beeping just seemed to be completely confused. Still, this mini-game does add some extra value.
Visually, it's immediately obvious that the game wasn't made with the Gamecube in mind. Right from the get-go, the graphics are dated. Sometimes the edges lack crispness and the scrolling cloudscapes just look awkward. In counterpoint, a few lighting effects and the character models still hold their own.
The quality is decent, but the most disappointing loss is the lack of a progressive scan feature, which I'd love to take advantage of... once I get a HDTV. The lack of progressive scan won't affect people who currently don't have an HDTV, but it just feels better to know that it's there, especially since the DC had VGA compatibility.
Instead of full vocals, the port of Skies opts for a lackluster sound byte approach. Each character has several vocal snippets that chime in at set times. These are as generic as they come and do little to nothing to add to the character's personality or the overall drama. The music, on the other hand, fits the drama excellently.
Considering it's a port, I would have been much happier if more attention was given to the audio and video. If you've played through the Dreamcast original, there really isn't enough incentive to get it a second time. But Skies of Arcadia Legends is still a rousing, swashbuckling adventure and for those of you who missed it the first time, it's great to have another RPG on the Cube.