"Dungeons, too, are nearly flawless. Void of the usual maze and switch puzzles found in so many RPG’s, the dungeons in Skies of Arcadia Legends, although not entirely difficult, contain what feel more like actual traps than useless obstacles whose only intent is to hinder your progress. Although disappointingly scarce, the puzzles are only the backdrop to the real meat and potatoes of any RPG: the battles (luckily, the frequency of random encounters has been toned down a bit since the past incarnation)."
Since it first premiered on the Sega Dreamcast in 2000, Skies of Arcadia has long been hailed as one of the greatest role-playing games of not only the new millennium, but the genre’s history itself. So, despite the absence of a true and polished sequel, Overworks has decided to bless GameCube owners with a port that, although suffering from a few minor hardware issues, maintains the supremacy of the original while still delivering a number of creative extras that not only add to the enjoyment of the title but help to deliver a much more polished, well-rounded RPG.
The story follows the young Vyse, a member of the Robin Hood-esque band of air pirates known as the Blue Rogues. Content with raiding Imperial vessels for the sake of monetary extraction, the crew of the Albatross—led by Captain Dyne—stumble upon a strange girl donned in unusual attire during a hijacking of an Imperial Armada airship, thus beginning an extraordinary, good-versus-evil, save-the-world-before-the-next-plot-twist-airs, completely cliché yet still unbelievably imaginative journey through friendship, treasure, and most importantly, heroism. The entire plot of Skies of Arcadia Legends is one of its strongest, most notable traits—from the initial piracy antics and hilarious banter among the characters to the epic emotion of the game’s final moments, the story will not only entertain but amaze as well.
The world of Arcadia is a floating archipelago of gigantic continents, each glowing under the light of its own moon—Valua, the evil Empire bent on world domination, resides under the yellow moon, while Yafutoma, arguably one of the most creative RPG villages ever conceived, basks under the azure glow of the blue moon. The first thing the player will notice is just how absolutely mesmerizing and immersive the world really is—flying fish travel in schools throughout the world, stone reefs barricade different areas of the sky, and ships, from Black Pirates to merchants to Imperial sentries, pepper the ocean. Everything comes together to create a truly unforgettable experience; every area is memorable, even the ultimately insignificant discoveries.
Dungeons, too, are nearly flawless. Void of the usual maze and switch puzzles found in so many RPG’s, the dungeons in Skies of Arcadia Legends, although not entirely difficult, contain what feel more like actual traps than useless obstacles whose only intent is to hinder your progress. Although disappointingly scarce, the puzzles are only the backdrop to the real meat and potatoes of any RPG: the battles (luckily, the frequency of random encounters has been toned down a bit since the past incarnation).
Based on the mechanics of traditional turn-based combat, the battle system in SoAL offers a few key innovations, the most important of which being the use of moon stones. Each weapon can be fused with the energy of a moon stone which, in turn, provides that weapon with that particular moon’s element; for instance, a weapon fused with the red moon stone will acquire fire characteristics, while one linked with a purple stone takes on the traits of ice. In order to gain the all-important advantage during combat, a player must not only master the use of the moon stone fusion in general, but also decide which stone to use against a certain opponent—a water-tuned blue monster, for example, is vulnerable to the electricity of a yellow stone.
Also, SoAL introduces the Spirit Point system, in which the entire party is giving a certain amount of spirit—essentially a meter at the top of the screen—that is consumed by performing Super Moves—powers unique to each character, ranging from relatively weak to invaluable—or magic. Although the party regains some of its spirit with every turn, managing your spirit points becomes an essential element of combat; knowing when and when not to spend a certain amount of points is key.
Aside from the hand-to-hand combat, SoAL also introduces ship battles, which are, in every respect, both its most important and ultimately enjoyable innovations. At the beginning of every turn, the player is presented with a four-by-four grid in which each party member—usually consisting of Vyse, his (sexy) friends Aika and Fina, and a varying fourth party member—chooses to fire a cannon, thus consuming spirit, casting magic, focusing (which recovers spirit), or defending via an evasive maneuver. Colors seen at the top of the grid provide a hint as to the enemy’s move during that turn—for example, a green grid means you are relatively safe from harm, while red represents an upcoming, devastating attack. After the player has chosen his attacks, the battle plays out in what could be compared best to a cinematic scene, with both ships exchanging blows until the next round. Strategy becomes extremely important here, and without a sharp wit and attentive style, the player is not guaranteed to succeed.
The game does have its flaws, however, particularly in the graphics department. Don’t expect SoAL to look as good as Metroid Prime—this game is, in every sense, still a Dreamcast game, and although character models have been updated in higher resolution, the primitive visuals still show. Gradients are not perfect, and the draw distance—perhaps due to the hardware difference—is disappointing. Visibility in some cases is extremely low, and pop-up, while not disruptively annoying, is still considerably high. Nonetheless, the world is still as beautiful as it was on the Dreamcast, and in some cases is better-looking than even some of the best PS2 titles, and isn’t by any means bad or undesirable.
Sound, too, is sort of a mixed bag. The soundtrack is, without a doubt, one of the best original scores ever compiled; from the opening theme to the ending credits, each individual track offers a symphony of raw emotion and atmosphere. Sound effects, however, are primitive. The only voice samples throughout the entire game are lackluster battle cries and the occasional one-word quip from an NPC. Although it doesn’t necessarily distract from the game, the sound effects could have, and in all respect should have, been better.
The addition of a few key extras, particularly the Wanted List, have given the extended port a much more enjoyable experience than the original. New characters, such as Piastol, have entered into the mix, which offer not only new dialogue and people to interact with, but also new plot lines, side quests, and immersion. The extras are, by all means, satisfactory, offering one of the greatest ports of any already outstanding title ever released.
Although not necessarily a must-have, Skies of Arcadia Legends offers an innovative, mesmerizing adventure that is sure to please casual and hardcore RPG fans, while still giving fans of the original some new elements that make it worthy of a purchase. Even with nearly a third of a decade since its original debut, Skies of Arcadia remains one of the greatest RPG’s ever made, period, and Legends, despite being a port, is no exception.
Staff review by Zack M (April 06, 2003)
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