"Remakes and ports of older games seem to be a growing trend in the Gamecube game library. Beginning with Resident Evil and continuing with a string of Sega titles, including Sonic Adventure 2, Evolution Worlds, and this title; Skies of Arcadia Legends. A heralded RPG for the Dreamcast, SoAL's strong gameplay and emphasis on exploration now breathes fresh air into a Gamecube system in dire need of a hit in the genre. However, the skies aren't completely clear in Arcadia, clouds of age seem to be ..."
Remakes and ports of older games seem to be a growing trend in the Gamecube game library. Beginning with Resident Evil and continuing with a string of Sega titles, including Sonic Adventure 2, Evolution Worlds, and this title; Skies of Arcadia Legends. A heralded RPG for the Dreamcast, SoAL's strong gameplay and emphasis on exploration now breathes fresh air into a Gamecube system in dire need of a hit in the genre. However, the skies aren't completely clear in Arcadia, clouds of age seem to be rolling in and this becomes very apparent in some of the gameplay mechanics and the game's graphics. Fortunately, the sun still shines through enough to leave a solid game for Cube and RPG fans alike.
The main character is Vyse, an air pirate with an ambition to explore and discover lost treasures. After rescuing a mysterious girl named Fina, Vyse and his out-spoken friend, Aika, set sail to find the adventure they've been waiting for. With Fina and Aika at his side, Vyse must find six moon stones before the evil Valuan Empire can capture and use them for their own evil agenda. Though it has the "collect the items before the enemy can destroy the world" type plot, SoAL has enough character development and plot twists to keep most gamers, even non-rpg fans, interested.
As its title suggests, the majority of time spent in Arcadia will be in the skies. In fact, the only true ground is on floating islands that make up the continents and other geographic regions. The skies then become the environment's ocean, allowing the player to not only navigate on a horizontal plane but a vertical one as well. This concept of fully navigational skies is a constant theme and is applied to many of the games different mechanics.
Exploring is the central point in SoAL and it makes full use out of Arcadia's vast skies. There are several things to explore, but the most entertaining to find are the "discoveries". Every town has a shop called the Sailor's Guild; who has rumored information about a specific discovery's location. The location can be spotted in the middle of the sky, a mountaintop, or at the bottom of an island and often a map, audio cue, or puzzle-like description is the only clue to finding it. Discoveries are monetarily rewarding to find but it is time consuming with over eighty discoveries in all to find.
Farther into the game, Vyse will gain access to a ship and crew of his own. The ship isn't anything special passed its combat ability but finding the full crew is one great exploration based mini-game. Throughout the world of Arcadia, Vyse will meet royalty, shopkeepers, and characters with talents in such things as firing cannons and engineering ships. The latter characters can usually become crew members. Some are easy to recruit; the player just has to walk up and talk to the character. Other crew characters have requirements the player must reach before the character will join, usually in the form of side quests.
While not exploring the skies, the player will be crawling through dungeons and solving the puzzles within. Many of the dungeons have a cubic design. For example, most rooms and hallways have a physical rectangular look. Now that's not to say that the dungeons look boring. In fact, most of the textures associated with the dungeons are creative and help keep the dungeons looking fresh. The layout is the most interesting aspect of the dungeons and puzzle placement is the main reason for this. Every puzzle seems to fit into a dungeonís design without feeling random, out of place, or there just to hinder a player's advancement. Also, puzzles don't feel extremely hard or easy. There are a few head scratchers but nothing overwhelming or frustrating that hinders the flow of a dungeon.
As with any RPG, battles occur while traveling through these dungeons and will cause one of two different types of battles. The first, and most common type is a random ground battle, which can take place on the hull of Vyse's ship or a dungeon's environment at anytime. Most of the battle system is a standard affair giving the players the option to attack, defend, and use magic. However, there are some noteworthy features in SoAL's battle system. One such feature is Spirit Points, which is indicated by the meter at the top of the battle screen. Spirit Points are a pool of points used by all characters in a party and will deplete with every use of a magic or special attack. The management of these points adds new strategies to how a player will attack and defend against an enemy.
Unfortunately, with this feature in place, Magic becomes essentially useless. As stated earlier magic uses Special Points, but so does all the character's special attacks. Also take note that the items in the game have many of the same properties as the various magic attacks. Now after summing up all the facts, it becomes apparent that items can completely take the place of magic in favor of the player saving Spirit Points. Special attacks can also take some of the same properties of magic attacks and, for the most part, is a far more powerful form of such attacks. Not to mention that the special attacks can do humongous damage which gives another reason to save Special Points. For a combination of these reasons magic can be avoided and therefore is rendered completely useless.
The other battle type is initiated when Vyse's ship comes in contact with an enemy's. These ship battles are a slight departure from the standard battle type. Firstly, Vyse's ship is being used rather then the party characters. Secondly, though options such as attacking, defending and using items are still available, they're just executed in different format. At the beginning of each round, a four by four grid is shown to the player. Indicators at the top of this grid will report the level of damage that can be done by a single attack. Indicators on the right tell the user what members in the party are doing a specified action commanded of them. After commanding all the party members, the opposing ships will begin to maneuver in a way that utilizes the commanded attacks. Though it may not seem like much on paper, a ship's ability to flank, gain distance and hearing its roaring guns as commanded is enjoyable and fascinating to witness.
The ship battles are a nice distinction from other games of this type but, as with the standard battles, it too suffers from a fundamental flaw. In this case it's predictability and it stems from the upper indicators. They not only tell the level of damage thatís possible, but also when critical hits and special attacks can be used. While knowing in advance what will happen can help the player strategize, it often leads to the whole battle feeling planned and scripted. The computer also uses these indicators in the same way. With this in mind, pattern recognition is considerably easier then it should be for the player.
SoALís appearance is that of an old Dreamcast game. Of course the cause of this is well... it is an old Dreamcast game. Thankfully, the age is only fully apparent in the character models, which sport the eternally dreadful "jaggies". Beyond this technicality, SoAL shimmers with greatness. Characters are fleshed out with swashbuckling gear, bandanas, eye patches, and the such, and the CGI sequences, though not Squaresoft quality, do present a feeling and personality that games of today can still lack.
Beyond the graphics, Sega and Overworks has done a great job on porting this game. All downloadable content from the Dreamcast version has been added to the Gamecube model. Also note that some new "discoveries" are to be found exclusively on the Gamecube. No new glitches have risen from the ashes either leaving a technologically flawless production. Some may make a gripe about the lack voice acting in the game but it hardly feels necessary after playing the original and it wouldn't make a real difference in the overall package anyway.
Skies of Arcadia Legends is a solid port at the end of the day. Age has shown through a bit on the visual end but its addiction never seems to get old. The Battles can seem average and flawed at times, however, the fighting holds its own against most RPGs because of the ship and Spirit Point system. Finally, with over fifty hours of exploration, puzzle solving and storytelling, Skies of Arcadia Legends won't disappoint even the slightest of RPG fans. And since 'Cubers lack games in the genre, Skies of Arcadia Legends becomes an instant must have for many Gamecube owners.
Community review by evilpoptart937 (December 02, 2004)
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