"Nevertheless, with time I soon realized, had I given up on it, I would have missed out on a refreshing adventure that has something that many generic role-playing games lack. Heart. Throw some innovative physics on into the fray and you have something special. Aye, my faith in pirates have again been restored. "
Those dirty pirates.
What is it about them that causes us to respect and admire them so? Is it their courageous and admirable traits, their ruthless ability to defy the natural law, or just those bad-ass looking eye patches? Skies of Arcadia: Legends takes every one of those attributes and adds a great deal of character and plot to create an enthralling role-playing experience. However, I cannot say that my first few hours with the game were any indication of how much it would draw me in. The lackluster opening presentation and unoriginal looking battle system definitely disappointed me a bit. With just a few more hours of additional casual play I might have even returned it. Nevertheless, with time I soon realized, had I given up on it, I would have missed out on a refreshing adventure that has something that many generic role-playing games lack. Heart. Throw some innovative physics on into the fray and you have something special. Aye, my faith in pirates has again been restored.
To say that pirates have certainly come along way in the world of Arcadia is an understatement. You are Vyse, the handsome, charming, and somewhat dim young man dreaming to sail the world. Together with a childhood sweetheart named Aika you patrol the skies as Blue Rogues, pirates that follow an act as if they were Robin Hood’s second cousins. Robbing from the rich and evil and delivering unto the less fortunate, as well as pocketing some for yourselves, encompasses your day to day life. Along with your father, the revered Captain Dyne, you sail the skies searching for loot and taking names along the way. Yes, I did say sky, I guess gravity does not exist in the future. Well, one event leads to another and you end up rescuing a mysterious woman named Fina from the hands of the Imperial Armada. However, theft has its price and the Armada’s revengeful strike makes you and your village suffer. The plot continues to unravel early on and leads to your primary objective, that much to Vyse’s pleasure, will take you around the world and back again.
Ah, traveling alone with two beautiful girls, what more could a guy ask for? Well, just watch what you say because that can make quite a difference to a woman. Speaking of which, the game gives you the option of choosing responses while discussions take place and saying the right thing can net you some bonus points toward some abilities -- not to mention preventing your friends from kicking your ass. As you take on increasingly challenging destinations, your reputation will make a big impact on your enemies and whom you recruit for your crew. There are plenty of freelancers waiting to be picked up and each character brings their own personalities, charm, and fighting styles to the team. And while not too indifferent from the classical styling of turn-based game-play, Skies of Arcadia: Legends makes some improvements and adds a dash of creativity.
Battles follow a turn to turn event format with those with the greater speed taking priority over others. Traditional HP and MP meters are all there with the classic action selection of: Run, Item, and Guard. You have your regular attack which utilizes the weapon currently equipped and the traditional magic system with offensive powers like fireballs and thunder bolts, alongside the restorative heals, cures, and so on. However, these abilities will only be familiar to each character when the correct moon stone is used. Just enchant and fight with a blue infused weapon to increase your chances to earn a water power or maybe a purple one to gain new ice techniques. Knowing what color to use and when is essential and brings about a deeper depth to this ancient play style. The only problem with this system is that every character eventually has the same magical prowess, with little variety and customization to be used between crew-mates. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a trick or two up their sleeve. Hey, they are pirates after all.
Suddenly lights begin to flare all around as the screen slowly fades and a powerful aura surrounds our protagonist. His glass eyepatch glows with intensity as he jumps into the air with two swords held tightly together. The energy pours into his blades as he releases them with a commanding scream.
Rain of Swords!
In moments your enemies who had nearly overwhelmed you are gone without a trace all because of a quick and resourceful maneuver. They are simply called special moves. Each member of your team has them and can be unlocked simply by finding a resource known as Moonberries, which can grant a new move based on the baseline requirement. Both special and magical abilities follow a SP meter which sits comfortably on the top of your screen. As the battle progresses with attacks being used and damage being taken you accumulate these points till you have enough for your trump card. Though the visuals of this game are a little dated since they are based on the original for the Dreamcast, the moves themselves look fantastic with impressive lighting effects and detailed expressions apparent through the faces of every character.
Unfortunately there is one implementation in role-playing titles that I have yet to fathom and despise with an undying intensity. They are random battles. Now I could understand if a larger time gap was given or even if it prompted you before happening, but this game has the quickest throw-down rate I have ever seen.
Step, step, encounter. Step, step, encounter.
This makes spelunking through dungeons very irritating and you will just be praying to get to the thinking portions of each labyrinth after a couple doses. Which brings about another disappointment, the puzzles are not very challenging or interesting. For example, in the first storyline-driven dungeon several of the trivial exercises involve moving a colored barrel from point A to point B to open a door. Strangely enough this is how difficult it usually gets and soon after you are right back into the hordes of annoying and pointless opposition. Of course at the end of your troubles you have an unbearably long boss fight, with their mass hit points being more troublesome than their actual move-sets. Though there are a couple interesting dungeons throughout, several will have you looking at your watch and wondering when the hell you are going to finish them.
Then all of a sudden everything changes.
You hop back into your airship, rev the engines, drop the sails, and take to the sky for a little ship versus ship action. Taking an old idea and giving it a 360, the air battles in Skies are not only a blast but they alone are what make the game so unique. Whether it be a ship of the evil Armada or a monstrous abomination below the surface, a mix of strategy, timing, and firepower can shut them down. Each confrontation plays out like a normal battle, however, instead of a regular player display you have a grid which represents character turns. Overall, you have four different moves you can implement before a real time clip plays out you and your opponent’s moves. Prediction takes a major role in these fights and it will be up to you to decide what turn you should take evasive action, repair, or attack. Depending on the choices you make will bring about an outcome of your enemy’s destruction or your own. While stopping in towns you can even upgrade your ship with the latest weapons and armor, as well as customize it for more maneuverability or hidden tricks.
It doesn’t stop there though, taking this concept even further are two subplots involving artifact discoveries and wanted battles. Now we all know pirates are known for their cunning and ruthlessness in battle, but they also seem to take on the personas of explorers and bounty hunters as well. Each one of these additions adds a lot of replay value and will have you flying through every single part of the game’s expansive overworld. Along the clouds and towering mountainsides are clues to the whereabouts of many landmarks that you can discover if you play your cards right. Each find will net you money and increase your reputation as an excellent discoverer. However, it is the wanted list feature that makes Skies of Arcadia: Legends so different from its original version. Following hints and tips you can look up names of some notorious black pirates and hunt them down. Of course the majority of these fights are all in the air making them a great deal of fun and with each foe eliminated, the name of Vyse will spread even further across the landscape.
Even then there are those that are looking to halt your progress to greatness and look to carry out some revenge. Legends introduces a new antagonist which will definitely add a challenge to your list of scum to extinguish. She is cunning, skillful, and has an interesting taste in hair styling. Her name is Piastol. Even though many would seem to take little notice to just one additional newcomer, your encounters with her will be numerous. And with each confrontation she gets tougher and tougher, bringing about more dialogue, side-quests, and a greater sense of immersion to an already deep game. It seems like every individual both good and bad has a story to tell, and it is the involving plot brought on by characters that you really come to know and like, that help shape this title and help you bypass several apparent flaws.
Though the Arcadia series was on the Dreamcast long before it came over to the Gamecube, this one flew under the radar for a lot of gamers. If you have already run through the original, I still recommend Legends -- for either a trip down memory lane or a look at several of the new discoveries to be found within. If you want an enriched role-playing experience with fun characters, a deep plot, a surprisingly thrilling battle system, and more than fifty hours of play time, look no further. There are some gray patches here and there with an irritating random enemy spawn and some boring dungeon crawling, but the pros easily outweigh the cons. It may not be the flashiest or most impressive RPG to hit the consoles, but it will give you one hell of a ride along the way.
Aren’t pirates cool?
Staff review by Branden Barrett (September 25, 2005)
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