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Skies of Arcadia (Dreamcast) artwork

Skies of Arcadia (Dreamcast) review

"Introduction - Skies of Arcadia - The Greatest Dreamcast Game "

Introduction - Skies of Arcadia - The Greatest Dreamcast Game
Dreamcast may be demised, but some things about it are still engraved onto all gaming fans’ minds - Sega makes some truly excellent games. Skies of Arcadia (shortened to SoA), in my humble gaming opinion, is a d*** fine game that in so many respects tops anything and everything else ever created.
At the same time, it have some of the worst or most frustrating rpg elements ever seen. For those who have an idea what I’m talking about, you have experienced the flaws of this game as well. For me, it doesn’t stop there - the battles were slow and uninspired (although the kinetics are some of the best ever); some characters are devoid of inspiration and the dialogue is often shot, but the story is highly memorable - and one of the best ever. Some areas of the game look extremely bland, where others are incredibly lavish and beautiful along with detailed.
At the end of this review, there will be no scores. This game does so much stuff incredibly well, but at the same time it falls flat on it its face, seizures, sputters a little and bursts into a milky liquid (just like so many other inspired games, it seems. Why is that?)
Will the ports fix this game’s many nagging problems, thus creating the best rpg ever made? If the gaming gods are feeling kind, then those lucky Gamecube owners will have a true gem - the greatest rpg ever - on their hands.
(the PS2 port seems to not be happening, according to recent publications).

The first thing that I would like to cover would be the graphics. As mentioned before, some places look extremely bland. In the first disc of the game we are treated to some very unmemorable, long dungeons that just don’t look inspired. We are also put up to some bland towns as well; most towns, actually, may have a lot of polygons and look very realistic but just don’t seem all that inspired. It doesn’t mean they look necessarily bad; this game is running on the DC, so if it looks bad it’s not saying much at all! Skies of Arcadia almost constantly puts the prerendering of the Playstation to shame with sweet, sweet real time graphics. Although a lot of the artistic benefits of prerendering are gone, you can’t deny that this game looks very lovely. When the areas do look inspired, which occurs in the later half of the second disc (that’s when the graphic’s theme shifts from realistic to sci-fi fantasy) everyone is in for a treat. This is surely some of the best looking stuff ever seen out of everything ever seen in a game, but know that you’ll have to put some work into to reaching this graphical prime of the game. That last dungeon must be seen (and heard) by anyone who calls themselves a gamer - it’s just jaw-dropping awe-inspiring beautiful!

The battles of Skies of Arcadia are also a mixed bag. The graphical quality almost always takes a nose-dive in the battle sequences; character models, environments and atmosphere included. The magic spells of the SoA battle system are okay, but they take place on a different screen from the characters and the enemies so their full effect is rarely realized. The enemy models are overall a disappointment, although there are quite a few exceptions amongst the many bosses and special enemies you get to fight. The best looking enemies are the soldiers and the story related bosses. Some bosses come out of nowhere, in the fact that no one told you that there would be a dragon in that dungeon or a giant bird atop that temple; they seemed to have been created on the spot to look cool, not to have any graphical motivation for existing.
The kinetics of the battles is where the best stuff of the battles comes in. The “kinetics” is my wordy way of saying the particle effects, lighting, motion blur, and other neat graphical tricks. This then leads me to the Special Attacks. Think of these as you would Final Fantasy Limit Breaks or Grandia Special Attacks; they require a lot of effort to pull off, but they are so very worth it. Besides being powerful, they look INSANELY awesome with as many kinetics Sega could pull off without causing seizures. I’m serious - this game even has a seizure warning at the load up screen. The lighting, particle effects and the whatnot bombard the screen in a fantastic array of brawn and fantasy. Each main character has 5, each secondary main character has 3, and each major boss has 3 as well. They come with a quick voice sample as well, sweetening these sequences by triple. In one of my favorite ones, titled “Rain of Swords,” the main character Vyse leaps up into the air, creates a lightning vortex, readies his cutlass-swords at his side and calls out “Rain of SWORDS!” Then, the damage ensues as the sky erupts with sword-shaped lightning - and the swords appropriately rain down on all enemy foes. There are quite a few just as memorable ones; other favorites include Gilder’s Gunslinger - “C’mon - dance for me!”; Aika’s catastrophic Omega Cyclone, Ramirez’s Dark Eclipse and Silver Tundra, all of Galacian’s classy S-Attacks, and all of Fina’s spectacular S-Attacks.

Another aspect of the graphics included ship battles (more on this later). Although they might not be as intimate as the close-up S-Attacks in regular combat, the ships generally look awesome and the kinetics look spectacular as well. There’s quite a lot of nifty camera-panning as well, so be prepared for a treat each time you enter a ship battle.

Battles may seem interesting from what you know so far, but sadly, they aren’t as inspired as you would think. SoA involves air-pirates, blue rogues, and a lot of fantasy and sci-fi aspects - but it never reaches it’s full potential in these themes. The battle system is yet again a mixed bag with many wonderful things about it, as well as many bland and uninspired ideas and concepts (realities if I may) that make the battle system of SoA one you’d like to stay away from.

The underlying problem is that it’s uninspired. Some of it is, but then the execution is almost always slow and underwhelming.
The natural world of SoA is governed by six moons. The yellow moon controls the power of thunder. The Blue moon covers the powers of wind, speed, and water. The purple one handles ice; the red one fire and vigor; the green one nature and restoration. The silver moon handles purity, life, and death. The appealing aspects of this great idea become lost in the game’s actual magic system. It goes like this: red spells attack all enemies, yellow ones attack enemies in a line, blue attacks grouped up enemies, green is for healing party members and poisoning all enemies, silver is to kill off enemies instantaneously and give life to team members, and purple is for attacking one enemy. This may be cool in itself, but the biggest flaw is how boss battles turn out. Since bosses are generally one guy deals, the only attacking spell you will use is purple. Huh? That’s it? All other spells are weak when it comes to damage, for they are intended for multiple enemies. It’s not that big of a deal, but for me it felt really limiting. I wanted to be cool and use a blue spell on a fire boss, but I could’ve done more damage by using an ice spell.... which doesn’t make much sense..... W-Why!?

Attacking your enemies is very lackluster. It takes way too long for a character to move directly to an enemy, swing their weapon, and watch the enemy slowly react and their HP bar go down. Here’s some details: Vyse has powerful attacking power, but his accuracy is rather low. Aika’s accuracy is high, but her attacks are weak. Fina is just weak. Drachma is very powerful, but he generally rarely ever lands a hit. Gilder is equal in all power and accuracy aspects. Enrique is weak, but has good accuracy.

A very maddening problem that I would like to get out of the way now is about some of the extremely foolish design decisions that lunatics at Sega pulled out of the “ways to be hated” book.
First off is the Loopers. These enemies are very hard to hit - even high accuracy Aika has a tough time beating them. These enemies are all over the place in the world of SoA - and you will go insane attacking repeatedly, missing repeatedly, and starting the process over.
Preparing for a round of attacking takes place really slowly in SoA. You’d think they’d give you a “group attack” option, or something. Anyway, it takes a long time to select “Attack,” choose an enemy, cycle to the next team member, choose blue spell “Welves,” select where to place the spell on the battle field, go to the next character..... and so on. It might take a minute or longer to do in some cases, and it slows down the battles so, so much.
And now the big one - random battles. SoA, like so many others, thrusts you into battle against your will at random - thus this appropriate name “random battle.” Never have they been so troublesome. As mentioned above, battles are generally very slow - even excruciatingly slow at times. Now, couple this with the fact that the random battle count is relatively high in both the overworld and the dungeons. Add on the worst part of all - a long, literally 20 second load time for an actual battle (including the camera panning) and you’ve got yourself dungeon crawling hell. I won’t stress any more than I have to about this nagging problem, for you can easily find enough hate for it by asking anyone else who has played the game; and it haunts me as much as anyone else. For me, it got to a point of messing with my mind. I’ll tell you about it - it was 3/4 through my second run-through of SoA, where I entered the area in the game with the absolute highest random battle counter (the area under Valua). This is where I experience what I like to call videogame misery (previously experienced in Jet Force Gemini). After the seventh battle in 20 minutes of gameplay (not even close to beating the area), I went into a tranced, hypnotized state. Seriously. It wasn’t one of them cool tranced states, though, it was a really, really, bad one. In it I realized that I had reached 100 hours of playing SoA, and I was doing the same exact thing that I hated right away from the very first hour. This was 100 hours later, and it wasn’t getting any better or any worse - it was just bad from the very beginning.

Back to the “Ways to be hated book” for a second - It’s a shame that relatively little problems can hurt a game so much. I’d like to say that it’s a shame, but I’ve gotten to a point with SoA where I’ve pulled a selective memory trick where I remember only the fond memories. And oh there are aplenty in SoA; it’s just that you’re going to have to work very hard to get to them.

A bright spot in SoA’s battle system is the ship battles. They are remarkable different from the hand-to-hand combat, and they are overall better. There is a lot of strategy involved, a lot more than meets the eye actually (something not many people know is that different characters have different attributes in ship battles).

Ship battles give you a lot of variety to mess around with. You can use magic spells in battles (and it eliminates the magic system’s “multiple enemies” problem). You get regular cannons that attack once, a secondary cannon called a “cannon gun” that can attack the whole time during a round, and you even get torpedoes that attack the enemy at the exact moment you’d want it to.

Battles are very engrossing, fun, and usually are some of the better moments of the game. They can be very hard too, but with proper equipment and customization you can tackle any task ship-required task.

As you may have guessed, SoA’s story and characters wouldn’t exactly be considered smooth when it comes to comparing the good to bad. There’s so much good, which really comes with those special moments in the game where you thank Sega for making this a real-time graphics system, but there’s so much absolutely terrible garbage that falls over, seizures a little, and bursts into a milky liquid (that again? Weird....).

The pinnacle of the seizuring garbage has to be our main character, Vyse, along with some other guilty leads. I’ll make this easy on you by listing the good and the bad for each main character.

(guilty) Vyse: He’s the lead character that takes on the role of the leader of our group. He’s very successful at this. Can’t there be an rpg main character that isn’t squeaky clean!
Good: Neat anime design, cutlasses rock (his weapon), very cool specials including “Rain of Swords” and “Blue Rouges”, a couple of spectacular scenes where Vyse jumps to safety when faced with danger.
Bad: Squeaky Clean in the worst sense of it. You may want to puke a little every so often. He likes to comment on just about any object you come across, which I found very uninvolving - you, the player, are supposed to be in Vyse‘s shoes, right? Well, this doofus is in charge! Worst of all, there is almost no backstory involved with Vyse. You won’t figure out his age very quickly, all that you know about him is that his dad’s name is Dyne and his mom’s a freak who cooks and cleans all day long.

(partially guilty) Aika: She’s the mischievous best friend that goes wherever Vyse goes. She’s edgy, rowdy, and a red-haired pony-tail chick.
Good: Stunning S-Attacks including “Epsilon Mirror” and “Omega Cyclone” (WOW!), she’s not as annoying as you’d think. Cool facial expressions too!
Bad: There’s almost absolutely no backstory at all! All that we know is that her parents died when she was a kid. That’s it.

Fina: She’s from a different world than Vyse and Aika, in a sense. Very polite and very interesting.
Good: Great character model outside of battle, she’s a very interesting and mysterious character.
Bad: Generally weak in battles, since magic isn’t as important as you’d think it should be - and that’s her only strength.

(guilty) Drachma: Emotionally scarred fisherman that is very old, thus hates kids a lot, even though he saves their hides on many occasions. Has an emotional breakthrough later in the game (ack!)
Good: Isn’t squeaky clean.
Bad: Backstory scenes WAY too overdone.

Gilder: A very cool Blue Rogue with more class and style than anyone else in the game.
Good: He’s classy, has great voice samples, has a great character model throughout, he’s a good character to have in battles, and he’s got style.
Bad: One-sided personality.

Enrique: Ex-wiener prince, currently a respectable blue rogue.
Good: He’s not a bad guy, it’s funny whenever the other character make fun of him!
Bad: He’s way too serious, uptight, and “honorable” about almost everything in the game. He’s also a good fighter to have in battle, although he really shouldn’t be considering who he was.

Galacian: He’s the evil general bent on using force to get the job done. His motivations may be cliche`, but you can’t deny that this guys is downright cool.
Good: Provides one of the best boss battles in the game, has the perfect evil grin, and has breathtaking special moves.
Bad: Cliche` in some respects.

Ramirez: He comes from the place that Fina comes from, and is actually on the same mission she was sent on; but he turns “to the dark side” when he was blemished by Galacian’s virtues.
Good: He’s got a cool sword. He’s BAD.
Bad: Very unclear, disturbing, and freakish motivations; he doesn’t strike you as being evil by the looks of him (at first, that is).

An rpg is nothing without a cast of characters, and a cast of characters is nothing without a story to give them motivation. It shouldn’t come as a surprise in this review that the story of SoA is......... know what.

SoA’s story has many interesting elements to it. Stripped down to its very core, SoA tells the story of Vyse, Aika and Fina as they search out the world’s 6 powerful moonstones in hopes of reaching them before Valua does. Each moonstone can summon a powerful beast called a Gigas (which is usually followed by an impressive airship battle) that contains enough power to wreck anything in its sight. These beasts are formidable foes that can generally crush your ship, that is until science discovers a way to match their power (it happens midway through the game).

You have to journey to the six main areas of the vast world (and other areas too that I won’t mention here). This adventure takes you to every dangerous area of this large world, and you’ll be in awe all the way.

Sadly, my time with SoA’s story wasn’t really that great. Pretty much half of time I was content, interested, and moving on along; the other half I just didn’t like it. Some of the places that you visit you’ll like, some you won’t. Most of the people you meet are interesting characters, but some aren’t. Some plot twists are truly inspired, but some are just dumb.
This love/hate cycle of mine created some happy moments of utter rpg goodness, and lots of frustrating “They could’ve done better than that!”’s.

Basically, even though SoA’s world is vast and broad, something just wasn’t right about the whole experience. I think that SoA falls victim to the adventure/rpg curse where you are presented with a large and lush world that aren’t able to explore. There is a lot of sights to see, but not to venture into. I felt that I’d pay anything to explore the jungles of the green moon land or the deserts of the red moon land; but you can’t. It’s not a world, it’s a videogame; and this is always hard to bear whenever you’re presented with something so broad in scope. It pisses me off, I tell ya.

But alas, SoA does actually shine in many cases; the story did hit a nerve in me that made me fall in love with this title; fans know what I’m talking about (recruiting Robinson, entering beneath the sky, Solitis, Fina's home.....). These types of moments are only capable in a fully real-time rpg like this, and thanks to Sega for making such a dedicated project.

Something in SoA that doesn’t suck yet rock at the same time is the music. It doesn’t suck - it’s good. But it doesn’t rock.
I’m confused too.

SoA soundtrack is a generally inspired one; there are many songs, and many of them are darker in tone. I’m a fan of introspective music, and SoA provides.
Some of the songs I found very annoying such as the first dungeon’s song and other places with bright and happy music (ack!), but it’s all put to shame by the great songs that stick out in my mind. The great songs come in the second disc when the game’s theme goes from pirate adventure to pure sci-fi fantasy. My favorite song is that of the last dungeon - wow! Actually, just like the graphics in SoA progressing from a mediocre first disc to a stunning second, the music progresses like-so as well.

So, there you have it. I decided on a closing - you often feel that they could’ve done better in creating SoA, but at the same time you‘ll be feasting on some of the best gaming that gaming has to offer. As an adventure game I believe it fails; as an rpg I also believe it fails; but as a game in general, this is one of the best. I hope that made sense!

+This is one of the greatest looking games of all time - it puts most PS2 stuff to shame!
+A few excellent songs, the rest are on average good
+Some highly memorable characters
+A generally great plot
+Memorable main bad guys
+The Special Attacks
+The ship fights
+Customizing your ship, your ship’s crew, and your base
+A lot of stuff to do, best of all being recruiting crew members for your ship
+Adventuring through the skies of Arcadia in a fully 3D world

-In many cases, very bad design
-slow paced battle system
-magic is nearly useless!
-random battles, even some boss fights are way too long-winded
-nasty load times and cinematic flair that makes the battle intros last much longer than they ever should!
-A weak lead character in terms of his history and dialogue impact on the player
-Some other weak characterized characters as well
-The graphical presentation really falters for large parts of the game
-The story isn’t always captivating; more like slow and intoxicating in some instances
-Some sections of Arcadia aren’t very memorable

rxfang6's avatar
Community review by rxfang6 (August 26, 2002)

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