Insanity Prevails' Skies of Arcadia Legends Review
Strong battle system
Exploration done well
Loads of side-quests
Underused magic system
Skies of Arcadia Legends is a port of the RPG Skies of Arcadia Dreamcast game, with a few changes and additions to avoid it appearing as a total re-release. Can this old game still stand tall with current standards?
For a Gamecube game these visuals look rather average at best. The visuals clearly wasn't on the to-do list when porting this game over, so no attempt was made to bring the graphics up to the level of the competition. If you're looking for an super realistic sky world then look elsewhere.
That said, the graphics aren't terribly bad. The fact that an old game can still look OK is perhaps a testament to the power behind the Dreamcast and the effort put into the presentation of the original. The clouds look nice (rather important since you tend to see a lot of them). Decent lighting effects around, especially when spells are cast. Animations tend to be smooth in most cases, though there is some awkward moments, like characters seemingly losing traction as they run almost on the spot.
Nevertheless the visuals do have their flaws. Textures used aren't as detailed as one would expect, and particle effects like poison clouds have a certain blandless to them, as do the character models themselves. I can't say they're bad but they're not really good either.
The music track, on the other hand, hasn't suffered a bit in the years that have passed. Overworks have done an excellent job with matching pieces to the relevant scenes. Battle music is fresh and energetic. Sailing between locations tends to be a more soothing tune. Places in Nasr is very reminiscent of Eastern nations, and this is reflected in the music used too.
Sound effects are also strong. Explosions sound like explosions, and big ones at that. Shattering glass, scraping metal, whirling winds. All sound as they should. As for voice acting there isn't really a full blown dialogue anywhere but characters do have a few sound bites (with gasping an apparent favourite). There tend to get a bit old in conversations. though the battle sound clips are good. Characters tend to recite phrases when in action, though soon enough these tend to get forgotten too. It's still a nice touch to hear everyone so vocal.
Initially the main storyline isn't made apparent to the player. Instead the only backstory you start with is that you are Vyse, a pirate belonging to the Blue Rouges. The game opens on a girl fleeing a battleship but she gets captured anyway and her ship sunk. The Blue Rogues happen to attack the same battleship at the moment, and while helping themselves to the goods onboard Vyse and his friend Aika decide to rescue the girl too.
But later on Valua, the nation that the battleship came from, are intent on reclaiming the girl. An attack is launched on Pirate Isle and the girl, Fina, is recaptured, along with the pirate crew. Only Vyse and Aika escape capture due to being away at the time. They mount a rescue mission to regain their friends with the aid of an old fisheran Drachma. Once everyone has returned to Pirate Isle Fina reveals the details of the quest she is on, and asks Vyse and Aika for their help. And so the adventure beings in earnest.
The story doesn't really stop there either. A lot happens during the quest and not all of it is really that obvious. There's a few dramatic moments and even some emotional scenes involved. A great job here.
That said, the game does seem quite happy to abuse storyline cliches. The character backgrounds for the Valuan admirals is a perfect example. The cowardly noble. The long serving admiral with doubts. The strongman with little thought. The female strategist. De Loco is perhaps the only one not massively cliche. A little mentally unbalanced quite happy to destroy things.
Gameplay is generally split into two parts - exploration and combat. So, no different than the usual RPG then. The key is how well these aspects are executed.
Exploration contributes a lot to such a game, and SOAL does it excellently. Much of this exploration is done in the ship. You'll cruise through open skies seeking out islands and towns to visit. But it's not just a concept of going from A to B. Despite being set in the skies there are still obstacles such as stone reefs and sky rifts that can block progress.
But there's another aspect to sailing the skies, which is the discovery system. Discoveries are items or places in the game that, according to the story, have yet to be discovered. Dicoveries found can be reported to the Sailor's Guild for a reward in gold as well as receiving credit for the find. This adds a whole new element as it becomes desirable to explore every region for them.
That said, most discoveries are invisible until found, and some of the visible ones can be hard to see. Fortunately, the onscreen compass spins wildly when near a discovery, acting as a sensor for finding them and making this sidequest not only massive (you'll spend the entire game looking for them) but enjoyable.
What time is spent on land also involves exploring settings, though in many cases to a lesser extent. Alternate paths and alcoves can be found around the place, but many aren't hard to find. In a similar fashion the "dungeons" of the game don't involve many fiendishly difficult puzzles or anything like that. Such things tend to be restricted to pushing switches, though there are some puzzles that will test your mind out. Just don't expect Zelda-level puzzle challenges.
A good camera is vital for travelling, and SOAL doeswell here too. While sailing the camera defaults to behind the ship, pulled back enough to give a solid view of your surroundings. The camera can also be held in place at the side, top or bottom of the ship, giving a view towards the opposite side (so you can view what's passing by under the ship for example), making it easy to see what's around you. Overworks were kind enough to include camera controls within towns and dungeons too. Even better is that it works quite well. It moves smoothly and generally stays at the angle you put it most times. Why can't all 3D games use such a solid camera system?
So exploration is good. But combat also plays an important role. SOAL actually has two different types of combat used, making for some varied gameplay.
The first type of combat, and the type you'll most often be involved in, closely resembles the type of combat seen in many turn based RPGs. You have a team of characters (between 1 and 4, but 4 most of the time). Each character is issued a command, and then every character on the field (ally and enemy alike) execute their given commands in an order based on their speed stats (with some exceptions, such as the guard command or certain super moves). Players can choose to attack the enemy (attack, magic, super moves), defend (guard) or offer party support (magic, items, focus).
Element types play a role in battles too. Characters can be aligned with one of the game's six elements before issuing each command to them, and as per usual in RPGs each element has strengths and weaknesses against other elements. That said, the difference isn't massive so you're not likely to be screwed if you forget to chance elements over. It's just not that efficient to use the wrong element. However, SOAL has approached element alignment in another way too. Characters earn magic experience based on what elements the party was aligned with at the end of battle, which is used for learning new spells. Therefore players tend to plan on what spells they want to learn and aim to align themselves with those elements for the end of battle, adding to the strategy.
Basic attacks cost nothing to do, but are capable of missing and may receive a counterattack. They are also generally weaker than other offence options. Magic and super moves tend to be more damaging but consume SP (and MP for magic). SP are Spirit Points. The party has a Spirit Gauge that everyone contributes points to and everyone can take points from it to use abilities. This gauge receives a set amount of points per turn depending on the spirit ratings of the participating characters, but players may increase the gauge further by issuing a focus command to a character (focusing characters contribute twice their spirit power to the gauge but will not do anything else that turn). This offers an excellent strategic element as some characters can be ordered to focus in order to allow other characters to use their abilities sooner.
Items are also available for use. There are many different types, ranging from healing to support to even offence, such as spell boxes. Stocking up on items is the best way to keep yourself prepared, although items are possibly a little too convenient. Money isn't a major issue in SOAL, especially when reporting discoveries, so there's little to no consequence to using them.
Super moves are special techniques unqiue to each character. Moonberries are needed to learn them but they can help immensely in battle, and it's fair to say you'll be relying on them a lot as they really are that useful. There's the usual combat techniques but you also get the support techs like Delta Shield, which blocks all magic. All super moves use only SP too, so there's no reason to even hold back.
The magic system is a little different to the norm. Every character can learn every spell (although each learn them at different rates). In addition to the offence spells you also have status altering spells and the usual healing ones. Magic spells use up SP and MP, unlike super moves. Unfortunately, the offensive spells are worthless. The damaging spells are seriously outdone by the super moves and even spell boxes (most likely due to few items raising magical power). The status altering techs don'y have a 100% success rate, and most bosses, the ones you'd actually want to inflict such ailments on, seem completely immune. The only spells that really see use on the healing and support spells you cast on your own party, and even then there are items that replicate the effects of almost every support spell, and for no SP or MP cost at all. This tends to relegate magic use to outside of battle healing. What a waste.
Despite the magic shortcoming the battle system is strong. There's a high level of planning as you get your characters to work together while watching for the enemy movements. The enemies themselves provide a decent challenge, especially the special battles like wanted battles and Piastol.
Some battles, however, follow an entrely different format. Ship battles involve firing your cannons and other ship weapons at another ship. In this kind of battle you're presented with a grid. You're able to input actions into a 3x3 or 4x4 area (depending on how many characters are in the active party). You can choose to fire a weapon, focus, use an item, cast magic or guard. The top row represents the danger level and special chances, which helps in the planning of attacks and evasion action. A preview of the next phase of attacks is given as well, showing the danger level and special chances that are coming up, helping you to plan ahead. Do you really want to risk putting off healing when a red zone is coming up?
Once all actions are input they are carried out in a turn based fashion again. Each column is addressed in turn, resulting on one player action and one enemy action (the order of these two actions determined by speed ratings but most of the time not too important). If both ships are still in one piece then play returns to the grid and continues on.
Unlike normal battles you have chances in ship battles to put yourself in an advantageous position, which is often signifie by the danger level bar of the preview grid alternating between two versions. Sometimes you will be given a textual choice (such as how to move the ship) or you will have to perform certain actions in the turn before (like guarding on a certain phase). In most cases failure to take the right action results in giving the enemy the advantage, so smart choices are very much encouraged.
Unlike normal battles there are no free attacks here. Ship cannons and torpedos all cost SP to use, making clever use of the focus command even more important. Also of important is that all attacks can miss here. Can't hit a target in your blind side. Items make a return, although restricted to ship items and magic drops. You still have healing, support and offence items, although the offence items here are rather less effective than in normal battles.
Magic again? Well, magic use at first is limited to support spells. You can't actually affect an enemy ship with magic until you get the magic cannon a little into the game. Damaging magic attacks are still outdone here even then, but what status spells you can use are actually useful since they have a 100% success rate against anything not already under another status effect. Yes, even bosses. There's nothing quite like silencing a spell happy boss.
Later on your ship gets equipped with a huge cannon. This is your ace card. It can only be used at certain times (indicated by the cannon's icon appearing in the danger level bar) and consumes a lot of SP but deals a lot of damage.
Ship battles are perhaps more tactical than normal battles, and I could easily see an entire game built out of this gameplay mechanic alone. It's actually a little disappointing that there isn't more ship battles ingame as they truely are excellent.
Skies of Arcadia Legends is a long time investment too. The main game alone can take 40+ hours to get through. Discoveries take that even further, but as if that wasn't enough SOAL throws in a whole bag of extra sidequests. Seeking out moonfish to feed a bird. Finding chams for Fina's Cupil to eat. Finding and fighting secret battles. There is so much to do in this game that it will be a long time before you do everything.
Overall this is an excellent RPG. The graphics may be outdated and the magic system flawed, but these are minor nitpicks in an otherwise awesome game. If you like RPGs then you need this game.
- SP/Character level query
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