Skies of Arcadia review
Skies of Arcadia Review


For a long time, way too many people here in the US have been waiting for an RPG of better quality than, say, Timestalkers or Evolution. And for quite a while we've heard only faint whispers of hope from Japan, in the forms of Grandia II and the then-named Eternal Arcadia. But oh, what beautiful whispers they were.

So, now that Eternal Arcadia (hereafter Skies of Arcadia, hereafter SOA) has arrived on these blessed shores and Grandia II is close behind, was our waiting in vain? Not really.

STORY AND PRESENTATION: SOA has it in spades. The whole game takes place in an absolutely gargantuan world where islands float above the Deep Sky, and stones rain down from six different colored moons. In this sort of Age of Exploration, pirates and merchants and fleets of warships move about the sky.

I won't delve into the real storyline, but suffice it to say that it starts off strong and ends even stronger. Just as you think you have things figured out and you know what to do, the nice people at Overworks decide to turn the tables on you and show you who's boss.

And yes, there will be times where you simply stare at your screen as events unfold, and as the characters dance their little lives as pawns in Sega's grand scheme.

Which brings us to one of the high points of the game. Characters! Now, I challenge you to find a greater trio of RPG faces than Vyse, Fina and Aika. All three are well developed, and always seem to act just the way that you know they would if they were real people. You'll want to give them all hugs by the time the end of the game rolls around (and it does, rather quickly).

Now, a game can't be its best unless the translation job is a good one, and Lord, does SOA have a good translation. The game flows beautifully, generally speaking, with plenty of amusing dialogue to boot. In fact, Chris Luchich, one of the dudes responsible for the fantastic localization job in Panzer Dragoon Saga, was in charge of this one, and he did a great, great job.

GRAPHICS: This is a mixed bag, although it's a pretty lopsided mix. There's a lot more done right in this game than there is done wrong. The world and the characters are absolutely beautiful, with tons of textures for the landmarks and wonderful animated faces for the characters (these add more character than you can imagine). All the models are beautifully detailed, and if you just look at the scale in many of the scenes it'll make you weep for joy that you bought a Dreamcast.

My only real complaints (well, they aren't even really complaints so much as quibbles) are that the design of a few of the spells/special moves could have been much nicer. I mean, you look at the so-so design of Cutlass Fury and Pirates' Wrath and then you stare in awe at Silver Tundra and Silver Binds, and you clearly see that some of the special moves were much more well-thought out than others. And it's not 'cause the Dreamcast couldn't handle it, either.

Second complaint is that, generally, the faces of the characters are just textures painted on to the model, which works well most of the time, but looks a little odd when a character screams and their chin doesn't move at all, but their mouth gets bigger. The only reason this bothers me is that, in one or two cases, they actually did polygon deformation and gave a couple of the characters real moving mouths... and it looked fantastic (see SILVER BINDS). I wish they'd have stuck with all one style or all the other.

All gripes aside, this game is downright beautiful.

SOUND: Another mixed bag. The musical soundtrack in this game is gorgeous. The title theme and closing theme(s) are just fantastic (I'm STILL humming them), and the rest of the stuff manages to fit the game perfectly while never ever being intrusive. The quality of the synthisization is very good, and you'll be hard-pressed to distinguish the strings in the opening theme from a real orchestra (I should know, I'm a classical music buff).

But. But, but, but. Sound leaves a little to be desired. Generally speaking, the voiceovers suck. Bad. Not quite Shining Force III, but still pretty painful. They actually work very well when the characters are just sighing or expressing emotion, but when they yell 'Moons! Give me strength!' or scream the names of their special moves you may find yourself involuntarily writhing in agony.

The rest of the sound actually does pretty well, although there are a bunch of instances (many toward the end of the game in some of the cutscenes) where you'd think there should be a lot of continuous noise (things blowing up and whatnot) you're left with periods of silence and a few sparse sound effects. But, this manages not to hurt the game too much, as I was too engrossed with what was actually happening to care about the sounds.

GAMEPLAY: Very good, but not sensational. The battles seem to be basically a simplified Final Fantasy system with one major change: the Spirit Bar. Every turn this big bar resting atop the screen gains a number of points that adds to a total. The number of points you gain depends on how many characters are alive and what level they're on. Every magic spell in the game takes only one Magic Point, but various amounts of Spirit points. Every character also has special moves that feed solely off of Spirit Points.

The Spirit bar adds a bit of strategy to the main battles as you've got to properly manage your spirit points and timing to win a battle successfully. One wrong move can mean a win or a loss.

Ship to ship battles are a little different. Everything is handled with a grid that can handle the input of up to four commands at a time. Characters can each input a command in one of the turns, in any order they wish. The strategy behind this is that, depending on the situation your ship finds itself in, various strategic advantages and disadvantages will work their way into the battle. Once the commands are input, the battle runs the turn out in realtime and, if you survive the round, feeds you the same screen again to continue the battle. They've got a rather cinematic quality about them which makes them pretty cool to watch, which is a good thing, since later on they can get quite long.

Everything else about the gameplay handles itself nicely, except for the fact that random battles happen so often on the world map that you may start gnawing your leg off if you aren't very tolerant. After a while though, relief comes in that, later on, you can escape having any random encounters at all through methods that will not be revealed at this time.

OVERALL: Skies of Arcadia gave me the same feeling playing through it as Panzer Dragoon Saga, Shining Force III, and Phantasy Star IV before it: Wow, I'm really enjoying this. The world, the characters, the gameplay, the random battles (ugh), the story, all of it. Generally speaking, this is the best RPG on the Dreamcast and one of the best RPGs of all time, and is definitely a contender with the Final Fantasy series. It's been said a million times, but if you love RPGs and have a Dreamcast, shell out $50 and break the wrapper on this puppy. It's not the second coming of RPGdom (that would be Shining Force IV or Panzer Dragoon Saga 2), but it's definitely worth the time and the investment.

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