Skies of Arcadia Legends GameCube Review
Look around you. Look all the way around you, up and down, at the clouds and trees and whatever else may be fleeting past your eyes. There’s quite a lot to see, unless you’re somewhere boring, in which case imagine you’re not really cooped up in that dingy old room staring into that headache-inducing computer screen, but rather out in the open with fresh air swirling around you and miles and miles of eye-catching wonders in every direction. Now, give yourself an airship, fill those places with bold, vibrant colours and diverse characters, throw in some magic and an evil empire for good measure and then set sail for the first place that takes your fancy. Failing that, you should play this game instead; it’s the closest you’ll get to it.
Here we have a game that makes no effort to hide the fact it wants you to have fun. It doesn’t matter whether you initially fall for the charming graphics, both bold in their obviousness and yet strangely endearing in their old age, or the simple yet perfectly realised music, which melds seamlessly with the story through all its twists and turns; everything about the game has been implemented with as much care as everything else, and the sense of blatant enjoyment the developers had when making it is translated through every medium present, resulting in a genuinely moving playing experience. The characters, though perhaps a little over the top on the stereotypical side of things in some cases (I’m looking at you Alfonso!), are fleshed out with deep and intelligent histories which really succeed in getting the emotions flowing. Most people have a goal when first encountered, a dream which they strive towards over the course of their journey, and the resolution of each one is highly satisfying as the feeling of accomplishment is transposed from character to player. True, the dialogue is a bit young at heart in places, due to Overworks’ desire to make the experience more accessible for young audiences as well as old, and the small amount of voice acting implemented is quite laughable, but these are only minor niggles which you’ll really only care about for a short time whilst your mind adjusts to ‘SoA’ mode. In fact, you’ll soon realise that these things actually fit in with the whole atmosphere pretty well.
Now, if you’re looking for a plot that’s original and fun, you’re in the wrong place. Get out! If, however, you’re looking for a plot that’s not original, and better because of it, then this is what you want. You see, this is where the game is quite unlike most other RPGs around; clichés are frequent, with the divide between good versus evil an obvious one, but they’re something you begin to adore and look forward to. The daring rescue of your captured fellow air pirates near the start of the game is action-packed and tremendous fun, though not original in the slightest. Who cares? The escape from the Valuan fortress later on in the game is stunningly enjoyable, yet the idea’s been used many times before. So what? Clichés wouldn’t have become clichés if they weren’t good fun at some point in their existence, and Overworks have shown that, if incorporated in the right way with the right atmosphere, they can be once again. Pretty much everything you want to happen does in one way or another; invasions, romance, desperate escapes, infiltrations and massive fleets of airships battling it out are all present and accounted for, so there’s a bit of something for everyone. Oh, and it’s all fantastic fun too.
‘But surely Skies of Arcadia can’t just be comprised of clichés?’ I hear you ask. No, it can’t, and it isn’t. For one thing, the overworld is quite literally a breath of fresh air as you find yourself traversing the skies above the long-forgotten surface of Arcadia, a place populated by floating islands of all shapes and sizes and filled with airships from all over the land. The developers have taken it upon themselves to produce something that truly distinguishes itself from the generic world maps found in so many other RPGs, and the result is astonishing. Locations don’t just lie on one flat plane, but instead can be found above and below you as well as from side to side. Areas are cleverly cordoned off via the restrictions of your airship’s engines, in order to allow for sensible story progression whilst keeping a realistic sense of freedom, and it is subsequently a sense of satisfying smugness that accompanies the addition of more advanced technology to your vessel in an attempt to make it better than everyone else’s. Crew members can be recruited from all over the world, each of whom adds their own special ability, and new cannons and torpedoes can also be purchased to give yourself a better chance of victory during the various airship battles you’ll encounter.
Although sometimes slow-paced affairs, these turn-based ship-to-ship fights are good fun for the most part. Each round consists of four turns, with the player choosing what weapons or magic to use at the start of each round in the 4×4 grid that appears. Certain events may lead to you or the enemy having an upper hand or special attack available, which will be reflected in the symbols present at the top of the grid, allowing for a certain degree of tactics to be implemented regarding when to attack and when to defend. If anything, they provide a refreshing change from the more generic random character battles, something much more akin to those found in Final Fantasy or Breath of Fire. Annoyingly, these much smaller-scale battles occur too frequently, often breaking up the flow of the gameplay, a big shame when you consider the amount of effort that’s gone into it. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with them – special attacks and magic can allow for some intense tactical encounters which really challenge the player for victory, and it’s a nice touch to have your other party members ‘pretend’ to battle on when one character is taking their turn – it’s just that when so many similar battles are encountered in one corridor of one dungeon they tend to become a chore. Still, on the bright side it makes levelling up a hell of a lot faster.
The charm of Skies of Arcadia has been perfectly translated into this GameCube iteration, with a few extra side quests thrown in for good measure, and the sheer amount of enjoyment waiting to be experienced can’t be understated. Although the slightly over-frequent random battles act a bit like a spanner in the works of what is otherwise a masterpiece of design and creativity, it’s something that can be lived with without too much of a problem, and to be honest with you it’s not as bad as most people say. The game never ceases to be fun, with new plot twists and developments popping up around every corner, and the amount of freedom offered is breathtaking. This is an adventure that deserves to be played by everyone; it’s a gem that any air pirate would be proud of.