The days of adventurers and pirates are just one of those many romanticized time periods that seem to have been all but ignored by the video game industry. Along with old time westerns, games about pirates rarely seem to be given the respect one would think they deserve.
In the past pirate games have either been really good, as in the case with Sid Meier’s classic Pirates! Gold
, or really bad, like Space Pirates
on the 3DO. Either way, the titles are few and far between, and rarely do you see more than one swashbuckling title per system. But the times may be changing, and the era of skulls, crossbones, explorers, and the pirates, may just be coming back for another try.
In many ways Skies of Arcadia Legends
is reminiscent to the recently released, and poorly received, Disney cartoon Treasure Planet
. Of course, the product is ripe for comparisons, what with the pirates and the flying boat theme, but in reality Skies of Arcadia came first. You see, this is a port to a Dreamcast game of the same name (minus the “Legends”).
The pirate's cure for constipation. Hold on tight kids!
This version is a longer, more polished, and graphically enhanced, however, giving you more than enough reason to take a second look at the title. Over the last year, companies have done everything in their power to bring back past franchises, and while some are going for name recognition, Skies of Arcadia is simply going for ANY kind of recognition. Here’s a title that was fresh and creative when it was first released, and yet nobody seemed to think twice about it.
Skies of Arcadia is one of those games that from the very start sucks you in, and keeps you hooked even when it becomes silly and unrealistic. It’s one of those classic role-playing games that reminds you what it was like before long-winded games relied on cinemas filled with great graphics, surround sound, and professionally delivered voice acting. This is a game that reminds us how much fun it is to simply follow a couple of interesting, yet unlikely heroes off on an adventure not even they can’t fathom.
Enter Vyse and Aika, a couple of “friendly” pirates who seem to always have a smile on their face and an optimistic outlook on hand. You can think of them as the Donny and Marie Osmond of the pirate trade. These swashbucklers navigate the world looking out for evil in whatever form it takes.
It’s on one of these adventures where the young pirates meet, as in steal, a mystery girl by the name of Fina. Unbeknownst to the crew, but outwardly evident to everybody playing the game, this mystery girl held the secrets to a whole adventure. An adventure filled with bizarre characters, hundreds of air ships, and an occasionally interesting story. All this leads to the biggest, and most impressive role-playing game to grace the GameCube.
But it’s not all good sailing in the Skies of Arcadia. Since it is essentially a port a two-year old Dreamcast title, there’s no denying that the game looks dated. The characters lack any real detail and the backgrounds have a tendency of repeating more than you’d like. There are a lot of basic polygons that stick out, especially if your eyes have become accustomed to high res visuals. And if you are actually looking for an impressive cinema with tons of poly’s on screen at once, you best be looking elsewhere, because Skies of Arcadia has nothing like that.
The game also lacks any real voice acting, unless you consider Aika’s “Okay!” and Vyse’s “Uh Huh!” This may sound like a small concern, especially since only a few years ago you’d almost never hear real voices in a role-playing games, but nowadays it feels almost as if there’s something missing.
It doesn’t help matters that much of the written dialog is mind-numbingly dull. Filled with cliché characters painted with broad strokes, and back and forth dialog that doesn’t seem like it will ever end. There are entire paragraphs in the game that seemed so unrealistic, I doubted even a rambling lunatic at a mental hospital would say such silly quotes.
Dammit Bill! I said fill the tank with Helium, not Hydrogen!
Thankfully Skies of Arcadia isn’t all text driven cinemas, as it manages to offer up a good-sized helping of action. In fact, this adventure game offers not one, but two extremely distinct ways of getting rid of enemy forces. There’s the tradition, turn-based role-playing game play, that I could try to explain, but would just bore you because you’ve heard it a thousand times before.
It is the second way you dispose of your foes that is what sets this game apart from all the other next generation RPGs. Being as so much of the game has you traveling the world in a flying pirate ship, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are some epic boat fights with you manning the cannons, bombs, and anything else you can throw at them.
When you aren’t in the middle of a life or death battle, you have plenty of time to fly around the world looking for new and interesting areas, plant life, islands, and other oddities. You can actually chart undiscovered areas, and claim prizes for doing so. It’s this aspect that proves to be the most unique, and actually makes Skies of Arcadia Legends stand apart from the crowd.
The world of Arcadia is extremely massive in scale, and design. Throughout your journey you’ll bump into just about every kind of world you could think of, including an ice world, a land engulfed in fire, and even a really bad patch of tornadoes. Nothing especially revolutionary here, but it is all put together nicely. The game has a sense of exploration you just haven’t felt in the recent Final Fantasy chapters, or many of the other new role-playing games, for that matter.
There are a few downsides to flying around, though. The game tends to have some issues when it comes to random battles. While this is usually not a problem when you are in a dungeon or on land somewhere, the onslaught of these battles in the sky really started to weigh on my nerves. There are moments towards the end of the game where I couldn’t travel from one town to another without ten minutes worth of random fights.
The problem isn’t so much the random battles, as many role-playing games are victims of this. Instead it’s the types of enemies you tend to battle while flying over the worlds. Unlike most of the dungeons and land-based enemies, the baddies you fight while you are in the air tend to be dull and time consuming, and generally don’t reward you with much in the way of experience. It’s hard to level up fighting these characters, and most of the experience you need comes from doing the various dungeons. It would have been nice if there were a way to fly without the worry of these time consuming battles.
Outside of the random battles, flying around the world is relaxing and a lot of fun. And frankly, by the end of the game you will have had a chance to not only pilot a standard whaling vessel, but also a fully equipped army warship, plus just about everything in between. You won’t really notice the difference in the ships until you take them into battle, but the pure fact that every seven hours or so you are changing boats keeps things fresh.
The story is actually pretty long and drawn out, even if it is a bit cornball from time to time. Skies of Arcadia Legends plays out similar to those old-fashioned adventure novels, with a brave, and maybe even stupid, hero, swashbuckling action, and a whole lot of tight moments that seem impossible to get out of. If it weren’t for the fact that pirates don’t seem to be hip in this day and age, I would say that this was every young boys fantasy.
The good guys are so good, you doubt they have ever cursed in their entire life. Whereas, by sharp contrast, the bad guys are so evil, I was surprised the programmers were able to keep the fire from coming out their eyes. It’s a simple world where everything is simple black and white, and nothing is more complex than it seems.
While the story will have you playing for well over thirty hours, the game actually has a number of extras that will have you playing the game well into the next season. Independent from the story, Vyse and Aika can hunt down the worlds most wanted criminals, thieves, and other unwashed, and generally unattractive, characters. If you beat them, either by destroying their boat, or fighting hand to hand, you will be able to collect the reward, and search out the next one on the list.
As time consuming as the mini games are, and believe me, they will suck your time away if you let them, they don’t make up for the fact that the game just doesn’t feel as new and innovative as it should. I don’t fault Sega for porting the game, especially since only a hand full of people actually sat down and played the Dreamcast version, but I do feel a little disappointed it wasn’t spruced up a little more.
Skies of Arcadia is one of those few games that does everything it needs to correctly, and yet still feels like a let down. Of course, if you’re a GameCube owner and you’ve been waiting for a role-playing game, this is the way to go. Outside of this, Evolution Worlds is your only option for true role-playing fun, and trust me, you don’t want that.
It’s easy to write off Skies of Arcadia because it’s not as good looking or as deep as other RPGs, but it is a fun game, and brings back a lot of the classic game play elements we loved in classic adventure titles. It’s not ground breaking, but it is 40 hours of exciting, pirate-y goodness.