|Title||:||Skies of Arcadia Legends|
|Platforms||:||Nintendo GameCube, Sega Dreamcast|
|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
It was an age of legend — an era of daring. And it was a time of airships.
Where gravity is more a suggestion than a law, islands float and ships fly for the horizon. Pirates and empires join in battle in Skies of Arcadia Legends, a Nintendo GameCube role-playing game (RPG) adapted from a Sega Dreamcast title released three years ago.
Players become Vyse, a young man starting his career as a Robin Hood of the skies. His life is interrupted by a visitor from another world who brings with her knowledge of ancient weapons of mass destruction. Vyse becomes embroiled in a race to save the world from the machinations of the Valua Empire, while making many colorful friends along the way. Their travels will take them through a world governed by six moons. Each moon has not only its own magic type, but a similar continent and culture. For example, the red moon symbolizes fire magic, and is represented by a scorching desert region.
It may sound simple, but these lands are not populated with no cookie-cutter characters here, with each vibrantly alive person you control or meet having her own look and mannerisms. Our heroes are optimistic in such a way as to be sincerely inspiring, not disgustingly sweet. The story is genuinely fun, funny, and surprising — elements missing from many of today's darker stories. Yes, there are bad guys here, and they do bad things, but it just makes victory all the sweeter. Even the good guys have issues, but not the personal demons that would disable them from functioning as a team toward a positive goal. The plot twists that occur along the way are surprising and satisfying.
The music fits this decor, with tunes that remind me somehow of Final Fantasy II or Wild Arms. After playing Final Fantasy X, Arcadia's written dialogue may seem antiquated, but the occasional one-liner helps give each hero some verbal personality.
As with most RPGs, much time is spent battling foes. The format here is menu-driven, turn-based combat. Players choose actions for each team member, then watch the results of those actions as enemy and ally operate. Unique to Arcadia are strengths and weaknesses based on the color of one's weapon, which can be changed during battle. These colors also determine the magic each hero learns. Each hero can learn the same magic, which blurs the boundaries of similarity; but each character's unique Super Moves, which are often more offensively effective than magic, rejustifies his existence.
The encounter rate is average, allowing players to do some exploration without getting bogged down in combat every five seconds. Most enemies can be overcome without much struggle, but the boss battles can worry a poorly-equipped player. Fortunately, players who succumb to superior strength can restart at the beginning of battle, without having to retrace their steps up to that point.
More interesting are the rarer ship battles, which generally occur at critical plot points. This fatal, aerial ballet between two ships requires elements of strategy and endurance. Do not engage in these combats if you have to be somewhere anytime soon.
After the Nintendo 64's dearth of RPGs, it's refreshing to see the genre supported on the GameCube. Sega needs to release more original titles for the console, instead of rehashing old titles, but Skies of Arcadia is good enough to not have suffered from age. It does both the genre and the GameCube proud.
This article is copyright (c) 2003, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 15-Feb-03