Skies of Arcadia: Legends is, for the most part, a delight. Although my favorite Dreamcast RPG is Grandia II, this is a very close second. Skies is a classic turn-based JRPG about exploring the skies on an airship and the locations and people you meet along the way. The game does drag a bit at the end, but if you’re into really great early 3D role-playing games like those on Playstation, here’s one for Dreamcast and GameCube.
The story mostly revolves around Vyse, Aika, and Fina, who are air pirates fighting against the evil Valuan Empire. Vyse and his crew are after the six Moon Crystals to restore peace to the world, while the Valuans wish to obtain them to rule over the world with an iron fist. You meet a lot of interesting characters on your journey, including a old man looking to kill a giant whale (Moby Dick?), a womanizer, and a Valuan Prince who wishes to fight against the empire that raised him. The story doesn’t really have a lot of plot twists, but I enjoyed following along.
A lot of the fun of the game is exploring the world. The game takes place entirely in the air, and you fly an airship to various flying islands. You start out being restricted to a small part of the map, but as you progress, your ship gets enhancements that lets it explore more of the world, until eventually the entire map is open to you. Without spoiling later game locations, much of the world is inspired by locations from planet Earth. An example is Nasrad, which could easily be compared to a Middle Eastern city, existing in the desert and home to a giant palace.
Being a traditional role-playing game, cities have weapon and item shops where you can stock up on gear, but you can also upgrade weapons and buy items for your airship, as the game features airship battles in addition to regular battles. Most interesting, is that almost every town has a Sailor’s Guild, where you can buy discoveries to look for, or sell discoveries you’ve found. Discoveries are rumored locations on the map that you have to find with your airship. There’s a reward for each discovery. Also, every Sailor’s Guild has a Wanted List of pirates that have a bounty to their name. These pirates scale to your level, so fighting them is always a challenge. The Sailor’s Guild was a fun hook, and good way to stock up on gold.
As mentioned, you can get in airship battles, though these are sort of low points in the game. You and your opponent need to spend a lot of time “focusing” to prepare for attacks, which, along with the slow pace of the battles, makes it feel like a Dragonball Z episode, where more time is spent watching two parties (or people, in DBZ) charge than watching much attacking. Airship battles are more strategic however, where you often get an option midway through like deciding to move in closer or hold your distance. One of these options is the *right* option, giving you more chances to attack or allowing you to use your ship’s most powerful cannon, so use your best judgement for every battle.
Normal battling is really fun. It’s very much a traditional RPG: You’re in a party of one to four people, and can attack, defend, use magic, or an item. Unique to Skies, are “Spirit Points”, which are shared by the entire party. Every magic attack costs one magic point, but any number of SP. There are also “S-Moves”, which cost only SP, and are unique to each character. If you want to use an S-Move that costs four SP, and magic that costs six SP, but only have nine SP for that round, you’re out of luck. You can have your characters “focus”, which raises SP for the next round (on top of the SP you automatically get for a round) although focusing costs that character’s turn. Balancing your parties SP meter is a big part of the challenge in battles, as well as the fun. Otherwise, turn-based RPG fans will feel right at home as it’s pretty standard combat.
Something to the game’s credit, is there is very little grinding. So little, in fact, that I only recall doing it one time. Maybe the game is just too easy, but the character leveling is right in line with where you’re supposed to be fighting, and not a lot of great RPGs are great at that (Earthbound, e.g., or even Final Fantasy). The game is around forty hours long because it’s a seriously long game, not because you’re running around the world grinding all the time. Pretty amazing.
I have to give Skies of Arcadia: Legends five stars. For one thing, it makes me nostalgic for the Dreamcast. But for another, it’s a seriously great early-3D RPG from an era when a lot of 3D RPG makers were still finding their footing. Sega and Overworks really nailed it. I shudder to think what this game would have been were it released today, with streamlined combat and uncanny valley graphics. Skies has excellent writing, a long fun adventure, and charm. What more does a JRPG need?