Review: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (~25 hours)

We live in a changing world.  Games of today are played more on tablets than home consoles, and Facebook more than Game Boy.  So it feels fitting that this game is called “A Link to the Past”.  There are numerous efforts to catalog and preserve retro games, including the Video Game History Foundation’s attempt to get classic games stored digitally at the Library of Congress, but only time will tell if future generations will actually play the classics.

Just like the joystick was replaced by the D-Pad, the D-Pad has been replaced by the touchscreen.  A Link to the Past was designed for the D-Pad, and boy is it hard to go back to joystick games.  Touchscreen games support virtual D-Pads, but the most popular form of input for touchscreen games is the direct kind.  Touching a button, an icon, a plot of land, or a destination for a character using your pointer finger instead of your thumb, a screen instead of a plastic cross.

Perhaps A Link to the Past will be the last classic D-Pad style game I play this year.  But it IS a classic, at least, in the “games as art” sense.  The graphics push Super Nintendo to it’s limit.  There is rain, fog, darkness, and fire.  The color palette is rich, but not over-the-top.  Link’s sword swing and run animation are very smooth. The music includes classics such as the theme to Kakariko Village and the Hyrule Field Main Theme.  And the controls, especially after receiving the Pegasus Boots, feel light and breezy for a 2D game.

The worst I can say is that A Link to the Past is occasionally an intricate slog.  There are fourteen dungeons total, and that seems like too many.  The dungeons can be confusing to navigate, and the reward — a new item — overcomplicates gameplay outside of dungeons, requiring certain items in certain parts of the overworld.  There is a light and dark world, doubling the initial size of the map.  Compare this to a more simple game, like Mario Kart in which sixteen races completes the game.  Or Walden, a game in which the only real mechanic is walking.  My least favorite thing, however, is that the story is… brief.  Though the first Zelda had hardly any text, more recent ones are brimming with dialog.  I like that.

Perhaps we will get a Zelda for tablets or Facebook.  But this is Zelda from 1991.  It’s long.  It doesn’t provide instant gratification like other games of the era, such as Mortal Kombat or DOOM.  But it did provide a formula for future Zelda games, like Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess.  And the series as a whole is considered among the best for consoles.  Time will tell if future generations will play the Zelda series, or where games are headed after mobile devices.  But it feels like a game made with heart.  I hope it isn’t lost to time.


21 days without a panic attack — How I did it

My last post was about panic attacks, and I’m happy to share that it seems as though I’ve recently overcome them. I had suffered from panic attacks for three years, and though I have gone for three weeks without a panic attack before, it always seemed to be random luck and not because of a therapy I tried.

So what is the therapy? Cognative Behavior Therapy or CBT. Specifically, the book “When Panic Attacks” by Dr. David Burns which covers CBT techniques for overcoming anxiety, panic, and depression. There are forty techniques in all. If you’re like me, when you read the book, some of the techniques will resonate with you better than others. I particularly found success with one called “Memory Rescripting”, in which you mentally reshape a memory so that it is no longer threatening or harmful, as well as “Cognative Exposure” techniques in which you mentally expose yourself to things that cause panic, instead of trying to mentally run away.

The final chapter of the book recommends selecting fifteen of the forty techniques at random and trying them to see which work. This is exactly what I did, and it seems to have been a big success. It’s been three weeks and counting.

I met someone else who did CBT for panic attacks and he stopped having them.  I asked him “Do you live in fear that the panic attacks might come back?” His response was, “No, because now I know what to do.”

To your health.

Overcoming Panic Attacks: An Ongoing Journey

I have been suffering from panic attacks on and off for about three years now.  I also suffer from panic disorder, which, put succinctly, is living in fear that another panic attack will happen.  As of late December 2016, early January 2017, I have sought help for my panic attacks with a therapy called CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy.

I have actually made significant progress because of this therapy.  Specifically, I used to go to bed in the middle of a panic attack, and wake up the next day, still having a panic attack.  I know it’s crazy, but that’s how bad my panic attacks were.  Now, I can get a panic attack to end the same day or evening that it started.  The longest it’s taken for this to happen is four and a half hours.  The shortest length of time has been one hour.

Here are the best pieces of advice I have received.

  • If you feel anxiety coming on, one of the best things you can do is focus on the breath.  Count (in) 1 2 3 4, (out) 1 2 3 4 5 6.  If you keep practicing this every time you feel anxiety coming on, you can often prevent a panic attack from occurring.
  • Focus on something external.  I like to turn the ceiling fan on and listen to it squeak every time it makes a full rotation.  Count the squeaks it makes.  This is not only good advice for before a panic attack starts, but also good advice for when a panic attack is occurring.  This is one of the best ways I know of to get a panic attack to stop.
  • If a panic attack is happening, just let it go.  It sounds so simple, but it really is good advice.  Try to do the things you would do if you weren’t having a panic attack at all.  If there are dirty dishes, do the dishes.  If there’s trash that needs to go out, take the trash out.
  • If you are away from home, and home is your safety location, stay away from home.  The last panic attack I had was yesterday at a library, and I stayed at the library for forty minutes before deciding it wasn’t going to end there.  If you can trust that you can end an anxiety attack anywhere, you can have one start and stop no matter where you are.
  • Take medication as an absolute last ditch effort to stop a panic attack.  Medication can provide more of a psychological benefit more than a real one.  A so called “placebo effect”  You think that because you took a pill, the attack will surely stop.  If you can trust that you have the power in you to end a panic attack yourself, you can get one to end with no medication.

I am currently on my way to the library to take out another book on ending panic attacks.

I have confidence that the attacks will stop, because many people who seek help get their panic attacks to end.

I will continue to post about panic attacks as they continue to occur, and hopefully as they do not occur.  Thank you.  God bless.

Mental Health Recovery: A Reason for Hope

I have somewhat secretly been on a long, dark and winding journey through mental illness’s highs and lows for the past six years.  Only recently have I found an incredible reason for hope for recovery: food.  Below is my story.

Early Signs of Illness:

At the age of twenty-four, I had to move out of my apartment and back in with my parents for my first ever mental health symptom: mania.  Living with my parents again, I kept telling my mom “it feels like my brain is on fire… it feels like my brain is on fire.”  There were countless trips to the psych ward of the local hospital, in which I spent many sleepless nights as a guinea pig being tried on countless medications, 95% of which did absolutely nothing for me.  After over a full year of suffering, my symptoms finally improved, and my parents and the doctors simply attributed the change to the medication I was then taking.  

Truth be told, I improved to the point where I was able to hold a job in the field I studied in college, information technology, but the improvement only lasted a year, and soon my health again started to deteriorate.  I began having panic attacks, and the racing thoughts and mania returned for more sleepless nights, to the point where after a year and a half with the employer, I had to quit the job because things were so bad.

The doctor I was seeing at the time had me on the medication that “healed” me from the first time I was suffering, but now it had almost no effect.  He kept telling me “We can keep going up on the meds!  We can keep going up on the meds!”, and we did, to literally no improvement in my condition.  We found another doctor, who put me on two different meds that, again, seemed to “heal” me.  But it was only about two months after this that things again got worse.

At the age of twenty-seven, I heard the first ever voice in my head, and it had a lot to say.  Soon enough, I was hospitalized yet again, this time for over a year of my life.  The voices were yelling at me for months and months, and once again I was tried on a battery of medications.  We eventually tried something that seemed to reduce the symptoms, and finally I was released from the hospital.

Life in a Mental Hospital:

I will not allow myself to be bitter for all the time spent in a hospital.  Truthfully, I’ve had some good times in a hospital, and made friends with staff and patients alike.  Patients, I feel I especially need to mention, are not the scum of the universe, despite popular opinion in this country.  They are regular people you would be happy to have as neighbors and friends.

Fellow patients and I have played cards, cracked jokes, taken potshots at terrible TV shows, and shared stories about our interests and the things we love in life.  For all I know, there could again be future trips to the hospital, and again, I will not allow myself to be bitter.  A life of regrets is a life wasted.

Hope Outside of a Pill:

After hearing voices and being hospitalized for over a year, my parents thought it would be best to send me to a farm somewhere along the East Coast to get acclimated to life outside of a hospital again.  A so called “Healing Community”, it was actually a wonderful place with wonderful people, and more importantly, an extremely healthy menu.  I have experimented with vegetarian eating in my life (before I first got sick), and this farm just so happened to have healthy vegan foods as an option for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I decided to give it a try, not long after my arrival.

Somehow, all the horrible symptoms I was experiencing in my year-long stay at the hospital magically cleared up.  I didn’t hear a single voice in my head in the entire five months that I was there.  Little did I know, I was on something called the 80/10/10 diet, but more on that later.  And I regret to say it took me until very recently to make the connection that there might be a dietary connection to one’s mental health.  Perhaps we really “are what we eat”.  At the farm, I worked with the doctor there to gradually go lower and lower on the medication I was taking, to the lowest level I have ever been on since first getting sick at age twenty-four.

Enter Sean Miller’s Story:

After serving my time at the farm — five months — I came back home to my parents.  Eating the way I once did at my parents house, it didn’t take long before I had the symptoms I once did.  Two hospitalizations later, I was back on the pill that was first prescribed for hearing voices.  Symptoms improved, but it wasn’t foolproof.  I was still hearing voices every so often.

Looking for whatever hope I could, I found a YouTube video which served as a promotion for the movie “When the Voices Fell Silent”. The movie is the story of a young man named Sean Miller who completely recovered from schizophrenia partially through changes to his diet.  After seeing this, I finally pieced together the dots of what was happening on the farm: my mental health improved — in an incredibly short amount of time, because of how I was eating.

I implore you to watch “When the Voices Fell Silent” if you are currently suffering.

Enter Victoria Everett’s Story (or, how to accelerate the rate at which you heal to “overnight”):

I went back to eating vegan after watching Sean Miller’s movie, and improvements were slow but steady.  Unlike the farm, the vegan diet I was eating now included a lot of bread, popcorn, seeds and nuts. After two months, I was still hearing voices.  Again looking for hope, I found a post by a woman named Victoria Everett about changing one’s diet to be almost entirely fruits and vegetables to have schizophrenia symptoms virtually disappear overnight.

Figuring there was not much left to lose, I tried it.  I woke up the next day a changed man, with a literal 99.99% reduction in symptoms.  More than just that, it was as though a cloud, or maybe a mental fog, had been completely lifted from me.  My thinking was clear and the voices were gone.

This takes us to the present.  I have now been eating mostly low-fat, raw vegan, on the 80/10/10 diet for two weeks to phenomenal results.  The voices, the visual hallucinations, and the clouded thinking haven’t returned since.

Below I will document my findings, and the vegan foods that I found help mental health the most and the least.

Dietary Observations:

Fruits and vegetables:  If you have been diagnosed with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder and go on the 80/10/10 diet (80% carbohydrates, 10% fat, and 10% protein), with at least 90 percent of the carbohydrates you eat coming from fruits and vegetables, you will wake up the next day a changed person.  The amount of time you will hear voices will go down 99.99%, and if you continue this way on the 80/10/10 diet, the frequency with which they occur will be less and less on top of that, to the point where you can reduce and most likely eliminate medication.  Fruits seem to improve mood more than vegetables, but both are extremely good for you.  Raw is much more preferable to cooked.

Grains:  Grains can be tolerated but only in small quantities.  A little bit of a grain seems to have a stabilizing effect on mood, and also reduces the likelihood that you will hear a voice.  If you go off of grains for about a week and reintroduce them into your diet slowly after that, a small amount can feel like a cup of coffee it provides so much energy.  It’s a double-edged sword though.  Too many grains is among the surest ways I know to hear voices the next day.  I eat about one-fifth of a thick slice of toast made from homemade bread every other, to every third day.  This is all the grains I need.  Whole grains are much better than refined ones for their lower glycemic index and for containing a lot of fiber.

Nuts and seeds:  Like grains, these can be tolerated in small quantities.  I really don’t see even half as many benefits from nuts and seeds as I see from grains though.  If nothing else, they are a tasty snack.  Too much will bring voices back.

Legumes:  Depending on what it is, it shouldn’t cause too many problems, and is probably very good for you in ways I don’t yet know.  Things like chickpeas, beans and soy are fine.  But peanuts are legumes, and they have a lot of fat, so be careful.

Other factors:

Exercise:  Said to stabilize neurotransmitter levels in the brain, including dopamine, too much of which is widely believed to be the reason for auditory and visual hallucinations in people with with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, as well as distorted thinking.  For me personally, exercise has a day-long lasting impact on improving my mood.  There are many good reasons to exercise, including something called “neurogenesis”, in which new brain cells are created.  I recommend the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey to learn more.  I exercise at least an hour every day, and sometimes go for as long as two hours.

Calorie Restriction / Overeating:  I used to think that because I was burning over 1,000 calories on the treadmill on a daily basis, I could eat as much as I want without repercussions.  Not so!  Overeating is one of the surest ways that voices will show up the following day, and sometimes the same day.  Calorie restriction is smart for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it will make you live longer.  Experiments on calorie restriction in lab mice can increase life expectancy by 30%.  Also, some of the healthiest, longest-lived people in the world live on only ~1,900 calories a day and get frequent exercise on top of that.  I recommend the book Healthy at 100 by John Robbins if you want to learn more about living longer.  

Oh yeah, and calorie restrictions greatly reduces the likelihood of hearing a voice.

Some More Thoughts:

I have been living with a quiet and clear mind for a two weeks despite the “you’ll-be-damned-for-the-rest-of-your-life” diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder.  This is entirely because of changes I made to diet and lifestyle.  Two weeks might not sound like much, but to someone who’d previously wake up to taunting voices in his head, it can feel like an eternity.  Medication has never been this powerful.  

Also, lest we forget, I was living with a quiet and clear mind for five months on the farm because of the same changes, on increasingly less and less medication, without any symptoms to speak of.

I want to spread the word to the best of my ability that this disorder seems entirely controllable through completely non-medical intervention.  “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.”  

I stand on the shoulders of giants, as I am the third living example that I know of who found this is a legitimate way to end mental health problems, with Sean Miller from the movie “When the Voices Fell Silent”, and Victoria Everett from the blog Crazy Banana Lady being the previous two examples.  Additionally, these two people have been living medication-free for six years and eight-and-a-half years respectively, proving that this level of health is completely sustainable.  I don’t doubt there will be more and more examples in the coming years.  Hope finds a way.

If you are saying to yourself, “I’d rather suffer than give up steaks, cheeseburgers, french fries, alcohol, etc”, I really can’t help you, other than to say give delayed gratification a chance.  Sure those cheese fries are great on your tongue and the way down your throat, but in my mind, it’s not at all worth compromising your sanity for.

Is it Any Wonder?:

I am still young, a man of thirty, and I have hope that there’s still time to do the things I want to do in life.  Even if I don’t, again, “a life of regrets is a life wasted”.

But we are at the dawn of a new era, with people like T. Colin Campbell, John Robbins, Neal Barnard, and John McDougall toting the incredible benefits of plant-based eating.  Plant-based eating can save you from cancer, heart-disease, diabetes, stroke, high-blood pressure… even patients with M.S. are showing promising results.  And now it seems mental health could be added to the list.

Is it any wonder that United States has some of the worst health outcomes of hospital patients in the developed world, where they feed you a diet of dead cow, pig, chicken, cheese, whole milk, mayonnaise, and eggs?


I wish you all the best.

Review: Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut

People on NeoGAF said that Shadowrun Returns was more of a prototype for the supposedly better games that followed: Shadowrun: Dragonfall, and Shadowrun: Hong Kong.  Well, I can’t speak about Shadowrun: Hong Kong (though hopefully I will soon), but Dragonfall I actually found to be at times less enjoyable than Shadowrun Returns.  What I like so much about Returns is it’s Philip K. Dick-esque story.  In Dragonfall, the story takes a backseat for more of an action focus.  The action is great, and it’s a solid package for it’s $15 asking price on Steam, but the game could have been perfect if the story was as good as the rest of the game.

To sum up Dragonfall’s story, you are basically a team of Shadowrunners collecting bounties on anything that will net them money.  You’re accumulating money to gain information from a supercomputer to help you avenge your friend’s death.  That’s about it for three quarters of the game.  Your team needs a lot of money, and you’re taking on any mission that will help you earn it.  Though the story gets more focused later,  It pales in comparison to Returns’ story.

To make matters worse, the writing is often lazy, resorting to using the F-word on multiple occasions.  I know I’m being very hard on this part of the game, but I want to be clear: the story and occasionally the writing are the only bad parts of the game.  It’s disappointing, but I guess the previous game’s writing and story are difficult to top.

The combat once again is a high point in this Shadowrun.  You develop strategies as you go.  Having a decker on the team is always good for hacking computer terminals or entering “the matrix”.  Having your team dispersed across a room makes it less likely for a grenade to damage multiple allies.  Winning battles results in karma points, which can improve your skill with a weapon, in ranged combat, or boost your intelligence, to name a few examples.  Even battles you lose a couple times are still fun, because you develop new strategies for when you restart the match.

Something nice is that your teammates never actually die.  They go back to headquarters and get treated for their wounds.  This is in contrast to Returns, where once someone dies, they’re gone for good.  There are also a lot of opportunities to pick up items, keeping a full stash of useful goods for battles.

The most disappointing thing about Shadowrun Returns was a lack of side missions.  Well, they corrected this mistake in Dragonfall.  There are quite a few side missions, earning you currency and easing the difficulty level by granting you more karma points.  It also adds an extra ten or so hours to the game which certainly adds to the value.  I didn’t do all the side missions, but I really liked the game, so I might do them on a second playthrough.

Shadowrun: Dragonfall is the most fun when you’re in combat.  Sadly, the story is highly uninteresting, but that’s my only real complaint about it.  Harebrained Schemes created a fantastic RPG again that’s worthy of mention when talking about the CRPG revival that’s currently ongoing.  I really hope HBS keeps making Shadowrun games, but it seems they’re moving away from it with their newer titles.  Regardless, they created two great games in the series, and more than likely it’s three great games.  I just haven’t started Shadowrun: Hong Kong yet.


Brief Game Reviews: Sonic & Knuckles

This is a good Sonic, but not as good as Sonic 3.  If I had to order the Genesis era games (now that I’ve played them all), it would go Sonic CD, Sonic 3, Sonic 2, Sonic & Knuckles, and last, Sonic 1.  I’m going to keep the review short because again, if you’ve played Sonic, you know what to expect.  Something neat about this one is there’s a boss at the end of each act.  Playing through Lava Reef Zone is fun if you have the fire power-up, cause the lava can’t hurt you.  Also, Sky Sanctuary Zone brings back some classic Sonic boss fights.  The Knuckles adventure is very similar to the Sonic one, so don’t feel obligated to play it.


Brief Game Reviews: Sonic the Hedgehog 3

This is probably the best Sonic the Hedgehog game from the Genesis era that isn’t Sonic CD (apologies to Sonic 2 fans).  This will be a short review, as if you’ve played Sonic before, you know what to expect.  Graphically, the game looks great with really bright colors.  Music is top notch too.  Now Sonic can pick up items that put a circular barrier around him, and have the power of water, fire, or electricity.  Water lets you breathe underwater, fire gives you a homing attack, and electricity attracts rings to you.  Get hit, and you lose the barrier, instead of all of your rings.  The second to last level is great and the final boss isn’t too hard.  Again, as good as you’re going to get on Genesis outside of Sonic CD.


Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers (Game Boy)

I’m on a role beating games from my childhood, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers included.  Though truth be told, there needs to be an asterisk next to the previous sentence.  I used a Game Genie code for Infinite Health to get to the end of the game.  Back from the Sewers is a thoroughly challenging game that I’m not sure it’s possible to beat without cheating.  It’s fun until the end of the second level, after which, it becomes too difficult to even fathom.

The first level is great.  You’re being attacked by foot soldiers in the sewers from the front and the back, and the level has sort of a rhythm game quality to it.  The level takes place on a strictly 2D plane, and you need to hit the enemies with split second timing or else you take damage.  Making it to the end without taking any damage is rewarding.  The second level follows suit above ground, with a second platform you can jump on and manhole covers you can fall in.  It ceases to be fun by the second level’s boss, who’s supremely unfair, shooting bullets and jumping at you, while a foot soldier in the window above drops pots on your head.  The game falls apart from here on.

There are any number of things that can damage you from this point on, including robots, robot dogs, rolling barrels, rolling boulders, and fire rising from the ground.  To get it exactly right where you hit / avoid all of these things and more through the remaining four levels is nearly impossible, not to mention the bosses remain unfair.  To the game’s credit, if you die as one turtle — or get captured, as the game says — you can start back as another turtle who hasn’t been captured, but it’s still not enough.  The game is still too hard.

The game actually has really great music though, of all things.  It’s sticks with you after you’re done playing.  On top of that, there are voice samples, which must have been quite a feat to get out of the Game Boy’s limited hardware.  You might want to check out a GBS file of the game’s soundtrack.  It’s quality chiptune.

Back from the Sewers can probably only be completed with Game Genie / Game Shark, but I’m glad I saw the ending, and can consider another game from my youth beaten.  It’s not very long, and the soundtrack keeps you going more than anything else, but don’t expect much from this title.  Surprisingly enough, it came out the same year as Turtles in Time, and was also released by Konami.  Try that instead.


Joint Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (Arcade), and The Simpsons (Arcade)

I can say with 60% certainty that my local roller skating rink (now demolished) had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time arcade cabinet.  I can say with 100% certainty that my local bowling alley (still open) had a Simpsons arcade cabinet (and possibly still does).  And I can say with 100% certainty that my friend had TMNT: Turtles in Time for Super Nintendo.  Either way, these are two classic arcade brawlers that are sort of boring to play without quarters.

These games deserve to be reviewed together, as they are both arcade games released in 1991 from Konami.  While they have their differences, namely that The Simpsons is four player and TMNT is two player, they both are two button brawlers (jump and attack) where you’re generally fighting the same enemy type over and over.  The real fun of both games is looking at the graphics (in which TMNT has a bit of an edge), and listening to the music and sound, both of which have voice samples, and both of which use the same sound chip.  Both games are designed to eat quarters, although neither is nearly as unforgiving as, say, Metal Slug.

Onto some differences.  TMNT’s story revolves around Krang stealing the Statue of Liberty, and Shredder opening a portal in time to keep you from getting it back.  You travel through some American history like Wounded Knee, and move on to the (distant) future of 2020 A.D., where there’s a neo-metropolis, and also the year 2100 A.D. fought on a space base.  You finally make it back to New York to fight Shredder, who’s pretty darn tough.  Once the battle ends, the turtles return Lady Liberty to Liberty Island.  Roll credits.

Meanwhile, in the Simpsons, Smithers and Mr. Burns steal Maggie after she replaces her pacifier with a diamond jewel.  You travel to Springfield locations such as Moe’s Tavern, Channel 6, “Dreamland”, and last, the nuclear power plant, chasing Smithers carrying Maggie.  In the end you fight Smithers, and then Mr. Burns in a robot suit.  Once both are defeated, Maggie is released, and the Simpsons have a happy family moment.  Roll credits.

Again, you’re generally fighting the same enemies throughout both games.  In TMNT, it’s Foot Soldiers, in the Simpsons, it’s business people in suits (likely henchmen of Mr. Burns).  The Simpsons has two button-mashing mini games, but is shorter by about ten minutes.  Both games have health items.  In TMNT, it’s always pizza, where in the Simpsons, it could be any number of things, from apples to hoagies (grinders, subs, whatever you call them).  TMNT has a pizza box with a bomb on in, that, when consumed, has you spinning around destroying every enemy in sight.  In the Simpsons, there are multi-use weapons like a slingshot, and single use weapons like a bowling ball.

It’s hard to believe arcade brawlers were so popular that the same company would make two in the same year, especially considering how expensive arcade hardware was to produce.  The games aren’t as fun with unlimited continues.  Instead, it’s better to play where every hit you take gets you closer to losing another quarter.  But alas, these are two very similar games that were fun at the bowling alley but haven’t aged especially well.

Score for both games: 3/5

Review: Skies of Arcadia: Legends

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?