To an air pirate, reaching their goals of treasure and fame, it’s enough to tell a tale being passed down from person to person. However, in the eyes of a gamer it’s going through the journey of great discoveries, learning the culture of new continents and bringing together the bonds of friendship and newfound love. That’s right folks, I’m going to talk about the ever popular cult hit Dreamcast/Gamecube classic…Skies of Arcadia.
Knowing that I’m still working on part 2 of the Sakura Wars, I thought this would be great filler segment that will connect to the development of Sakura Wars 3 and 4. So you can say this is kind of Sakura Wars Part 1.5 (with flying pirates)
For those who have never heard of the game, Skies of Arcadia is a Japanese Role Playing Game that was also “unique” *cough, yes I used this word before on another JRPG before but hear me out. Unlike other JRPG’s from its time, gamers are being placed onto the shoes of teenage hero Vyse along with his friends to travel all over the continents of Arcadia where islands naturally float in the air and pirates of both good and evil rule the skies from treasure and adventure to stop the end of the world.
During the short life of the Dreamcast, Sega needed to find ways to help boost its sales and recognition from its competitors. It was at this moment Sega split developers into small individual teams to come up with new Intellectual Properties for their console. Thus, the birth of Space Channel 5, Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi and Shenmue. Among all of these titles only one (and Shenmue) stood out the most, Skies of Arcadia
Developed by Overworks, the company was formed through the remains of Team Andromeda and some of the original Phantasy Star developers to design a game under the title Project Ares. After months of development Eternal Arcadia would be released in Japan and later Skies of Arcadia in the west.
Like Sakura Wars, Skies of Arcadia was another project that developed a huge anticipation and expectation as Reiko Kodama the producer behind the game, previously worked on Phantasy Star 1,2 and 4, had also work on the first two Sonic games on the Genesis (Mega Drive for Japan/Europe). Shuntaro Tanaka the scenario writer had previously written the stories for the first Sakura Wars games (huh, now the connections are getting really close to what’s about to come). The games soundtrack would be composed by Yutaka Minobe and Tatsuyuki Maeda, the latter would be recognized for composing the music for Sonic 3 & Knuckles. The last ingredient would be the combination of Team Andromeda who had previously worked on the critically acclaimed JRPG classic Panzer Dragoon saga, and the lack of high quality JRPG’s on the Dreamcast.
Unlike modern game development, Skies of Arcadia had the staff of around 20 people with fulfilling the goals for the final product to have (1) each individual houses can be entered without the requirements of loading. (2) Providing the anime art style to show more emotion and expressions that seems to be lacking with games like Final Fantasy VII and VIII. And finally (3) keeping the tone of bright and cheerful with simple gameplay to focus on exploring huge world, as the games mentioned (FF7 and 8) tends to be darker in tone and complicated in gameplay.
After the release, Skies of Arcadia would go on to receive universal critical acclaim that is the third highest ranking video game on the Dreamcast category alongside Soul Caliber and Jet Set Radio. Unfortunately, sales of the games were not commercially successful.
Like most JRPG’s Skies of Arcadia is split into two segments; exploration and combat. Firstly exploration, the game delivers a world full of floating islands that are packed with multicultural characteristics and hidden discoveries which help fleshed out the lore of the Arcadia. For most part of the game, players explore different continents with their air ship and enter exotic locales of the Ice cold lands, Persian city influences, tribal villages and industrial districts each leaving a strong impression on the players. Finally when players arrive on location, they are able to walk on foot entering houses, talk with NPCs, buy items and obviously explore islands.
Secondly combat, as you explore, random encounters will appear alongside commands of attack, item usage and blocking (like most turn base games). Then the usage of “spirits points” which is charged up in every round can be used to pull off special attacks and magic. Another interesting feature is allowing the player to change the colour elements on their weapons from Red (Offense), Green (Healing), Purple (Status Effects), Yellow (Lightning), Blue (Water) and Silver (Life and Death). What each elements does is; when players repetitively grind points to level each colour, they obtain magic to be used in combat.
On the other hand, we also have air ship battles. Bare in mind in recent memory Assassin Creed 3 along with Sly 3 may have ships battles, but Skies of Arcadia was one of the early games to implore ship battles. Like land combat, it flows through turn base commands which allows players to fire cannons, healing or defending against another ship.
In October 2001, after the Sega abandon the Dreamcast and instead develop future games for other consoles, Skies of Arcadia was to be ported on the Gamecube and Playstation 2. Development on the port began in January 2002 to be aimed at the mid-2002 release. However in 2003, Sega had announced the cancellation of the Playstation 2 version however the Gamecube version would later be release in 2003 under the title Skies of Arcadia Legend.
While Legend remains the same as the Dreamcast, a lot of changes and improvements were made to the Gamecube version including improve character models, reduce random encounter rates, new content like bounties and extra story involving with a newly introduced character Piastol. On the other hand, the music quality takes a dive down to keep most of the game codes intact.
Other than the cancellation of a PS2 and PC releases, a sequel was considered in early 2000s but never went into full production. In September 2002, after completing development on Legends for the Gamecube, Skies of Arcadia producer Rieko Kodama told that her team is still interested in making the sequel come true. Again by December 2004, plans for a sequel appeared but the project was paused indefinitely as most of the members of the team were busy developing Sakura Wars 5: So Long My Love
Beginning in 2010 Sega began a campaign to release HD ports of Dreamcast games digitally through PSN and Xbox Live with titles like Sonic Adventure 1 & 2, Crazy Taxi and Jet Set Radio. Yet the most frequently requested games were both Shenmue and Skies of Arcadia has no plans, even though Sega did renewed the Skies of Arcadia trademarks later in the year (if rumors are true about Shenmue HD Collection coming soon, maybe the possibility of Skies of Arcadia would happen).
Finally, Vyse, Aika and Fina would later makes appearences in Valkyria Chronicles. While Vyse again appears in another Sega game Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed.
Rieko Kodama would later go on to produce Project Altered Beast and the 7th Dragon Series. Now the question is… What did the team of Skies of Arcadia developers go?... The answer!