In a parallel universe, where Sega is still in the console business, we would've gotten this re-release earlier. But we still would've gotten the same game.
2014 is already 3 months old, yet we already saw a number of impact full events unfolding in this short period: Star Wars: The Old Republic reaching 10 million subscribers, the leaked trailer for Half-Life 3, Daisenryaku Perfect: Ruler of the Battlefield winning best game award at GDC and MySpace purchasing Oculus Rift for $580 million, just to name a few.
As far as gaming releases are concerned, there is one game that definitely stands out: Skies of Arcadia HD.
While other recent HD re-releases like Tales of Symphonia Chronicles and Final Fantasy X Remaster are worth checking out on their own, their release were never in doubt. But after years of fan outcry, Sega finally released the game on modern consoles as well as PC.
Just like the other HD editions, this one is not without its flaws however. It has as many improvements as it has unfortunate oversights and questionable changes - the biggest of them, without a doubt, is the inclusion of Nicolas Cage.
Hollywood started to pay attention to the video game industry (again) and decided to do what they can do best: Score with celebrities.
Normally, when big stars appear in video games, it usually is about portraying themselves. This can have sometimes better, sometimes worse results, but they're all at least a little bit entertaining. Yes, even Blood on the Sand was enjoyable due to the ridiculousness... and music of course.
But movie stars being a voice actor for a new video game character - that's truly unheard of, at least in the West.
Meta Gear Solid V started the trend with the replacement of long-time voice actor for Solid Snake (David Hayter) with 24 star Keifer Sutherland. Bayonetta 2 will follow suit, featuring Dita Von Teese and Miley Cyrus as Bayonetta and Jeanne respectively. Now we have Skies of Arcadia HD in which Nicolas Cage plays the role of young pirate adventurer Vyse.
It isn't as much a dubbing role as it is a product placement for Cage: His face is everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE. The flags, the armor emblems, the sails: His face replaces every noteworthy symbol in addition to replacing main character Vyse's face.
But despite that, the game is still quite enjoyable, as the gameplay remained untouched.
Skies of Arcadia tells the story of young pirate Vyse who fights against evil empires and hideous pirates. You do so on foot by fighting enemies face to face, as well as on a larger scale with your ship. Both combat modes are round-based and rely heavily on proper strategy.
Seeing the former relying on strategy might be nothing special to see in a traditional JRPG, but seeing the ship combat relying on carefully-planned decisions is a big deal. After all, when was the last time you saw that outside of Sid Meier's Pirates?
While I like what Ubisoft did with the ship-to-ship combat in the more recent Assassin's Creed games, it ultimately is a battle of attrition, a race to whose ship receives a full salve of cannon balls first. The way Skies of Arcadia does it, each fight against an enemy ship feels more impactful.
It wouldn't be a pirate game (and an RPG on top of that) if you couldn't assemble your own crew. While the normal combat mode still limits you to 4 characters, there are a handful of crewmates that can improve your ship's stats and give you more options in battle. Some of them are characters you encounter along the main storyline, while others are quite missable, but worth to search for nonetheless.
As far as the technical aspects are concerned, the game runs sometimes better, sometimes worse. I encountered at least one case of heavy texture glitching as well as some faulty music. Overall it runs fine and it's nothing gamebreaking, but Sega has to address these issues with a patch eventually.
The graphics remained the same (sans the Nicolas Cage parts) and while it does support a higher resolution and widescreen format, there is no anti-aliasing added, neither is v-sycn on the PC version.
It is the music department where most of the work went in, as that seems to be the focus of all HD remakes these days. Tales of Symphonia received both an English and Japanese voice track (a first for the series) and Final Fantasy X has some of its score remastered as well.
The same applies to Skies of Arcadia HD: The developers decided to bring back the original soundtrack from the Dreamcast version, but use the Gamecube version in some instances.
Remember the Victory Battle Theme? In the Dreamcast version it sounded very heroic, whereas the Gamecube version is simpler. The Gamecube version is now the default victory theme, whereas the Dreamcast version is only played after a boss fight.
It prevents the original version from being overused and retains its heroic feeling without becoming the norm (and therefore, boring) over time.
Overall, it is a rather well-done port, some caging notwithstanding. The fact that this game is available for modern system is a miracle all by itself, and nobody asked for some high definition textures anyway, so it passes as the ultimate version.
At the end of the day, there's only one thing left to say about Skies of Arcadia HD – Happy April's Fools Everyone!
If you liked this fake April's Fools review, be sure to check out my review from 2013 featuring StarCraft: Ghost.