Hello again! I'm back after a week-long absence, um, last week. I'm sorry; I hate missing deadlines, especially self-imposed ones, but I can't always predict what direction life is going to take me in. This was combined with a slightly longer game than usual. But a basically unbroken track record for over a year isn't too bad, right? Still...
Anywho, last time, I talked about a cinematic adventure that serves as the precursor to Heavy Rain.
This week brings us to a JRPG I've wanted to replay since I started these silly articles.
So naturally, having neglected both RPG's and Dreamcast titles in this article series, I decided to replay Skies of Arcadia, a game developed and published by Sega. SOA casts you as Vyse, a 17-year old pirate in a band of Sky Pirates (!) named the Blue Rogues.
Whilst raiding a ship belonging to the Valuan Empire (the Bad Guys of the story) Vyse and his erstwhile companion Aika find and rescue a mysterious girl named Fina. Mysterious because she's dressed in mysterious clothes and she's on a mysterious quest. Mysterious. Naturally, this being a JRPG, Vyse and Aika eventually decide to accompany Fina on her quest. Which ends up being about gathering crystals. Have I mentioned this is a JRPG?
What I like about this setup is, SOA throws you right into the action. I love when games do that. You get a cutscene that's a couple of minutes, then you're in the thick of it. Exposition can wait. Final Fantasy VII, Lost Odyssey, and Xenoblade Chronicles are great examples of this.
Thing is, though...SOA isn't really as complex as those games. What you have is a simple but effective battle system combined with a pretty outrageous encounter rate. You can do most of what you'd expect during battles. Attack, defend, magic, items, and so on. A neat wrinkle, though, is the super move. See, your whole party shares a power meter that can be filled by using Focus, a command that forgoes an attack to build meter. Fill it enough, and characters can use Super Moves to deal serious damage to enemies, or heal the party or whatnot.
There's also ship combat. Early on, you get the ability to explore the various floating islands that make up the world of Arcadia. In other words, this is the overworld map. Ship combat plays sort of like normal combat, with a few variables like crew members that can be summoned to perform various tasks. It's mostly ship-to-ship combat, but you fight these giant monsters occasionally.
Really, there's nothing complicated about SOA. The combat is basic; there's not a whole lot of tricks you have to mention. There's a few things to find, and crew members to recruit, but while SOA may be kind of a lengthy game, it isn't an especially large one. That may be because of it's time (the game is fourteen years old).
But what makes SOA great is it's unrelenting charm. The game just bursts with personality. Vyse and Aika, from the beginning, are two characters you can't help but love because they're so damn positive all the time. With their near constant smiles and giant anime eyes.
That charm extends to the rest of the game world. The color palette is impressive for such an old game, and the character designs are varied, with strikingly emotive faces. Again, it's all very anime, so your feelings about the graphics may vary depending on how much you like the style. Enemy designs are kind of okay. The game sure has that "Dreamcast look," though.
Plus there's the whole flavor of the game. I mean, you're playing as pirates in a flying pirate ship. If that's a premise you turn your nose up at, well, you must be made of stone.
Audio is more of a mixed bag. There's some catchy tunes, but none of the music really stood out too much for me. Voice acting is sadly limited to little clips like "Yeah!" and such. It's pretty disappointing, made more so by the GameCube port, Skies of Arcadia Legends, which didn't include voice acting either.
I really enjoyed replaying this gem, but take note: these days, Skies of Arcadia is purely for the JRPG fan. You may be unimpressed by the battle system, or the game's rather formulaic approach to...basically every aspect of gameplay, but it's the kind of game that's more than the sum of it's parts. It's so colorful, both in the actual color on display as well as personality wise.
Dig up your Dreamcast and maybe give this a spin. Or Sonic Adventure.
Or am I...?!
Next week: Sonic Adventure! Maybe! Ok, not really, but next week, I'm checking out another Dreamcast game, this one based on a popular anime series. This is a totally underrated gem.