Skies of Arcadia Legends

In the world of Arcadia, people live on floating islands and travel the world via airship. Air pirates and the Valuan Empire rule the skies, with Vyse and Aika of the Blue Rogues attacking a Valuan battleship and rescuing a mysterious captive girl named Fina, whom the Empire believes can help them conquer all of Arcadia. Sega and Overworks’ Eternal Arcadia initially saw its North American release on the Dreamcast as Skies of Arcadia, and was ported to the Nintendo GameCube as Skies of Arcadia Legends, with some improvements and additions. Arcadia is certainly not without its hiccups, yet is still a solid title.

Arcadia features two main modes of combat: traditional random encounters and ship battles, the former of which players will encounter more often while navigating the overworld and dungeons. Random encounters are turn-based, and follow the structure of most Japanese turn-based RPGs where the player inputs commands for the party of up to four characters and lets them and the enemy beat each other up in a round. As usual, turn order can be unpredictable and annoyingly vary, leading to some instances of wasting healing items/spells on allies that end up getting killed when low on HP.

Despite this aforementioned shortcoming of most turn-based Japanese RPGs, there is some uniqueness in actual character commands. For instance, each character can normally attack with his or her equipped weapon, although the player can shift the weapon’s elemental affinity (with six different elements) at will while inputting that character’s commands, with enemies having elemental affinities, and consequentially, weak points that the player can exploit, which adds a semblance of strategy to combat, and can make some normal encounters end quicker.

Depending upon the elements characters use to dispatch enemies, they will gain points for that element after battle, which ultimately allows them to learn several magic spells of each element. In an interesting twist, each spell only takes 1 MP to use, although different spells require a differing amount of Spirit Points, with all characters sharing one gauge of SP that fills up after each round depending upon the number of characters that can take action. Another command, Focus, can increase SP more quickly.

Each character can also defend, use items, and use S-Moves that require a certain amount of SP, which players unlock with Moonberries, and whose lengthy animations the player can mercifully skip. Victory nets every character experience to level up occasionally (in addition to the aforementioned elemental experience), and money, while defeat gives the player an opportunity to restart the battle or quit the game. Aside from the issue with turn order, and the occasional tendency of some normal battles to drag out, the standard battle system is well-executed.

The other mode of combat is one-on-one ship battles, which are typically necessary to advance the main story. The player can outfit his/her ship with a number of offensive cannons and protective equipment, and in battle, players gain a number of commands each round depending upon the number of active party members, up to four. The player inputs commands into a grid, atop which are indicators colored green, yellow, and red indicating the risk of the enemy’s attack during that particular turn from low to high.

Commands include firing one of four cannons (requiring a certain amount of SP), using magic (requiring both MP and SP), defending, focusing, using items, using an NPC crewmember’s ability (with each crewmember only able to use their special command once in a ship battle), or firing the ship’s S-Cannon, also requiring SP and usable only when a special icon above the command grid indicates the player can indeed use it. After inputting commands, the player’s ship and the enemy exchange four commands each.

Ship battles can take a while, but are decent nonetheless, and if the player loses, they can restart from the beginning as with normal battles. All in all, the game’s combat systems work decently together, with normal battles and ship battles both requiring some semblance of strategy, and while there are some fights in both areas that will take a while, the game isn’t too difficult, especially if characters have their most powerful S-Moves. Regardless of combat’s shortcomings, both systems help the game far more than hurt.

The interface has its strong points, such as a relatively easy menu system and controls, but has a few hiccups as well, such as the lack of warp magic, which can make revisiting previous locations early in the game difficult, some long periods without opportunities to save the game, and a poor direction at times on how to advance. The overworld can also feel like a barren wasteland designed to stretch out playing time, given the difficulty at times of finding the next plot point, although some late-game conveniences can make travel somewhat easier, even random encounter-free. In the end, interaction is by no means bad, but could have been better.

Arcadia is a reasonably inventive game, what with its emphasis on airship travel and uniquenesses in battle such as spells that only consume 1 MP, although some story elements, such as an evil empire, are hardly new to the genre. The plot itself is fairly decent, with a well-rounded cast of heroes and villains, along with some occasional twists and Suikoden-esque epilogues for most story characters during the ending credits. The aforementioned lack of direction is a mark off the story, for certain, although it still drives the game decently.

The music helps the game, as well, with a number of rousing pieces that enhance its adventurous feel, with the battle themes perhaps being the best. Voice acting is present, as well, although it’s fairly limited during story scenes, for instance, with occasional laughter, “Huh?” and “Yay!” Voices are far more prevalent in battle, however. The voicework can be annoying at times, but luckily doesn’t detract too terribly from the experience. Overall, a nice-sounding game.

As with most 3-D games, however, the graphics haven’t aged particularly well, and while they might have looked nice on the Dreamcast, they leave plenty to desire on the GameCube, with many noticeable imperfections such as ugly texturing and some hideously blocky NPCs. Scenery and ships look fine from a distance, though, but the graphics could have definitely used more polish during the game’s transition to the GameCube.

Finally, the game takes about forty hours to finish, with plenty to boost playing time such as finding every Discovery on the overworld, scouring every corner of Arcadia, and so forth. Overall, Skies of Arcadia Legends is a solid title, with a fun battle system, likeable characters and plot, and rousing soundtrack. There are a few rough spots in the areas of control and visuals, but Arcadia was undoubtedly one of the strongest titles on the Dreamcast resurrected on the GameCube, and a bright spot in Sega’s otherwise dull game offering throughout the past decade.

The Verdict: A must-play.

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