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Airborne Pirates? Sure, Why Not?
One might not think basing an RPG on pirates would produce a quality game, but developer Overworks definitely squashes that notion. Originally released on the Dreamcast in late 2000, Skies turned out to be something of a sleeper hit. With no insane amount of hype prior to release, the title probably slipped under the radar screens of a good number of gamers. Fortunately, Sega saw fit to port Skies over the RPG-sparse Gamecube. With some updated features and new material, the grandiose sounding “Legends” has been attached to the original handle.
The game starts off with Vyse and Aika, both Blue Rogue air pirates, running into Fina. Fina’s being chased by the Valuan Empire (they’re the bad guys, what a surprise with a name like that). The three team up and become a nasty thorn in the Valuan’s side. And of course, much adventuring ensues.
Skies possesses a turn-based combat system that’s based on spirit points (SP). At the start of each turn, an allotted amount of SP is available. Magic and special moves use up SP, while the “Focus” command charges up SP. There are two different types of combat used throughout the game. You’ve got the standard party based skirmishes, and on the other hand, your crew gets to their battle positions during ship-to-ship combat. Things are mostly the same between the two styles of fighting; attack, magic, special moves, guard, focus and item commands are present in both. The major difference is being able to plan out the order of each action during ship combat. In normal battles, your characters generally perform their assigned action whenever they feel like it. It can take a little while to get the hang of ship battles, but once you figure out a general strategy to use, things fall into a pretty standard pattern.
The menus are strikingly simple to maneuver through after a tiny bit of practise. Not sure what a particular option does? Tap the X button for a quick and handy explanation. Items, weapons, ship parts, and accessories are each have their own sub-heading on the general item screen for extra convenience. Skies’ entire interface is streamlined and smooth, with no minor annoyances notable.
Skies boasts one of the most memorable soundtracks of recent years. It reminded me heavily of Grandia in terms of epic feel. The best example of this would have to be the opening sequence. The music, combined with the visual goings on, intstills a sense of adventure with ease. Sound effects meanwhile, are a let down. On most surfaces, Vyse sounds like he’s on a pogo stick with each footstep. Also, during ship battles, the audio effects do a poor job of reflecting what’s happening on screen. You’d think a burning ship taking it’s final nose dive en route to splattering into the ground would make a little noise...
It’s not everyday you see an RPG with scurvy seadogs piloting airborne pirateships. Even so, there’s quite a few other aspects that have been done before. Collecting magically-empowered stones, going on rescue missions, maneuvering through love triangles, and being the little guys in David vs. Goliath sized conflicts are all scenarios that show up in Skies.
I found the plotline to be engaging, but it didn’t quite keep me up until the wee hours of the morning “just to find out what happens next”. It does however, maintain a fairly brisk pace (you’ll always have places to go, not much aimless wandering here).
The localization team performed an admirable job on the game text. They managed to avoid any stiff sounding sentences, while keeping dialogue flowing smoothly during the course of the game. Even so, the sparse voice acting that pops up every now and then is more bothersome than anything. Most of the clips are re-used repeatedly, and they didn’t sound great to begin with!
Even after you’ve beaten the game, there’s still a couple things that can keep you playing. Re-modeling Vyse’s island base is kind of cool, but the two biggest post-story activities are locating each of the 22 crew members for your pirate ship and finding “discoveries” scattered througout the map. Neither of these are earth-shatteringly fun, but they do have an impact of gameplay (each crew member adds a command during battle, and info about new discoveries can be sold for cash).
Keeping in mind that Skies is a 3 year old port of a Dreamcast game, it’s still easy on the eyes. Because of the extensive amount of time spent flying around the worldmap, the image of bright, blue skies was practically burned into my brain. No, it wasn’t blue all the time, but that’s what pops into my head whenever I think of this game. Character models are a little on the blocky side, but that’s an extremely minor fault in the grand scheme of things.
As far as difficulty goes, I can’t see the veteran RPG’er having very much trouble. Figuring out where you have to go next really isn’t that hard, but certain boss battles might throw up a couple small roadblocks along the way. My completion time clocked in at 54 hours, but I certainly didn’t explore every single nook and cranny.
Let’s just put it this way, if you enjoy RPG’s and you own a Gamecube, you should definitely look into Skies of Arcadia (if you haven’t played it on Dreamcast already that is). Even though I didn’t get caught up spending every minute of my free time with Skies, it’s an enjoyable experience from start to finish.
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