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Skies of Arcadia Legends
The original version of Skies of Arcadia came out quite some time ago for Sega's Dreamcast console. Those who played it loved it but because the Dreamcast never acheived the success it deserved not as many people got the chance to play it, so Sega decided to release a slightly remixed version for the Gamecube. It adds a couple of new characters and sidequests that can push the time to complete the game to 70 hours. Is it worth it, I hear you cry? Well, hang on a minute and I'll tell you.
Skies of Arcadia Legends is a traditional turn-based RPG with a few twists. Firstly, enemies and weapons both have different colours which represent the six moonstones in the world, and each of them have their opposite. Green is the earth colour and has healing spells attached to it, red is fire based, purple is ice, etc. So hitting a green enemy with a purple weapon does more damage. The more you use one colour of weapon the more experience you gain in that colour and gradually you will learn the spells that go with that colour. Early in the game it's a good idea to use green weapons as much as possible to get more potent healing spells, and later when you get the silver moonstone it's advisable to use that until you get the useful Riselem spell which will Revive fallen comrades.
You also have a range of special moves for you characters that you learn by finding Moonstones throughout the quest, and they each use up a different amount of SP to perform. One of the earliest moves, Cutlass Fury, uses 7 SP and it'll help a lot against the early bosses. All your characters use one pool of SP rather than having their own points, and using Focus will give your SP a bigger boost than simply attacking. Towards the end of the game there are several ultra powerful moves that you can only do if all your characters are alive and your SP bar is full, which isn't that hard to achieve and kind of removes all the challenge from the final boss, although no one's forcing you to use the moves, are they?
As well as the regular battles on foot there are also ship-to-ship or ship-to-gigas battles, which I thought were one of the best things about the game. You have a grid where you put in your four moves all at once so you have to plan carefully when to fire your cannons, heal, use a spell, etc. The colours along the top represent the likelihood that you will come under attack, green being safe, yellow being caution and red being danger. You should use guard on red squares, and sometimes on yellow as well if your health is running low. Then there are C! squares which mean that your enemy is off guard and now is the best time to unleash all you've got on them. There's also some special weapons such as the Harpoon Cannon and Moonstone Cannon that you can unleash from time to time, SP permitting. From time to time you are offered choices, such as "Try and get behind them!" or "Come to a dead stop!", which either leave you in the ideal position to attack, or leave you wide open. In the second half of the game you can also gather crew members from around the world and equip them on your ship, and each one gives various benefits, such as better defense or a quicker ship.
As well as all this there are several other things to keep you busy throughout the game, like finding Chams to feed Cupil (Fina's little companion that can be used as a weapon). The more Chams you feed him, the more powerful he becomes. Then there's the Discoveries, which can be found all over the world. There's well over 100 of these in Legends, and they include Will 'O' Wisps, Temples, Looper nests and many other things. You can sell information about them at Sailor's Guilds, and they can be a very useful source of money when you need to buy more healing items or better weapons.
Also, new to Legends are Moonfish and Piastol. Early in the game you will find a Doctor and his daughter, Mary, floating around in a boast. Mary has a strange pet bird which can only eat "Moonfish" which you find scattered throughout the dungeons. Feed the bird a certain amount and as well as rare items you will also be send a "black mark". This is a challenge from Piastol, the "Angel of Death", who for some reason is seeking revenge on Vyse and Aika. If you find enough Moonfish and defeat Piastol four times you will find out exactly why she carries this vendetta against you.
The "Pinta's Quest" minigame that was in the Dreamcast version has been dropped from the Gamecube version unfortunately. The reason for this is the lack of a VMU but with a bit of work the same game could've been created for the GBA link-up. Oh well, it's not a great loss.
Skies of Arcadia has always featured some excellent music, but the sound quality is a bit below par in the Gamecube port. This is because the game original came on two of Sega's GD-ROM's, and in order to squeeze it down into one mini DVD they had to lower the sound quality and so the music is a little fuzzy. It's nothing too serious but if you've played the Dreamcast version you will notice it.
Battle sounds and other spot effects are decent but nothing remarkable, and the character voices that play when you do a special attack or win a battle can grate after you've heard them for the 100th time but I've played games with more annoying sounds.
I suppose I'd better mention a little bit about the plot eh? The main character and his childhood friend, Aika, are Blue Rogues, a Robin Hood style band of pirates who rob the rich and greedy and give to the poor. On one such looting mission they also rescue a strange girl named Fina, who was shot down by an Admiral from the evil Valuan Empire. So far, so Star Wars, but it soon develops into an interesting, light-hearted romp around the colourful floating islands. Several other playable characters are introduced, namely Drachma, a grouchy old sea-dog, Gilder, a ladies-man, and Prince Enrique, the son of Empress Teodora.
The localization is pretty good if not spectacular throughout. I found the characters came across as a likeable bunch (even some of the bad guys) and there are no glaring grammatical or spelling errors anywhere. The plot is light and breezy affair, focusing more on fun than teenage angst that the more recent Final Fantasies have focused on. This was definitely a plus in my book.
Including all the Discoveries, optional battles, Moonfish/Piastol sidequests and other such optional extras, Skies of Arcadia Legends has the potential to last you well over 70 hours on your first play-through. It's such a fun, light-hearted game with an enjoyable plot that you may want to come back and replay it a year or two later as well, as I have done. I would definitely recommend buying it rather than renting as you will barely scratch the surface with a rental. It's got amazing value for money.
The graphics in SoAL are bright and colourful but they lack detail due to their DC roots. Sega could have done a bit more to improve them for the more powerful Gamecube hardware but their not bad by any stretch of the imagination. The huge Valuan fortress with it's wall full of cannons still impresses, as do the spectacular ship to ship battles. The dungeons have nicely varied themes, although they do fall into the usual game stereotypes (desert, jungle, ice region, etc). This was one of the first fully 3D RPG's I played and it does a better job than many that come along since.
Apart from a particulary tough early battle (the Executioner), most of SoAL is fairly easy to get through. It's usually just a matter of building up enough SP to use one of your more powerful moves, and repeating until the boss dies. The real challenges comes from all the optional things you can do as mentioned in Replay Value section.
Personally, this is up there with the best RPG's I've ever played. It's a close run thing between this and Paper Mario, although this game slightly has the edge because it is longer and slightly more challenging, while managing to be just as enjoyable. The only gripe some people have is that the random battles are too frequent, but this has been countered in the Gamecube release with a ring you can equip that reduces the encounter rate. Combined with the new sidequests and Discoveries you have a huge game with likeable characters and a fun, colourful world to explore. If you own a Gamecube, or indeed a Dreamcast you owe it to yourself to track down a copy of Skies of Arcadia and set sail with the Blue Rogues.
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