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Skies of Arcadia - Review

Blowing the rest away

By: Jake Alley


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 9
   Interface 9
   Music/Sound 10
   Originality 9
   Plot 10
   Localization 9
   Replay Value 6
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

40-60 hours

 
Overall
10
Criteria

Skies of Arcadia
 

   In the history of RPGs, a large number of conventions have always persisted. Skies of Arcadia turns many of these conventions on their ears, while delivering strong story, and most importantly, extremely satisfying gameplay.

   Setting aside everything else, Skies of Arcadia is worth playing just for the premise. The protagonist Vyse is a relatively honorable pirate, focusing only on other, less enlightened pirates and the corrupt nobility. What makes this interesting however is the setting. Most of the world is simply air. Nothing above, nothing below. In this vast field of air float many islands and continents, so naturally, the primary mode of transportation is the airship.

   The story told within this setting is honestly nothing that hasn't been done before. In simple terms, it's the standard tale of a small group of heroes trying to stop an evil empire from awakening the ancient giant robots that once nearly destroyed the world. The telling of this story however is masterfully done, with legitimately surprising twists, well-developed characters, and a plethora of memorable moments.


Interesting characters
Interesting characters  

   The overall theme and style brought about by the game's plot and setting is clearly reflected in its graphics. While the highly realistic Shenmue makes Arcadia laughable in technical terms, artistically it leaves nothing to be desired. Overall the game has a somewhat cartoony look, with vibrant colors and exaggerated facial features. Sometimes however, simplicity proves to be best, as Arcadia's characters convey a very wide range of emotion. Without ever resorting to FMV, all characters have a wide variety of changing facial features, fully articulated limbs, and even the ability to cry realistic tears, all with animation that shows a lot of effort. In addition to conveying emotion, everything in Arcadia has a very distinct look, giving the game as a whole a unique visual style.

   Style alone does not make a game, and Skies of Arcadia has the gameplay to back it up. It features some of the best designed dungeons ever created, each with their own unique style, and often some very interesting puzzles. Combat is fairly original as well. Like most RPGs, each character chooses to attack, defend, use an item, cast a spell, or use one of a few unique special moves. What makes things interesting are the restrictions on these options. Spells use MP as would be expected, but each spell consumes just one MP, regardless of the power of the spell. The real restriction on both spells and special moves is the SP bar. Simply put, it's a shared pool of points which increases by a small amount each round. In practical terms, this means that not only may the most powerful moves and spells only be used every so often, but one character's heavy damage move comes at the expense of another's healing spell. On top of the new strategy this brings to the genre, the player has control over the learning of new spells and special moves.


Don't fall overboard!
Don't fall overboard!  

   Battles also contain what may be Arcadia's only flaw. Annoying voice clips. While the voice acting itself is fairly well done, characters shout the names of any special moves they use. Fortunately, the developers give the player the option to skip the animation of special moves, and the associated voice clips, preventing these from becoming too repetitive.

   While fighting on foot is interesting enough, the most fun to be had in Arcadia comes from airship to airship combat. The basic mechanics are the same as normal fights, with actions costing varying amounts of SP. However, the strategy is heightened with the addition of situational modifiers, and strategic decisions regarding such things as whether or not to charge at an enemy, or guessing the weak point of a large foe. Adding even more depth, it is possible to heavily customize your ship, and later gather a crew from around the world, each of whom adds a new possible command.


Cruising past a reef
Cruising past a reef  

   On the note of customization, later in the game, in addition to your own very impressive airship, you acquire your own base island, which can be improved and customized as your crew grows. Yet another touch of personalization comes from the reputation system. Each of the many choices found throughout the game influences your reputation. If you say the most impressive and heroic things possible, eventually everyone you meet will know and respect your name. While this has no effect on gameplay, it's a nice touch. For yet another personal touch, the world is covered with interesting features which can be discovered. In addition to making new landmarks to navigate by, it's possible to sell the knowledge of these discoveries for some quick cash.

   Yet another virtue of Skies of Arcadia is the overall flow of the game. Just when things seem to be settling into a pattern, something new and exciting changes the face of the game. Just when it seems you won't ever see a challenging fight again, the most powerful boss you've ever seen in a game shows up.

Simply put, Skies of Arcadia is a first-rate game. Terrific gameplay with a terrific plot, an epic musical score, and enough customization to keep players coming back for more. It also has a wonderful sense of style, and some highly amusing dialog. All games should be like this.





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