Review: Skies of Arcadia: Legends
Posted 25 May 2003 at 18:20 by Marco
Finally it has happened. Faithful Nintendo fans that followed Nintendo through the N64 years have been waiting for this day for a long time. Of course I am referring to the day when Nintendo fans have RPGs to play on their Nintendo console. Even more relieving is the fact that Nintendo fans have quality RPGs to play. So we are still short of getting those exceptional RPGs, but we are close. How ironic, though, that it is Sega, an ex-competitor of Nintendo's, who has come to save the RPG fans from the drought. First with Phantasy Star Online and now with Skies of Arcadia Legends, Sega is showing that the GameCube does and will have quality RPGs. Bare in mind, though, that Skies of Arcadia Legends is for the most part a straight port from the DreamCast version. How much that affects the enjoyability (add that word to your dictionary and, while you're at it, you might as well add variety) of the game. Graphics:
If there is one place that shows the age of Skies of Arcadia Legends it is definitely in the graphics department. The main characters have been slightly updated and look considerably better than the other characters, some of which look N64esque. I wasn't really impressed with the actual character models of enemies, though. There weren't really any cool looking enemies. Some of the human enemies do look cool and Ramirez looks really cool, but apart from that the enemy models for the most part looked plain, run of the mill and uninspired. There are some nice enemy models, though, and these are quite pleasing. The actual animations are pretty good as well. The running animation and battle animations are well done, but that's standard for games these days. Some of the spells have some interesting animations and help to give a feel for what the spell does. The animation for character Special Moves are also good. When a character does a special move a little cut-scene starts (like in FF) to showcase the move. Though not as nice as the Final Fantasy battle cut-scenes they are still a welcome addition. One thing that I would like to praise Sega for is that when you choose actions in battles, instead of just picking from text, you pick icons that are accompanied by text. Perhaps not a big deal, but it really does make the menus look very professional and adds to the whole presentation of the game. The other menus in the game also look good. Another note on the presentation is that the story is told through the use of in-game cinematics and some very interesting still cartoon-like pictures.
Once you get off the ground and start exploring you may find that the graphics are sub-par. Lots of low poly structures and poorly animated clouds make up most of the scenery of the over world map where Vyse, the main character, and his crew fly the sky/ocean. That's not to say that the graphics are all that bad, though. There are some scenes that actually look quite nice and as long as you don't look at the textures close up (which you won't be doing often anyway) then the textures are fine. Some of the textures actually look really good and seem up to current GC quality with the exception of close-up quality. The backgrounds, such as the sky, aren't very good, but who's looking anyway?
There is one last "problem" with the graphics and that is that as you move around you can see two lines that lie perpendicular to the direction that you are moving. These two lines are always the same distance from Vyse. At these two lines the textures become clear at the first line and then even clearer at the second line. Perhaps it was needed for the DC version but unnecessary for the GC version. To wrap up the graphics aren't overwhelming in any way, but in an RPG it's the game play and story that count.
What to say about the sound? The best word to use is average/a bit better than average. Some music is ok and some is better than ok. There is very little speech and the speech used can get annoyingly repetitive at times. I am not deducting any points for the lack of speech, though, as like in Zelda, I don't think that a lot of speech is needed. One question that I would have to ask Sega, though, is "did you steal the music for Skies of Arcadia Legends from other games?" Some of the music is similar to other game music, and that can be forgiven, but some music and some sound effects seem to be taken from Secret of Mana and some of the Final Fantasy games. Very strange. At the end of the day the music won't amaze you, but it gets its job done and helps to set the mood. No surround sound option.
This is the most important category for any game and especially for a more elderly RPG that doesn't wow in any of the other categories. Luckily, it is in this category that Skies of Arcadia Legends delivers. The story follows Vyse and his party (up to four characters at a time) through adventures in the Skies of Arcadia. Vyse explores the skies using a couple of different ships and explores the islands on foot.
The actual skies are huge and it will take players a fair chunk of time to fly around. This task can become tedious when players have a far distance to fly as random battles are…well random…and at times annoying. The player has the chance to run from battles, though I advise against it, but the battles still seem annoying. Apparently the battles give you more experience and are less frequent than in the original Skies of Arcadia, but they still can become tedious. An item or a piece of equipment that ceased these battles would have been appreciated. That being said, the battles can still be a lot of fun.
The battles range from ship to ship battles to the standard party vs. enemy ground battles. The variety in enemies, spells, and special moves help to keep these battles fresh and exciting, and the swapping of the colour of your weapon (some colours are better against certain other colours) add some tactical play to the battles. You are also able to switch weapons and equipment during battles, although I see no point to it. The battle system is actually quite interesting as well. The party has a spirit meter that allows them to cast spells or do special moves. Each spell costs only one MP, but a certain number of spirit points. The Special Moves also cost a certain amount of Spirit Points. If the Spirit Meter is full then the whole party can do a combined Special Move. Spirit points are regained after every round or by using items or getting a party member to "focus". Balancing attacks and "focusing" is especially crucial in ship battles. The use of spells is also crucial. Sega did a good job of using a lot of balance of different spells that are useful.
That being said the battles can become tedious. Some battles will take up to two hours without saves in between. If a player doesn't go in prepared they will have to replay hours upon hours of fights. It isn't too hard to stay prepared, though. You usually have a fair abundance of money and buying healing items should be a priority. Learning green and silver healing spells should also be a priority. This brings me to the levelling up of characters.
After every battle you receive experience, magical experience (depends on which colour of weapons used during battles) and sometimes some items. After a certain varying number of experience and magic experience points are earned a character will level up or learn a new spell. If you usually stay and fight expect to reach level 50 by the end of the game and have nearly if not all of the spells.
As for the main game: it constitutes you flying from island to island looking for particular moon stones. You gain these by going through a dungeon and ultimately fighting a Gigas. Sorry if I'm being a bit vague, but I don't want to give away too much about the story. Village exploration is usually required before a dungeon and you'll usually meet up with the armada (the bad guys) about once for every dungeon.
Additionally, treasure and bounty hunting are equally fun extras to this game. Perhaps more for veteran gamers the bounty hunting becomes very hard near the end. The toughest fights will be fought for bounties. The treasure hunting is less engaging and primarily consists of players flying around the skies and, using or not using info available at Sailor's Guilds, pressing 'a' when the compass starts spinning. These discoveries can be sold at a Sailor's Guild for money.
Now wrap all of this together with a pretty interesting storyline, some moon fish, a lot of exploration and you have Skies of Arcadia Legends. It may not sound all that interesting and it certainly isn't revolutionary, but it will satisfy any Nintendo RPG fan and keep them busy for a good while. Completionists will be playing this one upwards of 50 hours.
X: Display Status Menu Screen
Y: First Person View
L: Descend (when flying)
R: Ascend (when flying)
Z: Show/Hide map
C-Stick: Rotate Camera
D-Pad: select commands
Control Stick: Move Character
Tight and responsive controls throughout; nothing revolutionary or new, but the controls allow the player to get things done. Sometimes the ascending and descending controls don't seem to work, but this is momentary if not an illusion. While running around, the player usually has control over the camera and can pan around to get a better look or go into a first person view for a closer view. Opening doors and climbing ladders make up the rest of the action while not in battles and all work pretty well. A thing to note is that you cannot fall off edges or jump.
The battle controls are also nothing new but they work well. Select from a menu your action, hit 'a' and it's done. You can also change the camera view during the period that you get to choose your actions and that's a nice little feature although for all intensive purposes in the battle it is useless.
To conclude: the controls work; there isn't any hit-detection to worry about so there shouldn't be any reason for them not to. The controls are easily learned and become second nature.
Finally the GameCube has a lengthy game. A bare minimum of 25, 30 hours for experts or those who have played the original DreamCast version; and that's just for the core game. For those who do a moderate amount of treasure hunting and take some time exploring and levelling up expect at least 40 hours. Completionists will be here for an even longer time. I wouldn't be surprised if it takes them more than 50 hours. That being said there aren't a lot of people who will play to get everything. It's a game where you finish it and you think that the game was just the right length and you'll be completely satisfied with it; no this-game-was-too-short let downs. Then you'll put it down. A couple of months, maybe a year, later you will pick it up again and be satisfied again with one of the GameCube's first RPGs. Expect to get a total of 80-100 hours out of this game, before you totally forget about it.
Back when I wrote the review for Eternal Darkness I called it the first must-have game for the Nintendo GameCube. Now I call Skies of Arcadia Legends a must-have game for all GameCube RPG fans. It deals up a beefy, lengthy story with an epic theme with pirates to boot. If you are looking for an adventure of epic proportions with a sci-fi twist on pirates and that sports a classic, yet polished, RPG battle interface with some interesting innovations such as ship battles, then Skies of Arcadia Legends is definitely the game for you!
N-Europe Final Verdict
A solid RPG that delivers a great story. RPG fans won't want to miss it!
characters and story
some tedious battles