76th game played so far
It was a sad day in console gaming when Sega gave up the ghost and pulled out of making consoles due to the increased competition from the fresh-faced Xbox. I really regret trading in my Dreamcast… just like how I have come to regret most of my trade-ins…. especially Pikmin… or did I sell that… anyway.
We will be continuing our recent run of RPGs for a while… and then we’ll be staying well clear of them for a long while.
I know this is going to be a little Yahtzee but I feel we should open this section with the tag “Like Final Fantasy but…” What do you want to follow it with? More engaging? More human? With more sky ships? Final Fantasy X-2 has sky ships, but I take your meaning. Either way, I think this is one of those games which shows how necessity is the mother of invention. Sega wanted their own Final Fantasy style RPG for their consoles and Overworks were more than happy to oblige. So here we have a game clearly inspired by one of the biggest franchises out there and, to be frank, has beaten a lot of the Final Fantasy titles at their own game. It’s interesting how this game feels like a Final Fantasy game, yet at the same time feels quite different.
For what it’s worth, this might be the longest we’ve ever played a game, purely for this project. We played for about five and a half hours. We may also end up playing more in a bit (and invest in our own copy) since it was very addictive. This says a lot of Skies of Arcadia since we have been overdosing a bit on the JRPGs recently and yet it was able to keep our attention. We’ve obviously been trying to figure out why – if only because it makes this blog entry more interesting than us shrugging saying “It just is”
Let’s start with the one interesting thing you’ll see a lot of – the overworld. By overworld we actually mean flying through the clouds in an airship with paddles. Very 3D. This is populated by floating islands (much like those in Avatar), other vessels and a bunch of nasties. In a way the picture we have for this game is a bit misleading as most of it is wide in the open air and fairly bright and breezy. When you take into account that this was made for the Dreamcast back in 2000 the feeling of freedom you get sailing in the open air is impressive. There was a beautifully rendered sequence featuring a sky whale which (despite the dated graphics) was still rather breath-taking. Then again I have been a told that I am a cheap date so maybe I’m just easily impressed. No comment. ANYWAY! One of the good things this world allows is to give you the feeling you’re in a large world, but one that’s not too large that it’s full of empty spaces – aside from the areas you can reach, there are otherwise empty islands with waterfalls falling into the void, walls of rocks and fog preventing you going everywhere straight away. Add that to the many discoveries you can make in the world map and you get the feeling of a richly filled world where even the random encounters become more interesting.
The random encounters, however, were one of the major criticisms thrown at the original version. We all know how important they are in levelling up your fighters but there was an issue meaning that not only did they come thick and fast but so much so that it could have become a bit of a distraction. This was one of the main things altered in the Gamecube port but the rest of the game remained more or less the same. Aside from the VMU compatibility which, sadly, got missed out in this port. Even now though, these can still be frequent.
Even so, the battle system means that the current rate doesn’t feel like much of a chore. The battle system has its own charm as well. It takes place on a 2D-grid, with some attacks applying to certain lines or other such areas. At the same time, this is just as much setting the scene, with your characters running around the battlefield, fake-attacking the enemies while the other’s attacks actually take place. These attacks are elemental, based on the gems you apply, ones that you can change during battle, meaning it’s quite easy to change these and try out the different elements against your enemies. These also have their effects on the magic system in a nice way. Everyone can learn spells, which are sped up by the elements you use in your attacks during battle. This is together with some character-specific spells or special moves. Spell use is not (just) covered by the conventional MP – in fact, every spell just takes 1MP, something that seems enough. Your main spell currency are spirit points, which are a party-wide gauge that gets replenished during battle and are used for both spells and special moves. This allows for rapid use of new spells without too much recovery time.
A small downside is that there is a very limited number of animations whenever you finish a battle. Then again this is a problem with many console-based RPGs so it a moot point. Probably something I’ll grumble about when we get to Final Fantasy XII. Yeah, and this is one game that certainly loves its long animations.
Now, for the big thing that separates this from nearly every JRPG I have ever played (apart from Final Fantasy X). Major characters which are all very likeable. This may be a gross over-generalisation of this genre but it was refreshing to not have an emo main character with spiky hair and a penchant for cutting himself. The last bit may not be entirely true. He certainly does seem to be more upbeat and positive, which helps a lot. While you get the usual family issues, Vyse seems remarkably sure he’ll make it through. Then there is your upbeat sidekick Aika who, despite her sunny disposition, never wanders into saccharin territory. And who loves her boomerang attacks, keeping her safe at most other times. More characters join (not all of which we’ve been able to say), with Drachma, the grumpy skyship captain, having its own oddities… having lost an arm, you see him attack with, at different points, a hook and a fake arm on a chain. Then there is Fina, a citizen of an ancient civilization, who you rescue from the hands of the evil Valuan clutches. She could be annoying and powerless but no – they actually avoided many of the obvious damsel in distress tropes. She’s very quiet and mysterious though, so far… obviously needing to be so.
So yeah, while the game had its flaws, especially in its Dreamcast release, this game is good and addictive. It’s possibly worthy of the highest praise you can give a JRPG: Better than Final Fantasy. At least most of the time.
Here’s the thing. I am loving this blog because we are finding great games we have never played before… the downside? Price.
Now that we have played (and loved) Skies of Arcadia we need to invest in a copy… which is only selling at it’s original retail price… DAMNIT!