Did you ever dream of sailing the oceans? To see the world with your very own eyes and uncover mysteries that were only told in legends? To brave the harshest storms and discover that which hides beneath the veil? Skies of Arcadia has the answers for you; a game about pirates, adventure, and the search for bountiful discoveries which could all be found in Overworks magnum opus. Known as Eternal Arcadia in Japan, it was one of the first RPGs on Sega’s ill-fated Dreamcast. Skies of Arcadia was released during the last quarter of the year 2000 to critical acclaim, yet relatively low sales. However, it still stands true as a memorable piece of the Dreamcast’s unique history as a console with groundbreaking games, but a distinct lack of appreciation during its time. Yet, what exactly made Skies of Arcadia unique, and why is this a game that every RPG fan should play? The story for starters was truly sincere and charming.
The story can be summarized as the journey of three friends who are trying to save the world by collecting jewels called the Moon Crystals which contain great power. But behind this usual setup lies so much more to be seen: characters experience betrayal, isolation, massacres, and the enduring human spirit. After all, who can forget the epic moment when you storm the Colosseum and rescue your crewmates? The feeling of isolation as you’re alone in a deserted island with nothing but the corpse of a previous sailor? The pain of seeing someone you previously idolized betray every ideal that was shared between you? Or even the never ending zeal of your friends rebuilding your home after it was torn asunder by enemy cannons? You will witness this and more as you spend time with Vyse and company the protagonists of Skies of Arcadia.
Our heroes grow as they witness the atrocities committed by their enemies, and try to put an end to all of the abuse caused by the Valuan Empire. A country which is dead set on conquering the world by force, they are analogous to the Spanish Armada in the 15th century and also the main enemy of the game. The Valuan armada is also seeking the same Moon Crystals as your group but, of course, they seek to use them to control the gigas, remnants of an older civilization and powerful beasts that only seek to do their master’s bidding. They are part of the reason why you’re seeking the Moon Crystals, but there is an even darker reason of why you’re seeking said artifacts. Dark enough to anger the protagonists, as they realize they’ve been manipulated for the majority of their adventure. But it’s not all misery and sadness as Vyse and company are potentially the most optimistic and cheerful heroes to come out of that particular generation of RPGs.
You see Skies of Arcadia was released in an era where protagonists in Role Playing Games were often trying to emulate the success of Final Fantasy VII. Broody, angsty, riddled with self-doubt, and a constant pessimistic outlook defined that generation of heroes, and why not? It worked for SquareSoft, so it would make sense to follow their example, yet Overworks decided to take a different approach. Vyse was filled to the brim with courage and zeal. He will never give up on the face of adversity, when challenged with the impossible, he would retort that “impossible is just a word that people use to feel better about themselves when they give up”. Interestingly enough, he is also quite intelligent and observant for a teenager, as most shonen protagonists of this type are often portrayed as idiot heroes with little sense, but lots of spirit. The deuteragonists, Aika and Fina, are also brilliant in their own right, with quirks and personalities that are more than just eye candy material. Aika is sassy and a hotheaded, while Fina is shy and demure, but with an incredible sense of inner strength. They are women you wouldn’t want to mess around with, as both can kick ass with the best of them. Along the way, you will meet three more party members that will equal out the gender ration in the party and all of these are memorable in their own right.
Drachma, Gilder, and Enrique are with you at different times in the story and all of these characters help Vyse grow into the Legendary Sky Pirate he will become. Drachma is the first one encountered; a grumpy old man who is searching for a giant whale that killed his crew and son analogous to Moby Dick. Vyse gets to bond with Drachma as he learns about his past and discovers how he reminds him of his son. Gilder appears afterwards and he’s the polar opposite of Drachma: a fun loving rogue with the epitaph of The Unfettered. His motto is “Women are like sunsets, they’re beautiful, but tomorrow, there will be a different one”. Gilder teaches Vyse about the fun aspects of piracy and, despite his devil may care attitude, manages to show him the ropes of being the captain of your own crew. Finally, there is Enrique the prince of Valua, as well as the actual owner of the Delphinus which is Vyse’s signature ship for most of the journey. Enrique shows Vyse that not all Valuan royalty share the same negative values, and that sometimes those who you believe are you enemies can be your greatest allies. Overall, they add so much more to the journey as they’re very well fleshed out and each of them brings something special to the table. A table that is quite full, as when you’re not experiencing the story and the characters, you’ll be busy exploring the rich world of Arcadia itself.
Exploration, as mentioned earlier, is a huge part of Skies of Arcadia. When you’re not busy following the next objective, you’ll be sailing around the sky in one of five different boats and finding secrets which are often invisible to the naked eye. Vyse can make 85 different discoveries and while some of them are easy to find, others can be quite annoying. These discoveries each come with a journal entry that adds flavor text to the game and enriches the lore of the world itself. From the unseen black moon and its shards within the Dark Rift to the migrating flutterflies, every entry adds to the complexity of Arcadia and the rules of this world. You can also sell the location of these discoveries to the local guilds of each town, which will mark them under your name as the discoverer. Further incentivizing you is the fact that to gain the best Swashbuckler rating of the game, you’ll need to find all of them. A nice reward for those who feel the need to complete games to their fullest, but just what are Swashbuckler ratings?
Swashbuckler ratings are a measure of how well you’re doing in the game… in a sense. Throughout the game, you’ll be offered opportunities to make suggestions as far as Vyse goes. Some of these choices are obvious, and others a little more obtuse as sometimes you’re meant to take the bold route and others you’re meant to take a much more methodical approach. Yet, a “correctly” played Vyse is a very pragmatic person who chooses to be tactical and analytical minded. However, in terms of actual gameplay, if you choose the “wrong” alternative, then Vyse will come off as a bit of a goofball with his companions being the hyper-competent sidekicks to his bunny-ears lawyer approach. The Swashbuckler Rating does have a small impact in certain areas, though, as a few characters will only join your crew if you’ve met a certain threshold and, ultimately, this is how you obtain the greatest weapon in the game. But speaking of crew, that is another aspect of the game which is extremely memorable to those who invest their time.
As you progress through the story, Vyse will encounter different and unique characters who can potentially join his crew. Most of them have different forms of recruitment, but for the most part, just talking will work. However, for some, you’ll have to find items they’re seeking, discoveries they’re looking for, meet Swashbuckler ratings, or assist them in their personal endeavors. Each of them for the most part have their own interesting personalities and quirks which can be discovered by talking to them through the various points of the game. You can do this by exploring the Delphinus at certain locations, past certain points in the story, and even when exploring your own base and seeing what they do in their leisure time. They usually have something interesting to say and will often add to the moment in their own way. These characters also receive an epilogue after you finish the game, and most of them receive their own happy ending, which is just sweet as you would have most likely have grown fond of them by the time the journey has ended. But Skies of Arcadia still has a lot more to offer.
By the end of the journey, you will have fought monumental beasts, beaten impossible odds, and circumnavigated the globe. You’ll have learned about the world, had people who changed your life for the better, and matured along with Vyse, Aika, and Fina. You’ll feel the heat of combat as your battle with other ships in a strategic combat, or beaten the hell out of men with years of experience using your swords and magic. You’ll have even discovered secrets that were long since forgotten in the world of Arcadia…