Rescuing a mysterious waif from the hands of an evil empire is a tried and true concept in the realm of storytelling. Skies of Arcadia is no different in this regard, with its setup being a rather common one. But instead of coming off as trite and unoriginal, Overworks turned the usual story into something charming, sincere, and very loving. It goes to show that whenever anyone asks me what story I enjoyed the most in a Role Playing Game, Skies of Arcadia always comes to mind. Skies of Arcadia is a bright and cheerful game and while it didn’t stray too far from the core formula, the way it blended many of the story elements to create a living world made it special to me. Eternal Arcadia holds such a special place in my heart that when I think of a moment in any videogame that touched my heart, it isn’t Aerith’s death in Final Fantasy VII, but rather the time when Drachma told Vyse about the death of his son.
I’ll never forget starting Skies of Arcadia and watching the opening cinematic of Fina’s vessel being shot down. The solid introduction to our main protagonists Vyse and Aika, a duo of Blue Rogues, was equally as epic. The Blue Rogues were Robin Hood-Esque pirates who stole from the rich and kept for themselves, but used those riches to help others, and I was sold. The story started out quite sappy with Vyse and Aika explaining their dreams to Fina and setting off the next day to get a moonstone from a nearby Shrine. Yet, things don’t remain idyllic for long as things turn dark quickly with everyone in your hometown being sent to their “inevitable” execution. Vyse sets off to rescue them as any shonen hero would, but things never go as planned.
His ship gets wrecked and now both Vyse and Aika are left with a grumpy old man named Drachma who doesn’t want anything to do with them, and even worse, time is running out. Their family and friends are about to get killed and the only way to rescue them is getting past an impenetrable fortress. The tension keeps mounting as the only way to reach them is through a sewer filled with giant bugs and a creature which can be described as equal parts garbage disposal and gross. Even worse is that after they’ve rescued everyone, they learn that Fina isn’t with them and instead is being taken to the Grand Fortress, which is certainly inescapable at this point. Vyse and Aika rush to the rescue once more with the help of a side-character, who seemed of relatively low importance, they head to the upper city. They board a train from its roof and rescue Fina, all the while being chased by the big bad of the game itself, the grand admiral of the Valuan Armada Galcian.
Vyse and Aika save Fina, but not before being reached by Galcian. When all faith seems lost, a cannonball hits the train cart and who is there, but Drachma the pirates inside The Little Jack. The action doesn’t end there as you are also faced with two Valuan ships which are trying to stop you from escaping the inescapable fortress. With the enemies defeated and time running out before the final obstacle is passed, Vyse and Company set the engines on full blast and become known as the first people to ever escape the Grand Fortress. The best part about this is that this is merely less than one tenth of the game. Excitement lies at every corner as once you rescue Fina and she opens up, you realize just how much there is left to do. Now your objective is to help Fina obtain the Moon Crystals and to do so, you’ll have to travel the world of Arcadia.
My mind was blown as I realized just how little of the story had passed. From this point on, you’ll travel from deserts to foreign countries and even ruins of civilizations long since lost to the ages. The story is helped especially by colorful cast of characters which populate the world of Arcadia. But it’s also helped by the fact that a lot of the game takes inspiration from legends and myth from our own world and turns them into elements of the story. The pyramids for example in the world of Arcadia actually hold the red gigas Recumen, the lost city of gold El Dorado becomes Rixis. These were story elements I was familiar with already and to see them used so well in the game just made me extremely happy. You’ll even get to meet a man named Robinson, who’s been shipwrecked for what appear to be ages, and is an obvious nod to Robinson Crusoe. Skies of Arcadia captures the elements of sailing and the freedom of the age of exploration magnificently!
As the plot develops, and you reach the climax of the story when everything seems hopeless, Skies of Arcadia throws you a curve ball. In a surprising twist of events, it’s not actually Vyse (or the player) who has to recruit the help of everyone whose lives he’s touched during his journey. Rather, everyone rallies behind Vyse as he’s “the only guy crazy enough to take on the Armada”. There is nothing better than seeing an entire fleet of pirates gather at your base and telling them “Let’s go kick Galcian’s ass” as everyone cheers for you! This is just moments after you discover that your entire journey has been a sham and Fina has been manipulated by the very people who entrusted her on the journey.
You’ll still find yourself wanting more as your friends are worried and scared that tonight might be their last night alive… but, deep down, you know that everything will be all right as Vyse has yet to fail on coming through with his promises. A man who always keeps his word and never lets anything stop him, not even the destruction of his bases, twice. It’s a great mixture of seriousness, but whimsy, and for that, Overworks’ story writers must be praised.
I understand that some gamers feel that the story is one of the weaker points in Skies of Arcadia, but I am compelled to disagree. For a story of piracy in the sky, it is very well told and nicely written. I could get behind the characters and my twelve-year-old self would often imagine how great it would be to travel with these people on their journey. To see the world and be one of the first in circumnavigating the globe would have been fantastic. To this day, Skies of Arcadia holds a special place in my library as my favorite game of all time, and I do think that any eastern RPG fan should at least try it once.
I replayed it over 20 times and I still get enjoyment out of it to this day. A true classic which stands the test of time Skies of Arcadia is one of Sega’s masterpieces.
If you want to read more about the game click here for an overview of the whole game