In dire name, we call for the power of the ancients to battle our foe. A mantra familiar to players of Skies of Arcadia for being the ultimate attack Prophecy. The battle system was not particularly something to write home about, though. Featuring the standard attack, magic, defend, flee choices, it mixed the setup with the addition of focus and ability which allowed the characters to pool their Spirit energy in order to use Special Moves (S. Moves). This created a risk and reward system in which you had to balance both your Magic and Spirit Points in order to effectively combat the enemies in the game.
But why is it so risky, you might ask? It’s because while S. Moves are inherently more powerful, magic can be extremely practical in certain situations, especially the supporting spells. Each turn, your group gathers a little bit of spirit points, which can be doubled by focusing. You might want to save up your magic for the completely devastating Pirates Wrath, which attacks a single opponent for massive damage, or Rain of Swords for multiple enemies and slightly less damage. But you could just cast a spell that doubles your strength and attack normally, thereby making short work of your opponents. It’s simple and effective, but if all you do is focus, you might end up in a bad situation, especially if a party member dies.
It is simple, effective, and still stands the test of time. But if you were to ask me, the combat in Skies of Arcadia is the weakest aspect of the game, and even more so in the Dreamcast version. You see, the original port had an insane amount of random battles; you couldn’t walk ten feet without facing enemies and this often had the unintended effect of making you overpowered in whatever area you were. Due to this unbalance, after some point the game basically becomes a breeze, simply because your levels are so high and enemies just keep coming. It makes the White Map item a godsend in that it reduces the random battles to a more reasonable rate. The addition of being able to fly over and under the clouds also means that you can avoid unnecessary battles, but this has the drawback of missing out on rare enemy drops.
Yet, this is where the complacent gaming syndrome falls into play, as gamers quickly notice that S. Moves are inherently superior to anything else. It is basically the win button, and after a while, you can start battles with enough spirit to spam Rain of Swords on anything, and why would anyone do anything differently after that? I wouldn’t say it ruins the game in any way shape or form, as the story keeps me engaged throughout the whole thing, but it certainly isn’t my favorite part. The real downfall is when endgame happens you will find yourself spamming S. Moves which protect you from magic and lower damage every single turn.
This basically limited your party to 2 characters attacking at any given point. In fact it even made it so that you would have to use Enrique for most battles as his defensive S. Move “Justice Shield” would halve any physical damage. To protect yourself from magical damage you would have to spam Aika’s “Delta Shield” as a protection from any magic attack that enemies would have including the instant death ones. This was crucial as enemies chose their moves after you did and the turn you chose not to spam them would mean that you ARE going to lose a character. It was unfair and annoying and it truly is the only glaring weakness of the game that I could think of. If anything, I have to say that this weakness doesn’t happen in my favorite part of the game, the ship to ship battles.
Ship combat consists of a grid system where Spirit Points really come into play. Each character can choose one of the spaces on a 4 x 4 grid with different colors based on how much damage you can take that turn. But what makes it awesome is the different types of attacks you can have based on the type of cannon used. Secondary cannons do less damage, but are capable of firing multiple turns, torpedoes will fly into the stratosphere and come back at a later turn with a vengeance and main cannons are strong, but can only attack once. If you combine these, you can create some truly terrifying combos with damages high enough to kill some of the later enemies in one well placed turn.
I made it my own personal goal to learn ways in which I can have a single turn where the enemies will literally be decimated. Battles also have choices where you can pick what to do on that turn and some of these are not always clear. You can cast a spell on the engines to make them faster and capable of dodging an incoming ram, or you can sit and twiddle your thumbs and have the enemy set themselves up by mistake. If played correctly, you can end up on a favorable position or, at least, a situation where you’re in less danger. This comes in really handy for some of the gigantic beast you are against, including a creature of mass destruction named Zelos.
The battles also tend to mix dialogue via radio communication and, at times, the enemies banter with you, which added a colorful flavor to the otherwise tense environment of the battlefield. Often, I found myself patiently waiting for the next battle in which I could use the Delphinus and attack the enemies with the fabled Moonstone Cannon a prototype signature weapon unique to your ship. For me, it proves to be the best part of the game and I’m certain others feel the same way. Looking at your normally huge vessel being dwarfed by creatures of myths or ships that are larger than some islands is amazing. It is certainly a part of the game that I won’t forget.
Mixing strategy with RPG elements and even giving magic a use during combat was a winning combination. It becomes better as you unlock more crewmembers, which provided passive or active skills to the ships. One of the Urala was the ultimate gamebreaker for a mere 15 spirit points, she can max out your Spirit on the next turn, and once you have enough to start combat with that many, it would mean that you can spam the Moonstone cannon as early as the second turn with the inclusion of every other cannon in the ship.
But that is just it for me, Skies of Arcadia is filled to the brim with gamebreaker tactics, and while they never make the game any less fun, it isn’t something I enjoy too much either. It’s hard to place where I stand on that topic, because I enjoy the entire experience so much, but perhaps others aren’t as forgiving. As I said, it doesn’t detract from the storyline, and while there are times when your overpowered self can take on a few invincible enemies, the game still treats it as if you lost, or worst, didn’t reduce the HP past 1. In-story it makes sense, but in gameplay not really, and what can I say? Skies of Arcadia isn’t perfect, but it’s still very memorable and I love every minute of it.
One of the ultimate gems of the Sega Dreamcast Skies of Arcadia is still certainly worth playing today!