Skies of Arcadia
Let me start this review saying this: I am not an RPG player. However, after playing OverWorks' Skies of Arcadia, I can honestly say that my opinions on the genre have changed, tremendously. Being my first true RPG (besides such games as Dragon Warrior Monsters and [gulp] Pokémon), Skies has been one of the greatest gaming experiences that I have ever had. That said, let's get to the good stuff, the review.
First, let's begin by looking at the story aspect of the game. Basically, it follows the classic RPG "collect-a-number-of-items-in-order-to-stop-the-villain" plot, but, actually, it is much better than (even) that. You are Vyse, a teenage Air Pirate, of the Blue Rogues, in the world of Arcadia. Arcadia consists of floating "islands" in the sky, as the pressure of the world below is so high that no person dares venture downward. So, the people must travel by ship, with the sky being their ocean. While there is only one sun, the planet has six moons, each of a different element. The population of the yellow moon's continent are ruled by the Valuans, an evil empire determined to gather the six Moon Crystals in order to reawaken the "Gigas," power super-beings that are capable of destroying the world. And-- wait. Maybe I shouldn't spoil the story too much for you, as finding the plot is a major factor in the enjoyment of an RPG. So basically, it is up to Vyse to recover all of the Moon Crystals and keep Valua from harnessing their power. The plot is very, very good, I assure you.
As we all know, the battle system is a very important element in an RPG game, and, while I think it could be better, the system in Skies is easy to learn/understand, and has some good innovations. Now, there are two different styles of fighting in Skies of Arcadia: the traditional hand-to-hand combat, and ship battles. I'll start by mentioning the normal-style battle system.
For random battles, either in dungeons or flying in the sky, your party and your enemies appear on the screen, ready to fight. If the opponent appears behind your characters' backs, they will fight first. This can be a minor annoyance, but your party gets double the Spirit Points when your turn comes up, which is an advantage. When your turn finally comes up, you input commands for each of your party members. (There can be up to 4 people in your party, and there are 7 possible party members. Which ones are in your party is fixed.) Your options? Well, you can Run, which lets you escape from the battle (this doesn't always work, and cannot be chosen for boss battles); you can use an Item; Guard, which decreases damage done by half; Attack, or use a "Super Move," which is basically the current character's special offensive or defensive skill, and often contain very cool animations, especially Vyse's "Pirate's Wrath." Each character has more than one Super Move, but you must use a certain quantity of a rare item (called a Moonberry) to learn them. You can also use magic, where your character uses a spell containing powers brought to you by one of the six moons, and either regain health, hurt the enemy, or offer a defensive advantage to you. And finally, you can use Focus, which lets you regain Spirit Points, which give you the power to use Super Moves and magic. Also, at the beginning of each turn, your characters will regain a certain amount of Spirit Points, and you'll often depend on this to give you the power you need to perform a certain spell or move that can win or lose the battle. However, your enemies can do everything you can do, and many times they'll get to attack before your characters, which you'll grow to hate.
As for the ship battles, it's pretty much the same thing, except 'Super Move' is replaced by 'Special Cannon,' which you can only use at certain points in the battle, and the 'Crew' option is available. If you have a crew, that is. The Crew command lets one of your crew members perform a certain action, and it consumes Spirit Points. There is a big difference in this kind of battle, however. Instead of attacking round-by-round, there is a 3x3 or 4x4 grid that appears on screen, where you have to choose what your characters are going to do in advance. Luckily, boxes above the grid help you determine whether to use a spell (either to heal or damage), attack, guard or focus. These boxes also tell you when you can use your Special Cannon, which is not very often, and it usually wins the battle for you. In addition, sometimes you might have to decide what strategy to use, whether it be "Keep firing!" or "Go into defensive mode." These are kind of hard to explain, but after your second or third battle you'll have no trouble beating the snot out of the Valuan Armada.
When your not battling, you're exploring, whether it be in the air, in a town, or in a dungeon. When in the air, you fly around in your ship, and look for Discoveries and such. In the towns, you just walk around and explore, that's it. And when in dungeons, you solve puzzles and fight monsters. Simple as that.
Skies of Arcadia is, hands-down, one of the most beautiful Dreamcast games to date. Though it might not be as "purty" as Shenmue, Skies certainly gets the job done. The animations in the battles are done superbly, and I often find myself wasting a lot of Spirit Points just to see Vyse's "Rain of Swords," for one. The special effects are very cool, and the ships just plain rock. The various dungeons are layed out nicely, and the overworld is nicely detailed. Also, the towns are full of life and splendor. Finally, the characters look very nice, and the bosses are well-designed. One last note: once you see Cupil, you will fall in love with the character designers for this game. Graphics are an A+ in my opinion.
As for sound, the soundtrack is very well-done, and many of the music tracks are lively and imaginative. However, voices are limited to laughs, occasional phrases such as "Dispose of them," and character battle cries (which can get annoying, let me add) and victory phrases. I do not like the voice acting. However, for such a big game, it is no wonder that the developers opted for a text dialogue instead of voice acting. The sound effects are good, also, but could be better.
And, finally, the miscellaneous items. I highly recommend using a VMU for Skies, as there are neat Cupil animations on the screen while playing, and a useful mini-game for your enjoyment when you're not playing in 3D on your Dreamcast. Also, if ou don't have a Jump Pack, which I don't see any reason not to, I would get one. OverWorks did a great job using the Jump Pack to its advantage in Skies of Arcadia. Finally, be sure to have a lot of free time!
And so, this review is concluded. By now you should have a good idea of the mechanics of the game, maybe a little too good of an idea. Sorry for the long review, but there was a lot to talk about. And, if you want a simple recommendation, FOR GOD'S SAKES, THIS GAME RULES!!!! Ahem. Thank you.