Skies of Arcadia
|Skies of Arcadia|
North American Dreamcast cover art
Skies of Arcadia, released in Japan as Eternal Arcadia (エターナルアルカディア?), is a role-playing video game developed by Overworks for the Dreamcast and published by Sega in 2000. First announced under the code name Project Ares in 1999, the game was met with high anticipation due the background of the development team members, who had previously contributed to Panzer Dragoon Saga, Phantasy Star, Sonic the Hedgehog and Sakura Wars titles. Upon Sega's exit from the hardware industry, a director's cut of the game, Skies of Arcadia Legends was ported to the Nintendo GameCube across 2002 and 2003.
The game's story focuses around Vyse, a young air pirate in a fantasy world, and his friends as they attempt to stop the Valuan Empire from reviving ancient weapons with the potential to destroy the world. The game contained the traditional Japanese role-playing game mechanics of early Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, entries, such as turn-based battles and experience point-based character progression, but put its own twist on the genre with having a greater focus on exploration, through allowing the player to fly and battle with, a large airship in 3D space among many floating islands and landmasses. The game was well received by critics, even becoming one of the best reviewed games on the Dreamcast, but the critical success did not translate to sales, with the game generally not considered to have performed well commercially. Sequels and re-releases have arisen over time as possibilities, but to date have not materialized to any actual releases, though the characters have been featured in a number of Sega-related properties, notably the Valkryia Chronicles series of video games.
The game plays as a traditional Japanese role-playing video game with an emphasis on world exploration. Gameplay is similar to older entries in the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games, centered around the prospect of the player directing a character to engage enemies in turn-based battles to earn money and experience points to make the characters stronger, and in effect, be able to take on stronger enemies. Traversing the game's overworld is done through flying large airships in 3D space, travelling between the fictional game world's six regions, and searching all the space in between for secrets and "Discoveries", preset hidden locations that give the player added benefits for progressing through the game. The game's world map starts out blank, and it is up to the player to chart the map through exploration. The player may also recruit characters they encounter in exploration, allowing them to be placed on the ship or base's staff, adding extra benefits to exploration or battle.
When docked on landmasses or warships, exploration occurs on foot. There, gameplay alternates between exploring cities and progressing through the game's dungeons. Cities are visited to buy equipment to make character's stronger, and interact with non-playable characters to progress the story. The dungeons exist in the format of a maze, with the player navigating the characters through it to obtain beneficial items in treasure chests while taking on enemies in random battles. Getting through the end of the maze generally culminates in a last boss battle to be won prior to exiting.
The game takes place in the fictional skies referred to as Arcadia, where six civilizations coexist on floating continents orbited by six moons of different colors. Thousands of years prior to the present time of the game, the civilizations, one of which existed for each moon, developed technologically to the point where each created a Gigas, a colossal living weapon of mass destruction, as well as the Moon Crystals that could be used to control them. Using the Gigas, the civilizations warred with one another, which caused enormous environmental harm and threatened the extinction of all six. The most advanced, the Silver Civilization, used their Gigas to summon the Rains of Destruction, which pulled meteors from the orbiting moons and crashed them down onto the planet's surface. The catastrophic destruction stopped the rampage of the Gigas, as well as nearly destroyed the other five civilizations, thus ending the war. A seal was placed on the Silver Gigas to prevent the Rains from being used again, and the Moon Crystals were hidden away, while each civilization worked on rebuilding itself in the subsequent eras.
The player primarily controls the game's protagonist named Vyse, along with a party of up to four characters. The game's other two main characters, Aika and Fina, and mandatory characters for the party through most of the game as well. The final spot in the group is filled by one of three other playable characters - Drachma, Gilder, and Enrique - dictated either by story events, or the player's choice. Additionally, an additional twenty two minor characters are recruit-able to fill various roles on Vyse's airship, though they remain there, and do not follow Vyse's party in particular.
- Vyse: A 17 year old member of the Blue Rogue air pirates that resist the Valuan Empire. Vyse has an upbeat, optimistic and determined personality, making him a natural leader. Vyse fights with twin cutlasses.
- Aika: Vyse's close friend since childhood and fellow 17 year old Blue Rogue. Aika has a strong and energetic personality and is deeply loyal to those around her, but has a bit of a fiery temper and an obsession for obtaining treasure. She was orphaned at an early age, and was cared for by Vyse's family. Aika fights using an oversized boomerang.
- Fina: A 17 year old "Silvite", one of the few survivors of the ancient, defunct Silver Civilization. Fina is beautiful, sweet-natured and demure, yet has an iron will. She is initially naive of the Arcadian way of life, but proves to be a quick learner. She forms a strong bond with Vyse and a sisterly bond, with Aika. Fina's pet, a silver ball-like creature named Cupil, fights for her. Cupil can morph into various shapes and gains power by eating Chams, Moon Stone shards that are hidden throughout the game.
- Drachma: A 55-year-old man who lost his right arm, right eye, and only son while fighting the giant arc-whale Rhaknam. His obsession with hunting Rhaknam for revenge leads him to search the skies on his small fishing airship, Little Jack. He travels with Vyse and the others for part of the game, and pretends not to care about them, but he shows up to save them quite a few times. He use a mechanical right arm as a weapon during battle.
- Gilder: A handsome 32-year-old man, he is the captain of the light, swift pirate vessel Claudia. He is a very laid-back, adventurous, and flirtatious individual, and dreads nothing more than being tied down by marriage, constantly fending off advances from Clara, a Blue Rogue obsessed with him. Despite his carefree nature, Gilder is a highly experienced and capable air pirate. He uses pistols as his weapons and commands a parrot named Willy, who can be helpful in getting him out of tough situations.
- Enrique: At 25 years old, Enrique is the crown prince of the Valuan Empire but disagrees strongly with the imperialist policies of his mother, Empress Teodora. Unable to change or even influence the totalitarian ways of the empire, he joins the air pirates later on and even gives Vyse his flagship, the Delphinus. His frank nobility and chivalry are in direct opposition to the attitudes of most of the higher Valuans. Enrique uses rapiers as his weapon in battle.
The game follows Vyse and Aika, members of the Blue Rogues, a faction of Robin Hood-minded air pirates gathered together to resist militant and tyrannical Valuan Empire. Led by Empress Teodora, the empire seeks the Moon Crystals to reawaken the Gigas and take over the world. She directs the Valuan Armada, a fleet of warships led by admirals Galcian and Ramirez, to search and find them. Upon the Silver Civilization learning of this plan, they send Fina on their behalf to find the Moon Crystals first. She is quickly captured by the Armada, but saved by Vyse and Aika, who, with mutual enemies, agree to help her with her mission.
Hitching a ride with an old fisherman, Drachma, and his ship, the trio recover the Red Moon Crystal from a temple in the desert nation of Nasr and the Green Moon Crystal high above Ixa'taka, a continent of lush forests while foiling Valuan operations. However, Vyse is separated from Aika and Fina when Drachma's ship is severely damaged in a Valuan attack. Vyse ends up stranded on the small Crescent Island, where he manages to uncover letters and a map left behind by another pirate seeking a great treasure. Vyse is later found by a fellow Blue Rogue named Gilder, who takes him aboard to help him search for his friends. Meanwhile, Aika and Fina end up in the care of another Blue Rogue, Clara, who takes them to Nasr to help search for Vyse. Aika and Fina find out about the same treasure Vyse read up on, and the three soon reunite, but are then captured by Ramirez and brought to the Valuans' prison fortress. By enlisting the aid of the Valuan prince Enrique, who has lost patience with his government's tyranny, and stealing a powerful Valuan warship named the Delphinus, the Blue Rogues are able to escape. Vyse brings everyone back to Crescent Island, upon which he formally establishes a base of operations and living quarters for he and his fellow shipmates.
The party resumes their search, recovering the Blue Moon Crystal from the eastern Oriental land of Yafutoma and the Purple Moon Crystal from the southern glacial content of Glacia. After obtaining the Yellow Moon Crystal from the Valuan continent, they retrieve Fina's personal ship, initially captured prior by the Valuans, which she needs to bring the Moon Crystals to the Silver Civilization, which exists in an immense shrine that orbits Arcadia. However, Ramirez's fleet assaults the Blue Rogues and he steals all of their Moon Crystals. Vyse, Aika, Fina, and Gilder travel to the Great Silver Shrine in orbit to confer with the elders; they are followed by Galcian and Ramirez, who assassinate the leader of the Silvite elders and from his body extract the final Moon Crystal.
Galcian and Ramirez use the six Moon Crystals to raise the lost Silver continent of Soltis and break the seal on the Silver Gigas. They then use the Rains of Destruction to annihilate the Valuan capital, killing Empress Teodora and seizing control of the Valuan Armada in a bid to dominate the world. Vyse rallies a fleet of Blue Rogues, as well as Yafutoman warships and ships from other regions of the world, to battle the Valuan Armada. The crew of the Delphinus disables the Hydra, the Galcian's capital ship, the party boards the ship and defeat Galcian, with assistance from one of Galcian's subordinates, Belleza, who turns on him and kills them both.
Ramirez, who has retreated into Soltis, grows enraged at Galcian's death, and prepares to use the Rains of Destruction to wipe out the Blue Rogues. Before he can do so, he is stopped by the Silvites, who sacrifice their lives to take down the protective shield around Soltis. The party enters Soltis and battle Ramirez, who then merges with the Silver Gigas, Zelos, allowing it to awaken. Returning to the Delphinus, Vyse and his crew do battle with Zelos and manage to defeat it. The party rushes to the outer deck, where a chunk of Zelos, merged with Ramirez and controlling him, slams onto the Delphinus's deck. They battle one final time, which ultimately results in Ramirez's death and the complete defeat of the Valuan Armada. Enrique, the prince of Valua, marries his love interest, a princess of Yafutoma, and becomes emperor of Valua. With a promise of benevolent rule, he and his wife oversee the reconstruction of the Valuan capital. Vyse and Aika formally inaugurate Fina as a Blue Rogue, and together the three friends sail their own ship into the sunset. As the post-game credits roll, an epilogue briefly details the fates and further adventures of each member of the Delphinus's crew.
Development and release
Development on the original Dreamcast version of the game game began in 1999, under the code name of Project Ares. The game's title was then changed to Eternal Arcadia in 2000, which was the game's final name it was released under in Japan. The internal Sega development team, Overworks, consisted of development staff from Team Andromeda and from the Phantasy Star development teams. The game's producer, Rieko Kodama, in addition to working on Phantasy Star 1, 2, and 4, had also worked on the first two Sonic the Hedgehog games for the Sega Genesis, while scenario writer Shuntaro Tanaka had written the stories for the first two Sakura Wars game, highly popular Japan-only RPG releases. The game's soundtrack was composed by Yutaka Minobe and Tatsuyuki Maeda, the latter of which had composed music for Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Anticipation and expectations were immediately set high, between the team's pedigree, especially considering that Team Andromeda's prior game, Panzer Dragoon Saga, had had received critical acclaim, and the relative lack of high quality JRPG's on the Dreamcast. Despite the pressure placed on the team, development generally went smoothly, something attributed to the increased horsepower and easier to develop for nature of the Dreamcast, in comparison to the Saturn. The team was made up of a staff of around 20 people. The team used made conscious decisions to make it so each individual building in towns could be entered without additional loading, and to use an expressive, anime art style to more clearly show facial expressions and emotions of characters, both of which they felt had been lacking from recent popular RPGs such as Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII. Similarly, while the aforementioned games were focused on dark themes and complicated gameplay systems, Overworks strove to keep the game bright and cheerful, with simple gameplay mechanics that focused on exploring a large game world. The game had to be released across two of Sega's proprietary GD-Rom discs, to accommodate its relatively large size.
The game's Japanese Dreamcast release date was initially for September 14, 2000, but was later delayed back to October 5, 2000, in order for the team to created paid "trial version" demo for concurrent release. The release was heavily promoted in the region, featuring multiple television commercials and posters in public places like subways. During launch month, and spanning eight months total, the game also received an official manga in every issue of Magazine Z, supervised by the game's development team themselves. A separate release for the game's soundtrack, released on on CD as a double album, was released on the same day.
The game was retitled as Skies of Arcadia for it's English language release, with Sega feeling the more literal interpretation would lead to better representation of the game's premise and story to Western audiences. The game was localized by Chris Lucich and Klayton Vorlick. The two were given the freedom to rework and change the game content to make it more understandable and likeable by Western audiences, thought Sega of Japan still held the right to veto their changes. While the game still ultimately follows the same general plotline from the Japanese game, much of the exact dialogue was entirely rewritten. The two did a rough translation of the entire game from Japanese to English, and then completely deleted the Japanese from their records, instead choosing to write the subsequent and final drafts entirely based on their English rough draft, no longer referencing the original text. Vorlick completely rewrote the dialogue for Enrique, Vigoro, and Fina, while Lucich rewrote Gilder and Aika, and the two co-wrote for Vyse. Speech patterns expected to be annoying to Western audiences, such as the repetitive nature of Fina saying "Minna-san", were removed, while more interesting speech patterns, quirks, and jokes, were given many of the rest of the characters. The two were greatly influenced by the work of Joss Whedon, adding many dry, sarcastic responses to the dialogue that had been more straightforward exchanges in the original Japanese script. Many side characters and weapons were renamed after members of the localization and quality assurance team as well.
Some of the changes were related to toning down more mature content as well; the two scaled back on references to Aika being assaulted by Vigaro when captured by him, and of references to Ramirez obsessively talking about Galcian in later scenes of the game. Additionally, all traces of cigarettes are removed, shops serve Loqua juice instead of alcohol, and the female character Bellena's attire is altered to be less revealing. The entire project was a massive undertaking, taking four months of work with 80 to 100 hour work weeks, on a script of over 2,000 pages. The game was released in English in North America on November 13, 2000, and in Europe on April 21, 2001.
Skies of Arcadia Legends port
In October 2001, shortly after Sega's announcement that it would abandon the Dreamcast in favor of making software for other consoles, Skies of Arcadia was announced as a title to be ported to the Gamecube and PlayStation 2 consoles. U.S. based developer Point of View Software was brought on to help with the conversion, though the original staff from Overworks continued to work on the game as well. Development was announced to begin in January 2002, with Sega initially aiming for a mid-2002 release. However, by April, Sega announced that the PS2 version would be delayed out of the 2003 fiscal year, and by May, rumors from multiple sources reported to GameSpot stated that the game had been cancelled, though this was refuted by Sega. Sega later reversed their stance on the release by August 2002 though, announcing that the PS2 version was officially cancelled, in favor of focusing on the game's Gamecube release, which was, as of October 2002, 80% complete. The game was released on the Gamecube in Japan on December 26, 2002, in North America on January 27, 2003, and in Europe on May 23, 2003. A separate port for Microsoft Windows was also announced in early 2004, though the release never materialized.
While Legends is largely the same game as the Dreamcast original, a number of changes and improvements were made due to the new hardware of the Gamecube, leading Sega to describe it as a "Director's Cut". The game partially used the original game's code, and partially uses newly written code for the Gamecube. As such, the game looks largely the same graphically, although some minor improvements, such as slightly more detailed character models and less drops in the game's frame rate, are implemented into the release. Some changes were made due to differences in hardware - with the Gamecube lacking the Dreamcast's VMU, some effects, like Cupils notifications, were moved to the television screen, while other aspects, like the "Pinta Quest" minigame, was removed outright. With the Gamecube being less-readily hooked up to the internet, the Dreamcast version's downloadable content was implemented into the main game rather than being accessed through downloading. Loading times were reduced as well.
In regards to game content, gameplay tweaks and additions were made to the game as well. The rate of random encounters is slightly lower in the GameCube version but experience points earned are higher per battle to make up for this. Many side quests and side-stories were added to the game as well. Twenty-four new hidden discoveries to be found, a subplot involving collecting Moonfish for a Doctor and a girl named Maria, and subplot involving Piastol. A "Wanted List" of enemies to locate while exploring has been added as well, most of them being entirely new to the GameCube version.
The original Dreamcast release Skies of Arcadia received critical acclaim from game reviewers. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the game has an average score of 93 out of 100, which indicates "universal acclaim" based on 21 reviews. GameRankings, pulling from a higher percentage of reviews, tracked it slightly lower, at 90% out of 40 reviews. IGN praised it for being "One of the most solid games visually on the Dreamcast" and concluded that "There's so much to explore, so much character, and a great story that you don't mind being retold again. GameSpot gave the game a 9.2 as well, praising the visuals, stating that they were "some of the most painstakingly detailed ever seen in a role-playing game". As a whole, GameSpot concluded that the game "lives up [to] the high expectations". Game Informer listed it as one of the top 10 Dreamcast games. Despite the generally positive reviews, many critics did criticized that it was sometime difficult to explore the game's world due to the game's high rate of random encounter-based battles frequently disrupting progress. Despite this, in a 2017 retrospective from Metacritic on the highest rated exclusive games (at time of release) per platform, Skies of Arcadia placed third for the Dreamcast, behind Soul Caliber and Jet Grind Radio.
The Gamecube release, Skies of Arcadia Legends, despite being largely the same game, reviewed slightly less positively than the Dreamcast release. The aggregate scores were still generally positive, with Metacritic giving it an average of 85 out of 100, out of 31 critics, and GameRankings giving it an 85%, out of 56 reviews. A common source of the lower scores were the game's graphics, with criticism coming from the fact that they had not been substantially improved despite more powerful hardware and over two years passing from the Dreamcast's release. Expectations in graphics had changed drastically in between releases - while the Dreamcast release was frequently compared to the weaker original PlayStation and Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX, by the time of the Gamecube release, the game was compared against the likes of the much more powerful PlayStation 2 and its games like Final Fantasy X and Xenosaga.
Despite the positive critical reception, the game generally not considered to have sold very well. In the May 2017 issue of Game Informer magazine, they listed Skies of Arcadia as the 55th best RPG of all time.
In addition to the cancelled PlayStation 2 and PC releases of the game, a sequel to the game was considered by Sega in the early 2000s, but did not begin full production. The development team had shown interest in creating a sequel, or a portable iteration for the GameBoy Advance during the development of Legends for the Gamecube, but neither materialized. In September 2002, after the completion of Legends, Skies of Arcadia producer Rieko Kodama stated that the team was still interested in creating a sequel, but that work had still not started on it, though had it started, she felt that the Gamecube would have been the most likely platform for its release. In February 2003, Overworks president Noriyoshi Ohba announced that a Skies of Arcadia sequel had entered the planning stages. However, in a December 2004 interview, Kodama stated that while there had been plans for a sequel, the project was put on hold indefinitely while many members of the team were pulled into working on Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love.
Starting in 2010, Sega began a campaign of releasing HD remasters of Dreamcast games digitally on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles, including games such as Sonic Adventure, Crazy Taxi, Sonic Adventure 2, and Jet Set Radio. Sega brand manager Ben Harborne stated that a Skies of Arcadia HD was a likely next release, after Shenmue, as they were the most frequently requested titles for re-release. Sega renewed the Skies of Arcadia trademark later in the year, though a re-release did not materialize.
In other media
While no further Skies of Arcadia releases have happened to date, cameos from its characters have occurred in other Sega properties. Multiple characters from the game later appeared in Sega's 2008 video game Valkyria Chronicles, another title directed by Shuntaro Tanaka. "Vyse Inglebard" and "Aika Thompson" appear as optional members of Squad 7 and are listed on each other's "Like" list. Fina also appears as one of several identical sisters who serve as the squad's unplayable medics. The three also appeared in the Japan-only Valkyria Chronicles 3 in 2011 as well. Vyse and Fina made minor cameos in some of the accompanying Valkyria Chronicles anime as well. Outside of the Valkyria games, Vyse has also made some appearances in some Sonic the Hedgehog related media. He is a playable character in 2012 Sega racing game Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, which also features a racetrack based on Skies of Arcadia, where the participants must drive and fly through the Blue Rogue's home-base while eluding attacks from the Valuan Empire. Vyse also appears in the Sonic the Hedgehog comic book adaption of Transformed featured in Sonic Universe #45, and then again in the Sonic comics for the "World Unite" Sega character crossover story arc.
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