More often than not, local and national news broadcasts tend to poke at our tempers and/or our hearts with blown out of proportion stories and situations. Occasionally, however, they will reveal an interesting fact or trend in today's society. Recently, while watching the local news broadcast, an interesting notion came to my attention: Americans are watching more movies and playing more games. Distinctively in the movies portion, they're watching "black and white" movies. Not in the color sense, but in the moral, or good vs. evil sense. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, American's seem to be looking for a simple, easily defined sense of good and evil. The popularity and success of the recent blockbusters forged from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings are a good example.
The gaming industry has, more often than not, featured this type of black and white notion in its titles. Role Playing Games (RPGs), probably the best evidence in that sense, have taken a slightly more different direction. While the standard good vs. evil context is generally present, mixed in these recipes as of late are gray areas of life, morality and truth. Designers bend and twist every ideal imaginable to get its audience to think on a deeper level. While this kind of intellectual stimulation is usually a welcome one, it has become all to frequent. What was originally a shiny new idea in the RPG genre has become a tedious and all to often occurrence. I suppose writers these days feel if they don't try and get gamers to question their own morality, then they haven't succeeded in creating the epic experience every gamer is supposedly seeking. What this genre needs is a light hearted, "black and white" game with memorable characters and an entertaining story.
Skies Of Arcadia: Legends is a welcome twist to today's "gray" RPG genre. Ported from the original version for Sega's deceased Dreamcast system, Skies is a unique story told in a world formulated by numerous islands in the vast skies of Arcadia. Players travel this world in massive airships and navigate the "seas" in search of new lands, adventure, and of course, treasure.
Now the main catalyst behind any good RPG is it's story, and Skies excels in this department. It truly succeeds in telling an enjoyable "black and white" narration with reasonable and believable plot twists. This isn't Squaresoft folks, and thank goodness for it. Unlike the writers at Square, Overworks doesn't bend or twist every single plot point, confront its cast with exaggerated principles, or force them to decide the fate of the universe. Instead, Overworks gives the good humored and lighthearted cast a simple believable quest. It's within this down-to-earth storyline that Skies sucked me in and kept me there until I finished it.
Skies introduces us to a young man by the name of Vyse. Vyse is an eccentric Air Pirate whose passions in life include a Robin Hood-esque steal from the rich and give to the poor morality and a deep desire to explore the world. His simple and fun-loving personality is a welcome trait compared to the angst-ridden heroes of today's more popular RPG titles. One of the more interesting aspects of Vyse's character is the impact players have on his personality.
Through Skies appropriately themed "Swashbuckler Rating", gamers literally paint the picture that non-playable characters see Vyse in. Through valiant, heroic, or just plain idiotic choices made during the games many text conversations, Vyse's rating will raise or lower making him seem more or less trustworthy, compassionate or hazardous to the many people's causes. The better decisions you make will directly impact how easily or apprehensive these non-playable characters cooperate with Vyse. I found this to be a very unique concept. In most RPG's, choices in text conversation rarely make a difference to the story. I would often choose the less appropriate answers in other RPG's just to see the reactions of the other cast members. This was not the case with Skies. I wanted Vyse to be an upstanding hero that knew what to say or do at the right moment. I was forced to really think about what I wanted Vyse to say and in doing so, I began to relate to and care about him.
Of course, no RPG of this caliber would be complete with just one character. Skies offers a matchless cast of other characters to assist Vyse in his travels through the skies. The games protagonists like Aika, Vyse's childhood friend, and Fina, the mysterious girl who has just drops in out of nowhere, melt together to create a lively and rich set of allies. The villains also have their fair share of development. Standing tall, as the game's main antagonist is not just one evil being, but instead a collection of Fleet Admirals and their Empress. Each fueled by a malevolence determination to make their Empire ruler of all, as well as the opportunity to eliminate Vyse and company. Fortunately, this unique bunch fails to suffer similar fates that RPG casts the likes of Square's Final Fantasy IX, great potential with individual stories, but uneven emphasis. Instead, each member of this crew shares a fairly equal amount of screen-time save Vyse...but one can only expect the hero to steal the spotlight on more than one occasion.
The primary focus throughout Skies is exploration. Traversing the skies for ancient relics or locals wields extra cash and offers additional objectives for those players who enjoy marking off the "everything-there-is-to-do-checklist." Unfortunately, exploring is only mildly rewarding at first. It isn't until the later hours of the game that I found discoveries to yield a substantial amount of money. To make matters worse, there's the annoying random battle encounter rate during flight. To me, it felt too high. Traversing sometimes even the smallest of distances would yield numerous encounters that really crippled my enjoyment(compound that with the fact that the majority of these discoveries couldn't be seen). Instead, I spent too much time in an area constantly tapping the A button in hopes of uncovering the relic and even more time fighting numerous random battles while in flight. So many in fact, that I got fed up at only a quarter of the way through the game, and I stopped looking for them all together. It really is a shame, as I am an avid fan of completing side-quests in RPGs.
Another primary aspect of an RPG is its battle system, and Skies showcases a unique two-aspect battle system. Unlike most RPG's, Skies' battle system never afforded me the opportunity to just slam-dunk any opposing enemy. Instead, it required strategy and planning for both bosses and some of the regular foes. Because of this twist, I found my victories to be more rewarding. The second aspect of the battle system is ship battles. While not near as common as random encounters, they are, on one hand, initially a very interesting and entertaining portion of the game. They required a good amount of strategy to win effectively and offered a break from the regular random battles. On the other hand, these battles suffer a very detrimental down fall. They take a lot longer than regular battles. So much so, that I found myself searching my pantry for a snack during their drawn out rounds.
As I turned off my television that night, I began to finger through my movie and game collection to get an idea of what I had purchased since September 11, 2001. Movies like Spider-Man and The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring and games like Metroid Prime, Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, and Super Mario Sunshine filled my library. It occurred to me that I too was buying and watching games and movies with a defined sense of good vs. evil. I will not deny that the presence of a very distinct line between the two is a welcome occurrence especially considering the chaotic events surrounding the world today; and perhaps it is because of these states of affair that I enjoyed Skies Of Arcadia: Legends so much. I just had to kick back and let the game take me to a brighter day.