I'm not sure what role-playing games Keith has been playing exactly. He seems to suggest that this genre is filled with deeply profound, ponderous epics painted in varying swaths of gray, and that Skies Of Arcadia Legends is somehow a sharp turn from these murky morality tales.
To be honest, I see little difference between Skies and other role playing games of the past few years except that the main character isn't a complete whiny bastard. (Would you like your hero avec or sans angst this evening m'sieur? Sans? Very good choice m'sieur!) Furthermore, while Skies' sunny-faced characters are a welcome change from other, dourer videogames, I'm not sure that their inherent shallowness is something worth lionizing.
Aside from that aspect, though, the rest of the game follows the traditional RPG format in close lockstep. Listen closely and you can almost hear the developers' pencils as they mark off their checklist. Virginal, physically weak female character who predominately serves as the group's healer? Check. Tomboy friend of hero? Check. Magic system that ties into most of the basic elements, and is color-coded to boot? Check. Safety of world dependent upon magical stones/crystals/whatever that coincidentally happen to tie in with the aforementioned color scheme? Check. Random battles? Oh yeah, we got lots o' random battles, baby.
So all that being said, why did I like this game so much? Well, as the old clich goes, it's not what you do—it's how you do it that counts. Skies Of Arcadia has panache, something that most game developers wouldn't know it whacked them over the head with a tire iron and jumped up on down on their bruised bodies screaming "Hello! I'm panache!" From the whole floating island/air pirate concept to the smartly designed battle system that emphasizes strategy, Skies is a game packed with style.
A few quick words on the changes between the original Dreamcast version and the GameCube port: One of the biggest complaints about the first version was that the random battles were too far and frequent, especially when sailing about in your airship. Overworks promised to fix this, and so they have. Now, instead of encountering a random battle every tenth of a second, they happen ever other second, which is a bit like the nun in Catholic school whacking your knuckles only ten times this week instead of twenty. You still flinch when the ruler comes down. And it's with that thought in mind that I tick my rating down a half-point from Keith's.
Other changes of note include the modest addition of "wanted list" sub-quest, where you can track down and beat up a variety of felons, thereby cashing in on the reward. It makes for a pleasant enough diversion, but it's far being a major new addition. There's also a new subplot involving a female bounty hunter, but again, you could easily play through the entire game without ever bumping into her. Bottom line: If you played and finished the Dreamcast version of Skies, there's absolutely no reason to pick up the GameCube port, despite the entertaining but meager new content.
Those who haven't bothered to check out Skies yet, however, are missing out on a colorful and thoroughly enjoyable RPG experience. The game may follow the same traditions used time and again by its digital forebears, but it hones and shines them till they glow white-hot with brilliance. Despite its age and its refusal to deviate from RPG tradition, Skies Of Arcadia Legends remains one of the best role-playing games in recent years.