Throwback Bit Thursday: Skies of Arcadia

Skies of Arcadia Cover

The Dreamcast was a weird little system, not because there was anything wrong with it, but because it launched in the U.S. (9/9/1999) in the midst of late gen N64 software (which looked pretty good), and the beginnings of a massive PlayStation 2 hype campaign.  The Dreamcast needed to be massive sales success in order to keep struggling Sega afloat, but unfortunately, it failed in that (impossible) task.

Still, Dreamcast adopters were mind-blown by Sonic Adventure, Soul Calibur and a few other titles that were truly “next-gen” in terms of visuals when compared to previous generation gaming efforts. For JRPG fans, however, the Dreamcast was an attractive machine on the strength of two titles: Grandia II, and Sega’s own Skies of Arcadia.  

The Dreamcast – Squaresoft = No Choice but to buy a PlayStation 2 

Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X (and Square Enix) was a large reason why JRPG fans flocked to the PS2 (as opposed to competing systems).

 

The reality of the Dreamcast’s situation was that for JRPG fans (most who probably purchased Final Fantasy VIII for their old trusty PS1, instead of a DC console) only the PlayStation 2 guaranteed their future JRPG prospects. Square Enix has lost some influence today, as very gamers fans say: “I need to get a PS5 just to play Final Fantasy XVI!”. However, in 1999-2000 it was common for gamers of the era to purchase a PS2 just because they wanted to keep playing future installments of the Final Fantasy series. 

This fact did not bode well for the Dreamcast’s JRPG prospects. Grandia 2 did not sell well, and Skies of Arcadia (arguably the superior game) sold even less.  JRPG fans did not flock to the Dreamcast. In fact, no JRPG made it to the system’s lifetime top ten sellers list. This is particularly damning when the game in the 10th spot of that list only sold 360,000 copies.  

Skies of Arcadia is a Tragically Great JRPG  

Skies of Arcadia TBT
Very few games looked as good as Skies of Arcadia did 20 years ago.

To me, Skies of Arcadia is every bit as good as Final Fantasy X, and consequently any of the top PlayStation 2 RPGs of the era. I find it tragical that the game’s confinement to the Sega Dreamcast, and later to the GameCube, doomed it to oblivion.  

As of today, Sega has left the property behind. Even Game Arts’ Grandia II received a remaster on Switch, but Skies of Arcadia remains tied to 20-year-old machines. With no known plans for a Skies of Arcadia ‘remaster’, we are forced to remember the classic title for what it was nearly 21 years ago on the Dreamcast. 

Skies of Arcadia has a Rightful Claim for being the Greatest J-RPG of the New Millennium 

Game rankings are largely a matter of opinion. My truth is likely to be different than someone else’s truth. That’s why tools like Metacritic are useful in judging certain games, as a wide gamut of views are taken into account before tallying a final score. By this metric, Skies of Arcadia is one of the greatest Japanese Role-Playing games ever.  

With a Metacritic rating of 93, Skies of Arcadia comes at #2 behind Final Fantasy IX (also released in the year 2000) as the greatest J-RPG in the 2000s decade. It beat out Final Fantasy X, XII, and Dragon Quest VIII among others to earn its place. 

Clearly, a game like Skies of Arcadia deserved better than the paltry sales that it got, and certainly better than Sega’s perpetual indifference towards the IP.  

Skies of Arcadia in 2000 

Skies of Arcadia, was quite simply the most impressive game that I had played at that point (Late 2000) after The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Readers familiar with my work, are likely to know that I still see Ocarina as the greatest game ever made at the time of its release. Therefore, my earlier statement on Skies of Arcadia is not to be taken lightly. 

In some ways, Skies of Arcadia was a natural evolution of Ocarina’s visual presentation. SoA was fully 3-D, with a controllable camera (not a fixed view like Grandia II, and not fixed angles like FFX). You could really appreciate the towns, and dungeons in all their polygonal glory, and the game relied heavily on real-time in engine cutscenes to showcase key plot moments (just like Ocarina).  

Given the leap in power that the Dreamcast offered over the Nintendo 64, Skies of Arcadia’s characters, NPCs, textures and effects looked better than those in Ocarina of Time, and in my opinion even its contemporary rival Grandia II’s.  

The was filled with meticulous details on its visuals, every town, area, and dungeon felt and looked different. Clearly, some games are labors of financial profit. Meaning, that the driving force behind their development is to make money. Skies of Arcadia, however, felt like a true labor of love. Its development team clearly loved RPGs, and the world that they had crafted within the IP.

The game was epically large, traversing a fully 3-D map with a flying pirate ship was fantastic, and the sense of discovery was always present. JRPGs are all about an epic quest driven by the adventurous ride undertaken by their characters in order to get to a legendary final boss confrontation. Very few games have managed to fulfill those descriptions better than Skies of Arcadia. 

Vyse, Aika, and Fina’s romp to destroy the Valuan Empire is an unforgettable tale of friendship, dreams of discovery, and not giving up hope in the face of unsurmountable odds. It helped the game that it was gorgeous to look at, and its strategic turn-based combat was both challenging and fun. The ship battles felt epic, and strategy driven affairs that broke the monotony of regular turn-based battles that plagued most games in the genre. 

Some complained about the game’s high random encounter rate. However, coming from the 32-Bit era of RPGs, I did not feel bothered by SoA’s encounter rate. I must mention that the rate was toned down for the GameCube port.  

A Masterpiece That Made the Dreamcast a Worthy Purchase 

Skies of Arcadia Vyse
Robin Hood would have been proud. Blue Pirate, Vyse, led the cast in an unforgettable world saving quest.

The Dreamcast had a few games that merited the console’s ownership. Resident Evil: Code Veronica, Soul Calibur, and NFL 2K being some of these games, however, for JRPG fans no other game justified the console’s purchase as much as Skies of Arcadia did.  

Made by the people behind Phantasy Star, and Panzer Dragoon, Skies of Arcadia is like their last great effort for a Sega console, and perhaps their best. Last year, I wrote an article about how the game deserved a remaster, and thus, this TBT entry allows me to once again plea for the game’s case. 

On the strength of its sales Skies of Arcadia might not deserve a remaster, but if there was ever game that merited such a resurrection by virtue of its greatness as a piece of software, then few are more deserving than Skies of Arcadia. 

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By Samuel Rivera

An avid video game player and book reader, Samuel has been playing video games for the last 31 years. He has played nearly every PS1 JRPG known to man, and loves Ocarina of Time more than any other game.