Skies of Arcadia
My Top 10 list is going to be heavy on the RPGs. It was almost heavier than it currently is. RPGs just tend to stick with me more than other games. Skies of Arcadia is proof of that. I’ve only beaten it once and made it only halfway through my only other attempt. Still, I feel like I know the game front to back. I know its characters and its combat and its world. It’s not quite burned into my memory like certain SNES games, but I don’t think a replay would hold many surprises. I wish I could play it again for the first time.
In an era somewhat incorrectly remembered for dark dreary epics, Skies of Arcadia was a stunning ray of sunshine through cloudy skies. It is in many ways reminiscent of 16-bit RPG design rather than the PSX ones that preceded it. It follows a plucky duo of sky pirates, Vyse and Aika, as they adventure with an amnesiac magical girl, Fina, to find the 6(7? Maybe I don’t remember as well as I thought) moon stones that control ancient weapons. It is a world and story set up straight out of Miyazaki, as many early rpgs were. It is blatantly inspired by Castle in Sky. Aika is a dead ringer for a young Dola. The story mostly sticks with charming and simple and avoids the existential and philosophical crises of games like FF7 or Xenogears. Its battle mechanics aren’t quite as simple as they look; there is strategy but not the layers of obtuse systems that were becoming endemic to the genre.
I find Skies of Arcadia memorable because for several years it was the last game I ever played. For nearly three years Skies was the last new game that I played. I got it for Christmas in 2003, beat it in early 2004 and didn’t play another new game until 2006 when I finally got a PS2. Depsite enjoying quite a few GC games, the kinds of games that I loved on the SNES and to a lesser extent the PS1/N64 mostly went away. Skies of Arcadia was exactly the sort of game that I loved and after beating it I kind of felt finished new games. Nothing seemed likely to give me more of what I wanted than Skies of Arcadia.
Skies of Arcadia is not an innovative game. Rather than doing new things, it excels by doing everything it does well. It is simple but well executed. The story does nothing new, it never elevates itself out of its simple adventure routes. It gives players some control over how characters learn abilities, but there isn’t really anything that requires much planning or thought. The battle system has a couple tricks, with its charging skill bars reusable abilities rather than a simple reliance on MP, but it isn’t that complex. Falling into useless vagaries, Skies of Arcadia is a game with heart. It is a fun adventure that tells its story well. Really, it was just the right game at the right time for me and I loved it.