Another favorite title of mine also comes from the year 2000.However, this one was unfortunately released on the Sega Dreamcast, a notably less successful console than the PSOne.Regardless, the early demise of the Dreamcast did nothing to extinguish the excellence of its premier jrpg: Skies of Arcadia!
Despite the floaty, laid-back promise of its title, Skies Of Arcadia is a swashbuckling adventure worthy of its own Disneyland ride.Heck, its title screen proclaims “Where there’s treasure… there are pirates!”In the land of Arcadia, there are two flavors of “pirate:” black pirates and blue rogues. Black Pirates are those who plunder and pillage for their own greedy gain. Blue Rogues, however, are the who fight for a right to back up their wares – Robin Hood “types,” if you will.
Similar to Final Fantasy IX, Skies of Arcadia is a game that I hold close to my heart because of its fascinating characters. From the very beginning, Vyse (the game’s protagonist) is a refreshing far cry from the typically moody, self-involved adolescents that often make up the boy-men of jrpgs. Mature, ambitious and earnestly hungry for adventure, he helps give the story some genuine heroic credibility. He voluntary involves himself in dangerous situations through choice rather than being driven by fate or a disastrous past. Empowerment is his driving force, not obligation. Also, he has both a mother and a father who are present to support him (a true rarity in the jrpgs of those days).Finally, there is no great calamity that haunts him and forces him into seeking adventure.I find this to be quite a nice change of pace.
Vyse’s down-to-earth nature is buffered by his partner Aika, an ever-present confidante and childhood friend, and a playful female companion.Vyse’s relationship with her is flirty and loving, but never blooms into a dreaded romantic subplot, filled with ellipses and uncomfortable interactions.Other notable jrpgs consistently fall into this trap.
The rest of Arcadia’s main players are anything but one-dimensional as well, with the exception of the exotic priestess Fina. Captain Drachma, for example (an ageing, overweight grump with a hefty metallic arm) has his own heartbreaking agenda, involving a box of feathers and the relentless hunt of a gargantuan Arcwhale known as Rhaknam. His trials are handled with Arcadia’s signature even-handedness, making their revelations all the more meaningful.
The good guys are nice, but nowhere is this strength of characterization more prominent in Skies of Arcadia than in the game’s villains: the admirals of Valua’s Imperial Armada. A five-strong force of Valua’s best and most well-armed generals, they form Vyse’s main adversaries in the race to retrieve the sacred Moon Crystals. But few of them are as out-and-out evil and dishonorable as their role suggests. For example, Second admiral Gregorio is a blood relative of one of the game’s heroes, and faces some tough introspection when agendas are fully revealed, leading him to become a martyr for justice. In addition, Fourth admiral Belleza, a sensual redhead who forms a swift crush on Vyse, has a tortured family background that spurs her on to back Valua’s brutal masterplan, if only for the good it could potentially bring. Even Third admiral Vigoro, a macho lunkhead with an embarrassingly phallic battleship, forms a disturbing fascination with Aika, but in defeat still manages to retain some semblance of honor. It’s these ambiguities among Arcadia’s biggest bad guys that raise them above dreary pantomime villainy, replacing it with something far more worthwhile.
It is this grouping of defining characters that make Skies of Arcadia a true jrpg apogee.Few other games offer such charming stories and even fewer contain heroes, villains, and scallawags that are colorful enough to match the crisp Dreamcast palette itself. It is these personalities combined that weave Skies of Arcadia into such a captivating synergy of jrpg goodness. “Where there’s treasure… there are pirates” the game introduces itself. In my humble opinion, Skies of Arcadia makes a strong case for the reverse.