Panzer Dragoon Saga and Final Fantasy had a child and its name is Skies of Arcadia. (Actually, technically, Phantasy Star should replace Final Fantasy here since the Skies of Arcadia studio was made up of ex-Phantasy Star and ex-Panzer Dragoon staff. Without having played any Phantasy Star though, I feel more comfortable comparing this with Final Fantasy.) Nevertheless, this child of two franchises peddles more child-friendly content than either of its parents. The exploits of a few teenage Robin Hood-like pirates facing a cartoonishly evil empire covers most of the plot. As you might expect, there are definitely aspects of Skies of Arcadia Legends that are a bit formulaic and a little bland, especially in the story and characters.
Skies of Arcadia does go some ways to stand out in the crowded JRPG genre. There is some great attention to detail in, for instance, the main character Vyse’s descriptions of objects. It’s entirely optional but, as in many RPGs and adventure games, you can prompt reflections from the protagonist on various items and objects in the world. Skies of Arcadia has flavour text for a lot of different things, and it fleshes out the world nicely. A shop display case is no longer just that, instead it contains a cool model of a ship that Vyse wants to display in his own bedroom.
Flavour text is optional, but there’s also a cool, mandatory overworld with plenty of personality. Although not perfect, this has what Wind Waker’s overworld needed more of – cool places to discover on a ship! Skies of Arcadia has five continents distributed around the map, each with a town or two, a dungeon, and plenty of secrets (“discoveries”) that encourage exploration. The side quests are a nice touch too – recruiting new crew members around the world, fighting pirates with bounties on their heads, and finding Chams and Moonfish to boost Fina’s weapon and obtain secret items respectively.
The prominence of flight betrays the developer’s connection to Panzer Dragoon Saga – trade dragons for air ships and you’re not too far off what Skies of Arcadia turned out to be. Unlike Saga’s entirely airborne action though we have mostly on-foot combat and dungeons in Skies of Arcadia. There are the odd ship battles that are clearly modelled on Saga’s fight system, but they don’t crop up too often. These interesting diversions often require close attention to battle animations and clever planning to win.
Skies of Arcadia Lengeds does just enough to stand out. It’s a highly competent, expansive RPG with some annoying aspects. It’s a lengthy experience, so seeing it through requires a good chunk of time. Unlike most lengthy RPGs I felt happy about seeing this one through to the end, and went out of my way to do most of the optional content along the way. It’s a far cry from the dissatisfaction I felt with another famous child-friendly JRPG, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch on PS3. Unlike that game, Skies of Arcadia was engaging and cohesive for the most part.
I’d like to end fittingly by mentioning Skies of Arcadia’s ending. As with the rest of the game, the actual content of the end – the multi-stage boss fight, the final story sequences – is nothing out of the ordinary. And yet… it was so well done and had such charm I found it all genuinely moving. It resolved wonderfully and that’s something to be commended at the close of a 50 hour+ experience! And that music too…