In some ways, Skies of Arcadia is a hard game to objectively judge. In the eyes of many Sega fans (myself included), it's more than just a video game, it's a symbol. And by virtue of appearing on the Dreamcast, it's almost automatically lumped in with the likes of Phantasy Star Online and Jet Grind Radio as the ideal, making it a shining example of Sega gone right. Basically, it's the personification of aching nostalgia.
Adding to the warm fuzzies of memories is the fact that, unlike the two games mentioned above, Skies of Arcadia never got a sequel. Instead, it got an enhanced port on the GameCube, substantially bolstering the console's scant library of RPGs while cementing the title's status as a classic. Fitting that it should be tagged "Legends," being as it was already a legend in the minds of most RPG fans by that point.
What's interesting is that Arcadia was never exactly a revolutionary RPG, even for its time. For one thing, not only is it fairly linear, it has quite a high number of random encounters. And its battle system isn't exactly a revelation either. But it's solid, which is really all Arcadia needs to be successful. It's the tried-and-true gameplay that provides a great foundation for Arcadia's real strengths -- its entertaining premise and its unabashed sense of adventure. Arcadia's is very much a back to basics approach, shunning the narrative mindscrews and brooding protagonists of the time for air pirates and fun.
As a result, we get characters like Vyse and Aika, who manage to entertain more by virtue of their fighting skills and love of treasure than any serious character development. They star in a story that's brisk and fun, offering plenty to do over the fifty or so hours that it lasts. Like the original Star Wars or Indiana Jones films, it's a throwback that's never really takes itself too seriously.
Unlike many other RPGs of its type, it manages to keep things comparatively fresh, throwing elements like ship-to-ship combat into the mix. Actually, many of my favorite moments came from those battles, not the least because it made me feel like the captain. It's one of my favorite feelings in the world, and one that's similar to the experience I had with another Sega game more recently -- Infinite Space. The latter is quite a bit deeper, but both made me feel invested in their respective ships, which is a feeling I crave. Whenever I get the chance to play Infinite Space these days, Skies of Arcadia is always foremost on my mind.
Beyond that, Arcadia is a gem of an RPG, one that uses its traditional mechanics as a springboard for providing a fast-paced, well-designed adventure. It may be old, but its time has hardly passed.
You may also recognize Skies of Arcadia as the work of the legendary designer Rieko Kodama, who also played a heavy role in the likes of Phantasy Star and the Sega Saturn's surprisingly excellent Magic Knight Rayearth. Arcadia represents some of her finest work, holding up rather well over the years despite a few visual rough edges. It's a fine example of an old-school RPG, proving that traditional mechanics work just fine if the concept is well-developed and entertaining.
Those who happen to have a Dreamcast around the house probably have a copy of Arcadia as well, if only because it defined so much of that console's RPG legacy. For the rest, there's the GameCube port, which can be found for relatively cheap online provided it's bought used. It's billed as an enhanced port, but the enhancements mostly extend to the faster load times, lower encounter rates and features like the wanted list. Otherwise, it's much the same, which is to say that it's darn good.
Legends makes for an excellent purchase for anyone wanting to fill out their Wii's RPG library. The Dreamcast may be long gone, but it's nice to know that Skies of Arcadia still has a good home even after all these years.