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Patrick Hope: I’m on a (flying) boat!

By Patrick Hope / Our Town Columnist

The other day, I was playing Assassin’s Creed IV and thinking how there aren’t enough good pirate-themed games. Considering how inherently cool pirates are, you’d think it would be easier to make a good game about them. But you know what are even cooler than regular pirates AND are the subject of a great game? I’ll give you a bit to think about it.

The answer is sky pirates and the game is Skies of Arcadia.

Skies of Arcadia was released for the Dreamcast in November 2000, with a “director’s cut” version that contained extra boss battles, an overhauled encounter rate and some new side quests coming out for the Nintendo Gamecube in January 2003. It’s a straight, turn-based role-playing game with few quirks as far as battles go. You can do flashy special moves.

You’ll have to use strategy as some fights, especially bosses, will wreck you if you’re not careful. Battles are fun but nothing leaps off the screen at you. But the run-of-the-mill, random encounters are not Skies of Arcadia’s claim to fame. Its world is.

The world of Arcadia is composed of large, floating islands in the sky. These floating islands are home to various civilizations, such as the villainous and inspired-by-Age of Exploration Spain (And PROTIP: If there’s a country in an RPG that’s referred to as an empire, odds are good it’s the villain), the desert of Nasr, and the Meso-American Ixa’taka. They all feel really different and the way the world is built makes the rise of these completely unique cultures seem very plausible. But you want to hear about the pirates, don’t you?

So, as mentioned before, Skies of Arcadia is about sky pirates. These pirates live under their own flag — you know, because that’s what pirates do — and are looking for treasure, again, because that’s what pirates do.

Your protagonist is Vyse, fledgling member of the Blue Rogues, otherwise known as the good guy pirates as they only attack the Valuan armada, not civilians. The game starts in medias res as Vyse and his best friend/co-pirate Aika (she’s the redhead on the Sega Dreamcast cover art) are raiding an enemy ship that just captured a small boat piloted by Mysterious Girl Fina (she’s the blonde). You rescue her, the Valuans want her back and off you go on your epic journey of pirating and discovery.

One of the most immediately noticeable things about Vyse and company is how consistently cheerful and upbeat they are. In a genre known for copious amounts of brooding and cynical introspection, the cast of Skies of Arcadia — the three main party members and assorted other hero-types alike —

are a really likable and perky bunch. Yeah, they’re saving the world, but they’re also making discoveries, taking out evil pirates and being generally helpful.

And with being a dashing sky pirate, it should go without saying that Vyse is going to be getting his own pirate ship at some point, complete with its own crew. There are a bunch of crew members to recruit, each with their own specialties, ranging from a pilot to a cook to a set of gunners, along with a bunch of special equipment to buy. And what is the point of having all this stuff? Well, it’s to engage in epic ship-to-ship battles.

At various points in the game, you’ll either have to fight random marauding pirates, giant monsters or the flagship of one of the Five Valuan Grand Admirals. These battles, especially against the Grand Admirals, are among the best in the game, as you’re faced with a very different battle than you would on foot. You have to give orders to fire cannons, repair your ship and evade your opponents’ big special moves. It’s an extra level of battling and everyone likes switching up your battles.

Sadly, I don’t have room to go into detail on Skies of Arcadia’s visual presentation (it’s super-colorful) or music (it’s top-shelf quality), or give a longer summary of its story (it’s quite good and a certain portion in the middle remains one of my favorite parts of any game ever). It’s a pretty long game to boot, clocking in at around 60 hours — even if you skip, like I did the first time I played, a good chunk of optional content.

Price-wise, it’s really affordable, with complete copies costing $40-ish for the Dreamcast and about $50 for the Cube. And you want the Cube version thanks to the extra content and the fact that on the Dreamcast, the final item that is needed to fully upgrade Fina’s weapon was only available online and the servers for the game have long since been shut down.

And on a personal note, this game was subject of one of my more protracted gaming marathons, as I blew through a lot of the middle of the game in a single 14-hour stretch in early 2003. It should go without saying that this made me one of the coolest kids in school. So if you like RPGs or pirates, you owe it to yourself to give Skies of Arcadia a shot.

Hope is a Dickinson attorney and video game enthusiast.