In an age of remasters and ports, some games will never not be made available to audiences. Nintendo will always have a version of Super Mario Bros. on its latest system, Skyrim will continue to release on everything in existence, and someone will always find a way to play Doom on every piece of tech ever made. But then you have games that are forgotten and ignored by companies that fans are clamoring for a re-release of. Skies of Arcadia is currently one of those games.
Recently, a report came out that Sega plans to remaster the 2000s Dreamcast RPG for modern consoles. Until now, Skies of Arcadia had received an expanded port in 2003 for GameCube, but that’s about it. There have been teases about HD versions of the original game dating back to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 era, but nothing materialized from there. While I’m not one to get my hopes up about a port finally coming to light, if one does happen, then audiences are going to discover a true gem with Skies of Arcadia thanks to its boundless optimism and its infectious sense of adventure.
In the world of Skies of Arcadia, you take on the role of Vyse, a sky pirate, who alongside his partners Aika and Fina sails the skies in order to put a stop to the evil Valuan Empire and its ambitious plans to take over the world. To do so, you assemble a crew of pirates and sail the skies, searching for hidden treasure, claiming bounties on dangerous criminals, and, of course, fighting the enemy in turn-based combat.
While most of the mechanics surrounding the game are fairly standard for the genre, what elevated Skies of Arcadia above its peers was just how likable of a protagonist Vyse is. When we meet him, he’s a spirited young man who wants nothing more than to assemble his own pirate crew and sail around looking for adventure. He has a sense of wonder about him that most other RPG protagonists didn’t have and arguably still don’t. In an era where Cloud Strife and Squall Leonhart were setting the tone for how an RPG protagonist was meant to behave, Vyse was all about helping the downtrodden, putting his own life at risk to save his friends, and doing what’s right because it’s right. He’s almost a Robin Hood-like figure in an era of brooding protagonists that were more interested in introspective drama than extroverted socialization.
The rest of the cast is also well-defined, interacting well with each other over the 30-40 hours of adventuring. Aika is like Vyse’s sister, and the two of them have a great rapport where they’re teasing each other and always have each other’s backs. She’s a bit feistier and centered on making as much cash as possible, but Aika still manages to be entertaining. Fina also gets solid development throughout the game, interacting with people for the first time thanks to her sheltered lifestyle. It’s through the lens of these three characters that we see the world for what it really is — a gigantic discovery in the making.
In most RPGs, overworld navigation tends to be an underwhelming journey from point A to point B. In Skies of Arcadia, the overworld exploration is where all of the excitement is. At first, you have a small ship that is limited in how it can navigate through the air, but as the game progresses, you get bigger and better ships that have more capabilities. Slowly you’re able to sail through floating reefs, navigate tornadoes, increase and decrease your ship’s altitude, and eventually even submerge your ship beneath the clouds to explore the surface of the planet you live on. Every time you get one of these new upgrades, it fills your mind with a rush of adrenaline and you find yourself asking what you’re going to find next.
When you’re sailing around the world, most of it is uncharted territory. You have a vague idea of where you should be going, but as you chart more and more of the world, you begin to make discoveries and jot them down in your notebook. Some of the discoveries are optional and serve as fun little landmarks for you to sail past, but others are mandatory and help to drive home your accomplishments in the game. When you sail to a new country that was thought to be undiscovered, the characters marvel at their findings and get excited because they’re going to be the first people to actually set foot there. They’re the ones making history and you, inadvertently, are also expanding the knowledge of the world. The best part is, when you make these discoveries, the information travels, and you’re able to go into towns and see how people are reacting to mind-shattering news like learning the world is round.
And as you’re sailing the skies and making these discoveries, you’re actually building your own pirate crew. You can visit towns, landmarks, and civilizations to see if anyone wants to join you on your adventures, and each crew member does have a purpose. When you’re fighting enemy ships in sky battles, your crew members will offer abilities that can help you defeat them. Some of your crew members can offer passive perks in battle and even be used to help determine the effects of one of your party’s super moves. Plus, they all have their own unique personalities and quirks that will help you get to know them better both in combat encounters and when you’re just hanging around your home base.
It’s weird to say that my favorite things about Skies of Arcadia are the optional elements that have nothing to do with the main story, but that just goes to show how fun it is to role-play as a pirate captain. You want to sail the skies, find discoveries, and defeat giant sky monsters not to fill up some obligatory checklist, but because it’s fun. There’s a thrill and enjoyment present here that’s very similar to the kind of joy you would get watching a Saturday morning cartoon or an anime.
In fact, if the remaster report for Skies of Arcadia doesn’t pan out, then Sega should at least consider making the game into an anime. The sense of adventure here is very similar to the kind that you would get from One Piece, though I would say it’s more easily accessible given the contained nature of Skies of Arcadia’s plot. This isn’t going to be an epic story that spans decades. It’s a simple story with a lot of heart that can be told easily in 24 half-hour episodes. It’s kid-friendly, and even in the darker moments, there’s always a sense that you know Vyse and his crew will be able to save the day and defeat the bad guys, a structure that I think anyone who grew up watching shows like The Pirates of Dark Water or Peter Pan & the Pirates will certainly enjoy.
But more than anything, I just want to see this game come back. Sega has been content with giving Vyse and his friends cameo appearances in games like Valkyria Chronicles and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, but a game as good as Skies of Arcadia deserves more than just lip service. There’s just something about Skies of Arcadia that felt like lightning in a bottle. It went against the grain of the RPG genre at the time and was limited in its success by releasing on the Dreamcast mere months before the Dreamcast was shelved. Since then, prices for the game have skyrocketed, making it one of the rarest games on both the Dreamcast and the GameCube.
That shouldn’t be the case at all. It shouldn’t be a Herculean effort to try to play an RPG that has been left in a closet for two decades. While RPGs today are a much different beast than they were in the Dreamcast days, that sense of wide-eyed optimism and adventure still has value. Vyse and his friends are fun to hang around with, and the discoveries and adventures that you go on are simple and entertaining. The game slowly but surely builds you into a respected pirate captain who changes the world, and players deserve to go on that adventure for themselves. If we can have the original Final Fantasy be ported over a dozen times since it was released, then we can have one more port of a truly underrated classic to modern platforms.