Role-playing game fans who never got a chance to try the original are in for an engaging (though somewhat superficial) storyline with many great characters and some unique bits of gameplay as well.
The traditional console role-playing game so far has not made much of an appearance on the GameCube. Those looking for some standard RPG gameplay have had only one option. Well, now they have two, and like its solitary peer Evolution Worlds, Skies of Arcadia Legends is a remake of Dreamcast source material--though of the two, Legends originates from a more polished game. RPG fans who never got a chance to try the original are in for an engaging (though somewhat superficial) storyline with many great characters and some unique bits of gameplay as well. Those who fondly remember the original should beware though: One particular idiosyncrasy of the original--the overabundance of random battles--may overpower both the nostalgia factor and the relative dearth of new content.
The story is set in a different sort of world, where people live on floating islands high in the sky above a planet covered by an impenetrable layer of storms. Travel between islands is accomplished by paddle, sail, and screw, in boats kept floating in the sky by rocks that fall from six different-colored moons that also are the source of power for weapons and magic. There's a different sort of magic in the world too, and it inspires a man to don an eye patch, grab a moonstone cutlass, and call people "matey." Yes, the skies are alive with the sound of pirates. You play as Vyse, a young Blue Rogue (the Robin Hoods of the air pirate community), and the story begins when an average raid on one of the ships of the decadent Valuan Empire turns into a foiling of the kidnapping of a strangely dressed, soft-spoken girl.
In addition to embracing the "mysterious girl who's good at magic" cliché, the plot, while hole-free and adventure-filled, is shamelessly immature with hyperbole, which isn't as much of a negative aspect as it is a concession to a younger audience. The regions of the map are distinctly Balkanized, from the Aztec-like Ixa'taka to the Asian Yafutoma. While it's to be expected for a world that's a collection of islands, the demarcation between cultures still seems very exaggerated, as if stereotypes were a rule and not a norm. Visits to the Valuan Empire are the most outlandish, though. The capital, Valua, built along a cave wall and divided into Upper Valua and Lower Valua, with no middle class, only a huge palace in between, comes off like Marx and Engels' worst nightmare. The poor people relate horror story after horror story about their oppression, while the rich people talk only about installing silver toilets to go with their gold bathtubs. There's little believability and even less subtlety. The same goes for the distinctions between the good guys and the bad guys. With the exception of one character, Belleza, the villains are all rotten to the core, and the good guys are all complete saints and nearly infallible; there are absolutely no foibles either way. For all the broad strokes it uses, though, it's still a decent and not at all run-of-the-mill story.
While the characters are an either/or prospect from a morality standpoint, there's quite a spectrum of the standard outrageous personalities and designs that console RPG fans have come to expect. In this respect, the game doesn't disappoint. There's a multitude of standout characters, along with the cookie-cutter town inhabitants and shopkeepers, and the art style for the character design is as distinctive as the game's airborne backdrop. As is often the case with a large cast, characters typically have a one-note distinctive personality trait, but they're all well-played notes, and the dialogue flows smoothly, though sometimes predictably. Dialogue and action scenes play out with just a few canned facial expressions, but the scripters block the scenes well, and the body-language animations avoid looking as reused as the facial expressions. However, there is one jarring device, and that's the voice acting, or rather the sporadic interjections of voice that are supposed to enhance the mood but come off more like a needless reminder that there isn't any voice acting. For instance, if Vyse has a piece of dialogue where he agrees with another character, a sound of him saying "uh-huh" will play when the text comes on screen, without any lip-synching. There are fewer than five of these canned sounds for a character, if he or she has any at all, and they may as well have just been left out.