Skies of Arcadia 1
Image: SEGA

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've been chewing over. Today, on the GameCube port's 20th anniversary, Alana is desperate to see Skies of Arcadia Legends on modern consoles...

Sega isn’t really known as an RPG developer, but it was still quietly responsible for creating some of the best of the genre in the ‘90s. Both the Phantasy Star and Shining Force series were at the helm of Sega’s RPG force, and Panzer Dragoon Saga is one of the most experimental (and expensive) games in the genre. Nowadays, when you think of Sega and RPG, Like A Dragon (formerly Yakuza) probably comes to mind. For me, my answer has always been the same and will remain the same – Skies of Arcadia.

Released on the Dreamcast in 2000, Skies of Arcadia has some of the most talented names in Sega’s history behind it. Captained by legendary producer and director of Phantasy Star IV Rieko Kodama (who sadly passed away earlier this year), the game is one of the few RPGs released worldwide for Sega’s swansong console. Poor sales and a late release on the console saw the game fail to meet sales expectations despite a rapturous critical reception. Later ported to the GameCube as Skies of Arcadia Legends – 20 years ago to the day – it’s never seen another rerelease.

Skies of Arcadia 6
The captain of the ship. — Image: SEGA

Skies of Arcadia was kind of like my Breath of the Wild moment. How can you have a BOTW moment before that game even exists, you ask? Because of the way that game lets you explore. Open worlds and exploration are pretty much the norm nowadays. Sprawling Skyrim-sized landscapes or huge, over-levelled monsters roaming the world of Xenoblade Chronicles. Skies of Arcadia, while not anywhere near as open as those games, captured the essence of exploration perfectly.

It makes sense, really, given the game’s story. You’re Vyse, a plucky air pirate who is a member of the Blue Rogues, a band of Robin Hood-esque pirates who steal from the rich (aka the Valuan Armada, essentially the Spanish armada) and give the spoils to the suffering. Together with his best friend Aika, the pair rescue a mysterious girl called Fina who is trying to find the Moon Stones throughout Arcadia, crystals that can summon weapons of mass destruction. For Vyse, not only is this a chance to help the vulnerable and save the world, but it’s also his opportunity to go out and discover the world.

...being a game where you’re actually playing as pirates, exploration and discovery become the two cornerstones of the game.

Really, most of Skies of Arcadia is pretty iterative of other RPGs. Its turn-based combat is similar to others in the genre, and the characters – while all charming and lovable – are all familiar RPG tropes, just executed perfectly. Yet, being a game where you’re actually playing as pirates, exploration and discovery become the two cornerstones of the game. When you’re not wandering around towns and dungeons or participating in turn-based battles, you’re sailing the skies. And as you get further through the game, you get a new ship, get your own crew, and can upgrade your vessel to traverse the cloud sea better. You might start in a tiny little fishing boat, but you eventually end up with an army-ready ship that can sail high above or below the cloud surface and crash through stone reefs.

The game manages to tease the scope of the world so well. You end up being the same wild-eyed excited teenager that Vyse is, ready to discover new things. You’re seeing the world as Vyse does – from small things like new towns or enemies, right the way up to entire continents and discovering that the world is round. Even the world map that you have at the beginning of the game only shows part of Arcadia to you, and as you get further through the game, it expands, as if you’re sketching it out yourself, to reveal brand new areas.

Skies of Arcadia 4
Invasion of the Sky. — Image: SEGA

The basis of Arcadia is pretty simple – it’s a world split up into six unique ‘kingdoms’ that all live under a different coloured moon. Don’t ask me how there are six moons in stationary orbit, but here we are. Under the Red Moon is Nasr, the desert kingdom, which is based on the Ottoman Empire and elements of the Middle East. Basking in the light of the Green Moon is Ixa’Taka, which is inspired by Central and South America. Under the Blue Moon is Yafutoma, which contains a mix of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures. The Valuan Empire is under the Yellow Moon and is based on the Spanish Empire. The Purple Moon’s civilisation was wiped out thousands of years ago, while under the Silver Moon lies the humble Pirate Isle, Vyse’s home.

From the world being a reinterpretation of our own Earth’s past to the Armada airships being named after star constellations (Cygnus, Delphinus, Auriga, etc.), Skies of Arcadia stokes the flames of exploration, curiosity, and wonder. Each continent counts as a new, exciting discovery for Vyse, Aika, and Fina, and the cheerful tone and humorous dynamic between the main party keep encouraging you to lap up more. In a sea of RPGs where the modern world and darker topics became more prominent, Skies of Arcadia was a breath of fresh air. The world is colourful and the characters are vibrant, and it feels like you’re flipping through a lost Jules Verne novel.

In a sea of RPGs where the modern world and darker topics became more prominent, Skies of Arcadia was a breath of fresh air.

As exciting as it is to watch the world map unravel before your very eyes, it’s the detail that makes Arcadia as a fictional RPG world so magical to me. As any decent sailor does (and we’re ignoring the realities of actual seaborne piracy here), you’re the person charting and uncovering the world, and as you sail around the skies fighting enemies, you’ll come across hidden landmarks called ‘Discoveries’. You’ll know you’re near one because your compass will start spinning like mad, and if you’re like me, it’ll ignite a childlike glee inside of you.

Skies of Arcadia 3
The sense of scale is often incredible. — Image: SEGA

Discoveries are one of the best sidequests in any RPG because no person is telling you to go out and seek them – you can just leave them or try and hunt as many of the down as you want. Things start out simple like a hidden gravestone for an ancient pirate, or the ruins of an abandoned lighthouse, but eventually, you’ll start finding things like a ghost ship above a deadly black sky rift, or a sky train that follows a particular path high above the clouds.

It’s like you’re finding little pieces of the history of Arcadia since as you discover each one, you get a tiny little blurb about what you’ve found along with an annotated sketch or two. There are 88 (89 if you finish one other GameCube-exclusive sidequest) of these to find, and each one sheds some light on the world. The Black Moon Stone expands on The Dark Rift and hints at a lost kingdom, while The Grieving Prince is a landmark representing one man’s grief. Cute animals like the Dheerse come coupled with myths and tales, while a Valuan wreck cements the idea that Arcadia is a world that’s still making history and creating mysteries.

You’re not just collecting this information for your own joy – though really, I am and I make sure I find every single Discovery every time I play the game. You call sell these little pieces of information at any Sailor’s Gild across the land. Some Discoveries are worth more than others, and the more things you find out there in the world, the more your Swashbuckler Rating goes up.

Skies of Arcadia 5
Rixis, a dungeon but also a Discovery. More of those spoils, please. — Image: SEGA

You’re also in a ‘friendly competition’ with another sailor, Domingo, to find Discoveries before him. If he finds them first, their value decreases massively. Of course, you can solve that problem by finding 30 Discoveries, after which he’ll join your motley crew once you’re the captain of the Delphinus. If money, crewmates, and reputation aren’t enough motivation to find every single discovery in the world, then I don’t know what else is.

There’s nothing quite like playing a game where you’re going places that even the protagonist doesn’t know about. Glacia is a complete mystery to both the player and Vyse, while Nasr – while always a presence in the skies thanks to its ongoing war with Valua – is much bigger than you initially expect. And while Aika wildly fantasises about the possibilities of what she can do in some of these areas, at every turn, Arcadia defies your – and the party’s – expectations.

...who would want to buy a purple lunch box-shaped console, anyway? Well, I wish more people had.

Skies of Arcadia Legends was a treat for people like me who’d played the Dreamcast version, but also those back in 2002 (or 2003 when it was released in the West) who hadn’t had the chance to discover a truly special RPG. The N64 had very few notable entries in the genre after Squaresoft jumped from Nintendo to Sony for Final Fantasy, and the GameCube also had a very limited number. So Skies of Arcadia Legends was already hitting a bit of a niche – who would want to buy a purple lunch box-shaped console, anyway? Well, I wish more people had.

What Legends brought for Skies of Arcadia fans was new discoveries, new sidequests, and super bosses. Bounties could be claimed to get money, strange creatures could be found in the sky and caught to feed a hungry little bird-like creature (who isn’t little by the end of the quest), and a bounty hunter is actually after your head. It added extra challenges and riches for anyone, old and new, to come and discover.

Skies of Arcadia 2
I promise, Nasrad — the capital of Nasr — is big. — Image: SEGA

So, why oh why is Skies of Arcadia still stuck on the GameCube? A former developer on Skies of Arcadia, Kenji Hiruta, said “I really really want to develop the sequel” back in 2020, but also stated that it really “depends on Sega”. And Kodama herself said in a 2019 interview with Kotaku that she feels that “Skies of Arcadia Legends completed the “director’s cut” of the title”.

Yet Sega is still acknowledging the game’s existence, even today. Vyse, Aika, and Fina all appeared in 2008’s Valkyria Chronicles (which you can nab on the Switch eShop), while Vyse and a Skies of Arcadia-themed track Rogue’s Landing are available in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. Vyse even has an icon in Sonic Colours Ultimate.

Outside of video games, the Skies of Arcadia cast has also appeared in Worlds Unite crossover from Archie, and if you’re really observant in the Sonic the Hedgehog movie opening, you can spot a little snippet of Skies of Arcadia in the Sega logo on the right (in the time-stamped video below).

Admittedly, a lot would need to be done to polish up Skies of Arcadia Legends — the music quality suffers and some of the textures are a little rough. Random encounter rates are extremely high, even for an RPG of that era, and battles are pretty slow. But Skies of Arcadia feels like lightning in a bottle – only a few other RPGs have managed to capture that feeling of adventure like Sega’s RPG did (Grandia, Lunar).

With open-world RPGs like Xenoblade Chronicles capturing the magic of unusual worlds and dangerous discoveries, it feels like it’s time for Skies of Arcadia to come back and let everyone discover (and rediscover) the best – and my favourite – RPG world ever.